French Box Design

The French ébénistes (cabinetmakers) enjoyed a reputation for the artistic and decorative expression they applied to their box manufacture; this being amplified, in the opinion of some, when compared to their more ‘reserved’ British counterparts. Whether it be in the use of extravagant brass and metal inlay, Boulle-work (brass inlaid into turtle shell), engraved metalwork, various woods in combination with each other, or unusually shaped exterior casings, their boxes are unmistakably French in style despite the diversity of their aesthetics. The French design influences weren’t lost on the British and indeed vice versa.

Whilst Mahogany, Walnut, Rosewood and Kingwood were favoured by both British and French box manufacturer’s alike, the use of woods like Palisander, Ebony, Elm and Thuya were more often seen on the French examples.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Palisander Wood.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Palisander Wood.

Antique Jewellery Box in Thuya Wood, by Berthet à Paris.

Antique Jewellery Box in Thuya Wood, by Berthet à Paris.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Ebony with Brass Inlay by Alphonse Giroux & Cie, Paris.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Ebony with Brass Inlay by Alphonse Giroux & Cie, Paris.

Some early nineteenth century French gentleman’s travelling boxes (including those belonging to officers within the military) were sculpted into tactile oblong, radial edged, cylindrical or ellipsoid form from solid Mahogany.

French Antique Travelling Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany.

French Antique Travelling Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany.

Miniature French Cylindrical Antique Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany.

Miniature French Cylindrical Antique Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany, by Georges Monbro.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Cuban Mahogany, by Georges Monbro.

With fewer restrictions on portability, and with contemporary fashions and tastes dictating, the ladies’ equivalents tended to be larger and more lavish, yet still retaining the conventional cuboid form.

Antique Nécessaire de Voyage Dressing Case in Ebony with Floral Brass Inlay by Aucoc Ainé à Paris.

Antique Nécessaire de Voyage Dressing Case in Ebony with Floral Brass Inlay by Aucoc Ainé à Paris.

French boxes are also immediately recognisable by their lock fittings; cylindrical links to the top link plate and circular entry points to the main lock housing. These attributes, though subtle, weren’t found on British boxes which instead had cuboid links to the top link plate and rectangular entry points to the main lock housing.

Circular entry point to a French lock housing.

Circular entry point to a French lock housing. The Cylindrical link from the link plate engages here.

Cylindrical link on the top link plate.

Cylindrical link on the top link plate.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Palisander Wood.

There are three definitive hallmarks of French design in this photo; Circular entry points to the lock housing, a cloverleaf (tréfle) shaped lock drill pin and key, and crescent shaped brass corner mounts.

French Antique Jewellery Box in Palisander Wood.

Crescent shaped brass corner mounts and inset central brass finger plate to aid lid opening. The brass finger plate being another definitive hallmark of French design.