- Place of origin:
Southwark (probably, made)
- Materials and Techniques:
Elm, inlaid with maple, cedar, bog oak and Andaman padouk
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 58b, case 3 
The lid, sides and front of this writing box are inlaid with various woods. The inlay is characteristic of the work undertaken by Flemish immigrants in Southwark, south London, in the late 16th century, as exemplified in chests inlaid with architectural and geometrical ornament, and sometimes including figures in contemporary dress. The best-known example is the Offley chest in Southwark Cathedral, dated 1588.
Materials & Making
The box is constructed of elm and joined at the corners by large dovetails (fan-shaped projections at the end of one piece of wood that fit into similar-shaped slots at the end of another at right angles, to form a secure and tight joint). The base consists of three boards joined in the centre with tongue and groove (a projection along the length of one board fits into a groove along the next board, giving a firm join). The underside of the box shows evidence of hand sawing. Three holes at each of the corners indicate that it originally had feet. The interior is fitted with a till (compartment with lid) on one side. It is entirely lined with a paper, dated on the reverse 1615. This lining paper consists of re-used pulls (proof copies) for an edition of the antiquarian William Camden's Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine. The box retains its original fixings and later hinges. The lock is a later replacement although the escutcheon (metal lock plate) may be original.
The box is decorated with heraldic ornament symmetrically disposed, including Tudor roses. The front of the box has three figures in late 16th-century dress. The ornamental birds and beasts derive from Edward Topsell's Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1607) and Historie of Serpents (1608).
The lid, sides and front of the box are inlaid with various woods with heraldic ornament symmetrically disposed. This consists of Tudor roses; pairs of cocks; pairs of griffins; martlets; doves and geometrical ornament. The front of the box has three figures in late 16th century dress; the central figure is bearded. The interior is fitted with a till on the proper left side. It is entirely lined with a paper, dated on the reverse 1615, apparently re-used pulls for an edition of William Camden's Remaines of a greater Worke, concerning Britaine. The paper is wood block printed in black with a diaper of roses and stylized bell flowers. That on the lid has been patched re-using a sheet inscribed with a late 18th or early 19th century hand. The box retains its original fixings and later hinges which have been moved once to accommodate the shrinkage of the lid. The lock is a later replacement although the escutcheon may be original.
The box is constructed of elm, and joined at the corners by large dovetails, the base consists of three boards joined with tongue and groove in the centre. The underside shows evidence of hand sawing and three holes at each of the corners indicate that it originally had feet. The lid has lipped mouldings at the sides.
Place of Origin
Southwark (probably, made)
Materials and Techniques
Elm, inlaid with maple, cedar, bog oak and Andaman padouk
Marks and inscriptions
The box is lined with re-used test sheets for an edition of William Camden's (1515-1623) 'Remaines of a greater Worke, concerning Britain' (1615)
Height: 255 mm, Width: 760 mm, Depth: 545 mm, Width: 775 mm including hinges
Object history note
Object purchased for £35 from F. H. Carlton, Pine Cottage, Claygate, Surrey.
RP: M526/1910; M1910/1598
Object sampling carried out by Jo Darrah, V&A Science; drawer/slide reference 1/12.
Historical significance: The inlay is characteristic of the work undertaken by Flemish immigrants in Southwark in the late 16th century as exemplified in chests inlaid with architectural and geometrical ornament. These sometimes include figures in contemporary dress. The best known example is the Offley chest in Southwark Cathedral, dated 1588.
The ornamental birds and beasts are derived from Edward Topsell's Historie of Foure-footed Beasts (1607) and Historie of Serpents (1608).
Elm box. The lid, front and sides are inlaid with various woods with heraldic ornament symmetrically disposed. English, 1600-1625.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Box, of ash, inlaid with pearwood, holly and bog oak. The top is covered with a design of roses and various birds. On the front of the box are three male figures in late Elizabethan costume, with cocks and other birds, roundels and roses; the latter device is repeated on each side of the box with a conventional tree and birds. There is a pierced metal escutcheon on the front. The inside is fitted with a compartment with lid, and is lined with a hand block printed paper decorated with a diaper of Tudor roses and other patterns; the paper being sheets from Camden's 'Remains Concerning Britain,' dated 1615.
