Today, the tortoise and even some cowries are listed as 'endangered' or 'vulnerable' species.

Both have been collected as food, and harvested for the beauty of their shells.


However prior to the 20th century, these marine animals were still plentiful in the wild -

 as well as 'found fragments & remnants' on beaches worldwide.

From these remnants, 17th, 18th and early 19th century artisans

created some of the most collectible small works of art we have today.

These include the coveted tortoiseshell and cowrie shell snuff boxes,

expertly mounted with silver, the tortoise often moulded and carved,

some also engraved with family coats of arms.


For snuff boxes, tortoiseshell was the unparalleled material of choice!

It could not only be heated, moulded and carved,

 it could be impressed, inlaid, polished, as well as encased in silver.

It could be dense and heavy,

or carved thinly to give translucency when held toward the light.



The premier British maker of tortoiseshell boxes was John Obrisset,

son of a Dieppe ivory carver, whose ivory-carving techniques he adapted to tortoiseshell.

We have offered quite a few boxes by Obrisset - most dating between 1705-28.

But this box is perhaps the rarest.



"Very Rare" George I Silver-Mounted Tortoiseshell Snuff Box, James II

 John Obrisset, London, c1720, Unsigned

The thinly carved oval shell cover from a 1685 Medal by John Roettiers

having stand-away hinges, the box of silver with gilt interior.

The plaque is derived from Roettier's Military & Naval reward

for distribution among those who commanded the Royal forces & fleets

which opposed the invasion of the Dukes of Monmouth and Argyle.

Listed in Phillip A.S. Phillips as "very rare"

Do note that James II was usually depicted with long hair -

this example having short hair, as did some of the Maundy coinage.

3.25" Long



Antique tortoiseshell boxes and jewelry are sometimes decorated by the

inlay of tiny gold or silver points, known as silver piqué -

(or points set in a pattern of stars or dots) and piqué posé.

Piqué posé (as in the two boxes below)

is a technique in which designs cut into the tortoiseshell

are inlaid with fine strands of gold or silver.

Piqué work was introduced in the mid-17th century by Neapolitan jeweler Laurentini,

and brought into England with the late 17th century immigration

of the skilled Huguenot craftsmen.



George I / II Silver-Mounted Piqué Posé Tortoiseshell Snuff Box

England, c1725-35

The oval box two small "stand-away" hinges,

the tortoiseshell cover having engraved piqué posé inlay depicting

a seated flute player before a garden wall, serenading a shepherdess with staff and dog,

within a border of cornucopiae, doves, squirrels and baskets of fruits among foliage;

tortoiseshell base

Exquisitely executed!

An almost identical example resides in the Metropolitan Museum.

2-7/8" Wide



....And A Tortoise...With A Hare :




George II / III Silver Posé Tortoiseshell Snuff Box

England, c1755-65

This delightful silver box with pull-off cover, and inlaid with engraved piqué posé

depicting three 'Aesop's Fables' :

'The North Wind & the Sun', 'The Fox & the Stork' & 'The Two Rabbits'

all within a stylized foliate border.

Click (if you wish) to read the three fables depicted.

2-1/8" Diameter



An aside here regarding snuff and Scotland :

Taking snuff became popular in Scotland in the early 1600s -

long before its popularity in England.

It was brought to Scotland by the French, with whom they had a close association at the time.

If you recall, Mary Queen of Scots (1542-87) was betrothed at the young age of 5 to Francis,

Dauphin of France - and for only a year, King Francis.

It was not until Charles II returned from his exile in France in 1660,

that he brought that snuff-taking to the English Courts.


In Scotland, one of the more popular forms of snuff containers

has remained the silver-mounted "cowrie shell" -

and so it is with this one, from Edinburgh, c1760,

the heavy silver mount beautifully embossed and engraved with the arms of the Scottish owners



George II / III Scottish Armorial Silver-Mounted Cowrie Shell Snuff Box

 John Welsh (Likely), Edinburgh c1760

The large oval cowrie shell with substantial silver mounts,

the silver cover centering the arms of Pearson quartering MacNamara

within an elaborate shell, scroll and floral rocaille border;

mark "IW" (in gothic), Jackson's Revised, p.549

(as found on a pair of communion cups, 1762)

3.25" Long



As usual, please click the above images or titles for fully illustrated descriptive pages.



Additional 'Snuff Trivia' :


'Tobacco' plants have grown in the Americas since about 6000 BC.

Its leaves have been smoked since the first century BC.


Despite Papal objections, 17th century French Courts (the model for Europe at the time) embraced snuff-taking.


Queen Anne (1702-14) so enjoyed snuff that all her ladies of the court adopted the habit.


Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, acquired the name 'Snuffy Charlotte' due to her passion for snuff.


Charlottes' son, later George IV, had a storage room in each of his palaces for his snuff boxes,

changing his box according to the time of day.


The use of snuff in this powdered form went out in the mid-1800s,

and snuff boxes declined at that time



Moulded Tortoiseshell Snuff Box, France, 18th century,  portrait, Louis XIV & Marie-Thérèse





accessories.html#BOXES & TREEN



Legend for Above Illustrations :


Tortoise : 'Green Sea Turtle', Chelonia mydas and his total internal reflection.

 Brocken Inaglory, 2008, CC BY-SA 4.0



Cowrie Shell : 'Cypraea chinensis with partially extended mantle',

NOAA's Coral Kingdom Collection, University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology,

Photo Collection of Dr. James P. McVey, NOAA Sea Grant Program


Inventory Photography : Millicent F. Creech  



Please call or email should you wish additional information


901-761-1163 (gallery) / 901-827-4668 (cell)





Hours : Wed.-Sat. 11-6, or by appointment


mfcreech@bellsouth.net or mfordcreech@gmail.com



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'The Tortoise & The Cowrie' ; M. Ford Creech Antiques