Antique Pillboxes and Other Miniature Containers

A small part of my collection.

A small part of my miniature container y collection.

 

AN OBSESSION IS BORN

On holiday in Tasmania some years ago, I purchased a sweet little pillbox in an antique store at Evandale. It was gilt, with  a beautiful lid of  purple, machined enamel. It cost me $40.

My first pillbox.

My first pillbox.

Soon afterwards I bought an 18th century  patch box.  I happily paid several hundred dollars for this one.  I  was enchanted with the enamel lid, depicting a gentleman on a wicker seat  in a garden. Even better, he was reading!des,VariousDocumentsPillbox 014

The most sought after  antique  enamel  boxes are those produced in Bilston (near Wolverhampton) and Battersea (London).  Collectors  do need to be aware that there are counterfeits around.  Here are some of my favourites;

Enamel boxes from the 18th and early 19th century.

Enamel boxes from the 18th and early 19th century.

The box with the flags and military emblems (above, far right)  carries  a patriotic message ;  ‘May British valour conquests gain, and make our foes our friends again’. It was probably produced to commemorate Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815.

There are handy reference works on enamel boxes. My dear  friend Cath found this one for me in a charity shop. PillboxBookFossil 002

Miniature  containers are ideal to collect  while travelling  overseas.  Both  my partner  Rob and I enjoy hunting  for  them as we  wander around antique fairs and boot sales in the UK ,  or at  markets  throughout Europe.  Here is a gilt, basket weave box with a carved ivory top showing  cherubs dancing around a tree. It is Italian.

Antique Italian box.

Antique Italian box.

Rob  found a very different enamel box in a northern French village. It cost  only 5 euros and I love the unusual apple green colour. It is marked  CHINA, and was clearly manufactured for the export trade.

ChinesePillbox

This modern box   from the Alsace region of France features a wonderful array of woods;

Pillboxes

BRANCHING OUT

As my collection grew I became increasingly interested in less expensive  ‘social history’  containers. Many  vintage ones can be found for under $10, such as salesmen’s samples from the 1930s and 40s. I love those that still hold some of the original contents;  Dunhill pipe cleaning cream, lavender polish, cream perfume, or  rouge.  Others are  simple novelty  items. Among those pictured below  is a miniature first aid kit, a lady’s shaver, and a tin of French nibs.

Collecting Social History

Collecting Social History

This one is quite clever I think; a combined needle holder and screw on thimble from the 1930’s. Plus, a secret container  for passing  messages to a lover.autumnBobBirthday 003

1930's Sewing Companion

1930’s Sewing Companion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something for the music lover; a miniature harmonica;

Miniature Harmonia

Miniature Harmonia

 

By the way, I would love to find some pillboxes  with an Australian theme. So far the only one I have was a gift from a house guest. It is a reproduction of a Bilston enamel, decorated with a view of  Old Government House at Parramatta, New South Wales. Oddly enough my friend Rita found it in an English antique shop.

Reproduction Bilston box featuring Old Government House

Reproduction Bilston box featuring Old Government House

This is a very different one made from malachite. Purchased with my first professional speaker’s fee.

 

DO YOU COLLECT ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR?  LET ME KNOW IN THE BOX BELOW.

7 Comments
  1. Pauline, I love pillboxes and miniatures in general. I used to have porcelain toothpaste pots.When I left Australia I sold most of my Australiana and antiques to my sister. I had some lovely miniatures like paintings and little bric-a-brac. It’s hard to get a buy over here as people have big collections of almost everything. I think Australia used to be a gold mine for people interested in historical pieces. I’m keeping my eyes open for Noritake china as it is still something to collect as long as you know the early marks. I love your photo of the enameled lids.

    • Pauline

      Most of my pillboxes are in storage until we move into our new house. Will be good to display them one day.

  2. They are simply gorgeous and I can see why you’d collect them. It reminds me that I have one somewhere (must do a search) and didn’t know exactly what it was for. So now I know!

    Over the years I’ve collected various things, tiny sheep, tiny turtles, lace bobbins, interesting tins etc. However a couple of years ago we moved from a large house to a much smaller one, so I’ve decided not to add to my collections as there’s nowhere to display them.

    • Pauline

      I have nowhere to display my treasures either, until our new house is finished. Except on the Internet!

  3. Enjoyed seeing your collection. The important thing to remember is to collect something small. My mother and I had a passion for sewing machines. We ended up with 200. That takes up a lot of space. I went through an angel stage and a birdhouse stage. I only collect tiny things now. I have a big, old, postal sorting cupboard. I only get things that will fit in my cubbies. I especially love tiny snow globes, tiny books and tiny pitchers. I have a few little pillboxes. One has Peter Rabbit, 2 are shells, one is of china, one a real shell.

    • Pauline

      Wow Stephanie, wherever did you you keep 200 sewing machines? I love my little pillboxes. Miniature books are sweet too.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Notification of new stories via Email

Enter your email address to receive notification of new stories on this website (your address will not be shown).

Search Pandora

Find us in the National Library of Australia's archive of Australian online publications in perpetuity.