Dimensions: 40,5 x 23 x 15,5 cm
Inv. Nr. 7679
One colonial piece is the writing-case made of ebony, covered with porcupine bristles. It shows typical overseas 19th century craftsmanship from Ceylon / Sri Lanka. The outer wooden body of the cassette is tightly covered with the bristles of the porcupine, with the bristles skilfully arranged according to the colours. Between the rows of the bristles are found wooden slats, which are provided with punctiform bone inlays. Inside the lid the strict style of the row-shaped bristles fades. Vines and flowers of inlaid wood surround an inlaid star composed of various exotic woods. Many different compartments, each decorated with bone inlays, a fold-out writing surface and a paper roll specifically for this writing surface, complete the mobile desk.
About the material: Porcupines have the longest spines – actually bristles – of all mammals. They are transformed hairs which are stiff, thick and elastic and can reach lengths up to 40 cm. The unusual spines of the animals are collected and sold as decoration. Fishermen also use the bristles as floats for the bait.
About their function: Mobile writing cases with an inclined writing surface that could be opened, in addition, various compartments for ink, stamps, seals and quills and a roll of paper, which is drawn over the oblique writing surface, were widespread in the 19th century. When traveling, these flat and collapsible small furniture pieces were practical and easy to transport. One differentiates those pieces with straight lids, which were used rather by gentlemen, and those with domed or detached lids reserved for the women. The ornaments on the outside remained correspondingly simple or playful. The inside of the writing boxes varies according to the owner’s wishes and preferences. The writing cassette with the porcupine bristles presented here was probably less intended for travel since the applied bristles were too filigree. The work from Ceylon was more likely a souvenir article or a gift from the colonies which found its permanent place in the salon and was not carried along on journeys.
About the technology: The dark exotic ebony is provided with small holes, in which the punctiform inserts are glued. The same fastening technology is used with the bristles carefully selected depending on their colour. They are sorted, trimmed and glued onto the carrier.
Writing cassettes of this kind have been widely used since the end of the 18th century. Their easy handling, combined with quality workmanship, the many functions and attached utensils, together with the hidden secret compartments, made the small portable furniture indispensable for travellers, diplomats or military officials alike. It was rather educated persons who were the main customers of these writing cassettes. Various holders for writing utensils could be supplemented with candlestick holders, side carrying handles, pull-out side compartments or bars for book support.
What the writing furniture have in common, are the fold-out, oblique writing surface, which was covered with leather, velvet or felt, as well as secret compartments, mostly under the ink wells and various drawers and partitions which could be partially sealed with a lid. This cassette from the middle of the 19th century was produced for trade and for Europe. These examples of colonial craftsmanship then found their way into bourgeois dwellings or museums.
Text: Mag. Martina Pall
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