favorite collections: antique tortoiseshell boxes

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We have collected antique tortoiseshell boxes for many years. 
I wrote about our antique tortoiseshell frames here.

Tortoiseshell items were popular in the mid-1800's.  The world of travel was just opening up and items made from this exotic material were highly prized by the Victorians.  The Victorians were masters of elevating useful, everyday items to things of beauty.   Boxes and cases were made to hold common items like:  tea, needles, sewing items and thimbles, snuff, calling cards, eye glasses, hair pins, and jewelry.  Thankfully, in 1973 the Endangered Species Act helped to save the tortoise from extinction.  Today, only true antique items (by definition "antique" is anything over 100 years old) can be bought and sold.  Often tortoiseshell items are labeled as "faux" to allow it to be sold on such sites as ebay.  Many of these items are not faux, but as with all "antiques" the buyer needs to be knowledgeable and to know identification signs and markings of the "antique" they are wanting to purchase. "Celluloid" tortoiseshell is also very common and I have seen it labeled as real, when it is in reality a plastic.

Small needle boxes and a larger jewelry box (in this photograph) inside an antique cabinet in the master bedroom.


The bookcase in the reading room holds the large majority of our collection.  Because these pieces are generally small they work best when grouped together.  This grouping shares the shelf with an antique alligator box, an antique Chinese blue and white double happiness ginger jar, an antique sepia drawing, and a piece of "brain" coral.

On the right of this shelf is a large etui configured as a sewing kit- it contains small scissors and a thimble and compartments for needles and thread.   A stack of calling card cases holds one of the four needle boxes, and on the left is an eyeglass case that contains the original glasses, still inside.

19th century English sterling handled tortoiseshell page turner.  Page turners were used to turn the delicate pages of antique books. The Victorians knew that the oils and dirt on their hands could damage the paper.  Books were a luxury item and great care was taken to protect them.

My pièce de résistance...  an antique British West Indies tortoiseshell box. 

I placed a small grouping of boxes from our collection together on a copper tray to show you how beautiful they are displayed as a whole! 

Wait.....  what's that in the middle????
That's not an antique tortoiseshell box.... that's my iPhone!!!!  :) :) Truth be told, and try as I might, I couldn't come to love my Otterbox.  Dan loves his, but for all the reasons he loves it I didn't love mine.  When I found this tortoise iPhone case my heart skipped a beat!! 
You can find it on Amazon...here.

Seriously... how gorgeous is that?!  But, I do confess that I was a mere click away from returning it when I first got it... you see, my iPhone is black and this case with a black phone as the background just didn't do it. I was bummed, and then seconds before hitting the "return" button I had the idea to cut a piece of white paper to lighten up the case on my phone! It worked well, but the background was too yellow for my liking- I was trying to match my real tortoiseshell!
I tried several other papers to get to the right background color, and it turned out to be a lowly brown paper bag that proved to be the perfect backdrop to create the look and color of a real tortoiseshell piece!
I love that my iPhone case serves the same purpose of my antique tortoiseshell pieces... just as the Victorians did- it makes an everyday object a thing of beauty!

You can click this link to see  antique tortoiseshell items for sale.