February 3rd, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau

Back in the old days, in the 1750’s, the way in which lovers expressed their true sentiments to each other and loved ones was to send a specially scribed message secretly hidden in a tiny “étui”, as it’s called in French, or a small ornamental case that women also used to carry their small utensils, a thimble and thread for sewing, or other miniature necessities during their daily activities.  When used for a romantic, or highly a private, message, a seal of wax was used to close the étui to ensure that it wasn’t opened and the confidant betrayed.

Little cylinders, no more than 4 inches long and one inch in diameter, were crafted by hand in leather and precious metals, exotic materials like shagreen (shark or stingray skin),  tortoiseshell or semi-precious stones. They are the perfect romantic gift in which you can stash a very personal love note or even a small gift of jewelry.

M.S. Rau Antiques and Fine Art has acquired an extraordinary collection of 18th century “étuis” which are decorated using different types of gold and agate. Agate was highly prized in the 18th century for its marbled look and used as an amulet or talisman to divert storms in ancient civilizations. French phrases like “Nul Plaisir Sans Vous” (“no pleasure without you”) intensify the sentiment of the gift tucked inside, as shown on the one below.

This incredibly intricate, Swiss Louis XIV-era etui (below) is only 4 inches long and is made of 18K yellow gold and features a Neoclassic design representing Music and Gardening motifs in bas-relief cartouches and laurel borders.

This exuberant, English Rococo era étui is formed of beautifully carved agate and 18K yellow gold. It is carved to resemble an enchanted landscape with trees.  Sealed with wax for security, it opens with the push of a diamond studded button. Truly, a gift to have and to cherish.

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