From catalogue H. 10 in., L. 2 ft. 6 ½ in., D. 22 in.
(H. 25.4 cm, L. 77.5 cm, D. 55.9 cm)
From: H. Clifford Smith, Catalogue of English Furniture & Woodwork
(London 1930), 586, Plate 25.
Ramond, Pierre. La Marqueterie. Paris, Editions Vial, 1981, p. 18
Ramond, Pierre. Marquetry. 1st ed. published in English by Taunton Press, 1989. Revised edition, Paris, Editions Vial, 2002, p. 18
Victoria & Albert Museum: Fifty Masterpieces of Woodwork (London, 1955), no. 26.
An Inlaid Box
The ‘divine bestiaries’ of Guillaume le Normand (c. 1210) and other medieval writers transmitted an ornamental repertory of beasts and birds which strongly appealed to English taste in the time of Stuart kings and ‘metaphysical’ poets. Such books as Edward Topsells Histoire of Foure-footed Beasts (1607) and Histoire of Serpents (1608) further encouraged the use of ‘exorbitant animals’ in heraldry, needlework, inlay, and other arts which lent themselves to pattern and fancy.
The bard-tail cockatrice or wyvern, hatched by a ‘venimous worme’ from a cockadill’s egg, and repeatedly present in British bearings, is here seen on a handsome ashwood box, made to hold ‘pictures of needle work' and decorated with glued pearwood, bog-wood and other ‘ﬁne woodes in marketry'. In spirit and composition, as in the ﬁgures, cocks, and Tudor roses, the decoration has much in common with the gaieties of contemporary embroidery, notably a sampler at Dorchester which shows paired ﬁgures of Charles I and his Queen with Tudor roses, the initials C.R. and the date 1630; though the box is perhaps twenty years earlier.
The lining-paper is woodblock-printed in black with a diaper of similar roses on the back of printer’s unused pulls for an edition of Remaines of a greater Worke, concerning Britaine, a celebrated book ﬁrst published in 1605, under his terminals M.N. (instead of his initials), by William Camden (1551-1623), herald and antiquary, and several times re-issued between that date and 1636.
The box was bought by the Museum in 1910.
English; early seventeenth century.
H. 10 in., L. 30 ½ in., D. 22 in.
Darrah, Josephine, 'Furniture Timbers'. Victoria and Albert Conservation Journal, issue 4 (July 1992), pp. 4-6, fig. 2 (the image in fact shown as fig. 3)
The box is constructed from elm, Ulmus procera, a wood rarely used in case furniture due to its propensity to warp. The light coloured inlays are maple, acer sp., the black bandings and inlays bog oak. The most interesting discovery is Andaman padouk Pterocarpus dalbergioides, a deep purple-red wood seen in the geometrical bandings (with maple), the cock's wattles and the darker birds. It has faded to a warm reddish-brown. A species of padouk is said to have been imported in the 15th and 16th centuries as a dyewood, so its early appearance as a decorative inlay is not surprising.
JOURDAIN, Margaret: English Decoration and Furniture of the Early Renaissance. (1500 - 1650). Vol. I. (London, 1924), fig. 291
Collection no. 42 [not listed on p.xii]
Tara Hambling and Catherine Richardson, A Day in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press, 2017), fig. 111, p. 154
Labels and date
English; about 1615
Elm, inlaid with maple, padouk, and bog oak, and lined with block-printed paper
The lining paper is printed with a diaper of roses and flowers on the back of unused pulls for the 1615 edition of William Camden, Remaines...concerning Britaine. It is inlaid with a miscellany of motifs - birds, flowers, and figures - similar to contemporary embroidery, and to designs drawn by Thomas Trevelyon in 1616. [pre July 2001]
INLAID TABLE DESK AND BOX
These two pieces were probably made by European joiners who settled in Southwark, south London. About 400 furniture makers from areas now in Germany and The Netherlands worked in London between 1511 and 1621. They specialised in inlay techniques which were fashionable in Northern Europe at the time. [27/03/2003]
Elm; Maple; Cedar; Bog oak; Padouk
Cock (bird); Martlets; Tudor roses; Doves; Griffins
Containers; British Galleries; Woodwork; Medieval and renaissance
Furniture and Woodwork Collection