Spot Base Box - Matchbox
Three Spot Base Box: very colorful and elaborate covers.
Left: matchboxRight: trinket box

by Janice & Richard Vogel

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 1997

You enter the show hall and within a few steps your eyes fix upon a small porcelain box nestled among some china and glass figurines. The box is in two parts with animals, children, musical instruments, etc. adorning the cover. A quick inspection of the item shows a coat of arms depicting a shield with upraised arm and sword.

You have discovered a Conta & Boehme trinket box from Possneck, Germany (which should not be confused with that of Springer & Company of Elbogen, now Loket in Czechoslovakia).

Meanwhile, as you admire your find, the exhibitor extols the virtue of the "Staffordshire" item in your hands. "Don't worry about the slight crack or broken fence post as everything that old has something wrong with it."

Welcome to the world of trinket box collecting. This fascinating hobby will result in many new friendships, several unusual pieces, and various box stories, mostly myths.

Dresser/Bureau Box
Dresser/Bureau Box
Although a few articles have been written on the subject of trinket boxes, those in print are very confusing. Some say they are little boxes made of hard-paste porcelain; others claim they are made of soft-paste porcelain. They have been called trinket boxes, fairings, patch boxes, pin boxes, Staffordshire boxes, and Victorian boxes. They are said to originate from England, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and France. Some claim they were given away as prizes at fairs, sold at many seaside resorts as souvenirs, given to children for gifts at birthdays and Christmas time and presented to young girls by their sweethearts. Regardless of their origin, these boxes are now in great demand.

Many of the unmarked boxes did indeed originate from countries such as England, Austria, France and the Netherlands as well as from other German factories, however, the majority of the boxes bear the Conta impressed or raised mark of an enclosed shield and an arm holding a sword. This mark appears on the bottom of the base or the underside of the cover.

The boxes definitely are not Staffordshire, as they are often called. The most logical reason for this misnomer is due to the fact that during the 1920s and 1930s, German wares were not favored. Products from England, however, were very popular, especially the items from the Staffordshire district. As the boxes needed a more appealing description, the term "Staffordshire" was substituted. This name was acceptable for the times. They have now become known and accepted as German boxes. Many lovely boxes did indeed come from the district of Staffordshire in England, but they should not be confused with those from Germany.

Patch box, as they are sometimes called, is another inaccurate name. Patches, tiny pieces of black silk, or court plaster, worn by the ladies of the period to hide a blemish or to heighten their beauty, were kept in tiny boxes. The boxes called "boite a mouches" by the French, were popular during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715) when peruke (periwigs) for the gentlemen and elaborate coiffures for the ladies were in style. By the late 1600s, they were given the name "patch boxes" by the English. Trinket boxes came into popularity long after patches ceased to be worn as fashionable dress.

Basket Box

Some boxes could be considered fairings. Fairings, as the name implies, were gifts bought or won at a village fair. Could it be that fairing is a shortened version of "fair earning" for a skill well done? Imagine going to your county fair and playing ring toss, baseball throw, or other games of chance. Today the fruit of your success is a stuffed toy, plastic whatsit, or perhaps a t-shirt emblazoned with the current hot rock group faces. Years ago, your prize would have been a porcelain object with characters or scenery perhaps, bearing an inscription.

We prefer to call them "Victorian Trinket Boxes." The Victorian era (1837-1901) was the reigning period of Queen Victoria of England. The majority of trinket boxes were made during this time span when it was in vogue to have knickknack items on shelves, tables and mantels.

Dresser/Bureau Boxes: Approximately 4-5 inches tall

The charm of the Victorian Trinket Box lies in the wide variety of subjects and decorations adorning the covers. Children, adults, animals, flowers, boats, etc., are often chosen as a speciality group by collectors. Some of the boxes will portray Kate Greenaway figures on the lids. Kate Greenaway was an English children's illustrator and painter during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Vintage Boxes: Small oval bases with leaf and vine designs
Vintage Boxes: Small oval bases with leaf and vine designs

Box styles are nearly as varied as box subjects. Interestingly, the identical box subject can be found on two or more box styles, especially between vintage and bureau/dresser boxes. In both of these styles, you will find that many of the boxes contain an ornate gilded frame on the back of the cover which originally held a small mirror with paper backing. Most of the mirrors have long since disappeared. Some collectors have the mirrors replaced; others find the boxes quite attractive without them. Often, one can even find the exact box manufactured without the mirror frame.

Full-Figured Box
Full-Figured Box
Figural styles deserve a special note. Figurals come in three different types. (1) The "full figure," usually brilliantly colored, gives the effect of a solid figurine which separates to form a box; (2) the "half body" which is made from the waist upwards and separates at the shoulder; and (3) the pedestal figure" in which the cover is the figure and the base is a stand or pedestal for it.

Sometimes trinket boxes are confused with inkwells or matchboxes. When inkwell covers are raised, the base contains the inkpot and sander. A combination trinket box and inkwell will have the pot and sander attached to the front of the box. Matchboxes will have a ribbed striking surface under the cover or along one of the sides.

Trinket boxes with identical subjects and styles may come in several different sizes. We have seen up to nine sizes of the same box; however, three sizes seem to be the norm for most boxes.

Collecting Victorian Trinket Boxes is a rewarding experience and we welcome aspiring collectors to join us in our search.

About the authors:
Janice and Richard Vogel have collected boxes for over 30 years. They may be reached at 4720 S.E. Ft. King Street, Ocala, FL 34470.

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