Good Things Come In Small Packages

March 11th, 2013 | posted by Ludovic Rousset
This rare English 18th-century agate and gold étui exhibits a graceful Rococo style. Adorned with exceptional carving and gold mounts, this charming étui opens with the push of a button. Circa, 1770.

This rare English 18th-century agate and gold étui exhibits a graceful Rococo style. Adorned with exceptional carving and gold mounts, this charming étui opens with the push of a button. Circa, 1770.

Flawlessly crafted in the neoclassical style, this container is made of various shades of gold and is distinguished by panels of peaked guilloche engraving. Borders of foliate, floral and ribbon chasing complete the design. Circa, 1760.

Flawlessly crafted in the neoclassical style, this container is made of various shades of gold and is distinguished by panels of peaked guilloche engraving. Borders of foliate, floral and ribbon chasing complete the design. Circa, 1760.

About a year ago, M.S. Rau purchased a collection of étuis – the jewel-like decorative cases used in the 18th century to store small items or to discreetly pass notes between members of nobility. Within weeks, we had sold them all, delighted to learn that in the current age of technology, people still appreciate the possibility of a handwritten note. We recently acquired another set of étuis, each one distinctive and utterly collectible. What makes these gems of history so special is not just their beauty, but their fascinating biography as well.

Étuis take their name from the Old French word “estuier,” meaning “to keep or hold.”  Although we now associate them with secret written exchanges of the European elite, an étui is a very versatile item. These ornamental cases could be made of any material, from precious metals like gold or silver, to exotic materials such as tortoiseshell or shagreen. Though many were used for more clandestine reasons, some also served the more practical purpose of holding small items such as scissors, thimbles, needles, or even a doctor’s lancet. To maintain the security of the more confidential notes contained within these items, sometimes the exteriors would be sealed with wax.

I cannot think of a more elegant way to give a small gift, or make a note special, than tucked into one of these pieces, can you?  View all of our available étuis here.

 

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