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Ebony table snuff box

Ebony table snuff box, lathe turned to all sides with ivory borders.

English, circa 1800

The central patera is surrounded by a dodecagonal looped band interspersed with small asymmetrically turned roundels leading to a deeply turned ivory parameter cut on the crossgrain. The obverse has a 11 pointed “garter star” centred around a quaderform again banded in ivory.

The art of turning precious timbers and ivory on a lathe was first popularised amongst the nobles of the Holy Roman Empire in the late 16th/first part of the 17th century. Emperor Rudolph II was said to be a highly accomplished turner as were many bishops. It is a skill that requires highly  skilled mathematical precision and leaves no room for error, especially when turning odd numbers or asymmetrical shapes. It is an art that uses a pole-lathe and a “rig” which enables the artist to make incisions at regular precise points. It should not be confused with later engine-turning used on metal objects in the industrial revolution which produces a similar effect but using a machine. The use of ivory on the cross grain is both extravagant (using a elephant tusk at the widest point) and practical, linnier cut ivory has a tendency to warp and distort.

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