Diminutive Paint-Decorated Pine and Poplar Dome-Top Box
Attributed to the “Compasswork Decorator”
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1810-1840
H. 3 15/16, W. 4 7/16, D. 3 1/16 inches
Note: In terms of size, this is previously unknown “Compasswork Decorator” box is one of the smallest, if not the smallest example known.
Small decorative boxes were popular as gifts in Germanic Europe. Consequently, in America, within the Pennsylvania German community, they were popular and made in a range of sizes to hold a variety of objects including textile accessories, trinkets and personal items. Lancaster County newspapers dating from the 1812 to 1838 were used to line several examples. The decoration of these boxes was applied directly to the wood, in contrast to Continental examples, which were first coated with a primer coat of paint or gesso. The decoration on a particular piece was primarily laid out with the use of a compass; the incised lines and compass points serve as witness marks, which are evident through the paint decoration. Colors such as red, blue, or the blue-green seen on the present example were used as the back-drop for the patterns of pinwheels, vines and other organic motifs all laid out in a geometric fashion, often employing patterns of dots within the reserves. Over-varnish was then applied to give the surface a sheen and to protect the paint. This varnish often darkened over time.
Condition: The Varnish has darkened overall, obscuring the once vibrant colors of the overall color and decoration. The domed portion of the top is slightly darker than the sides, which is typical, because dust particles, etc. tend to settle on horizontal surfaces. The punched tin hasp is missing; the lock plate remains. Hinges are original. Paint at the edges of the top is worn. Small flakes of paint missing in a few areas. Some small scratches are on the surface of the paint.
Provenance:Recently discovered in a Southern Estate by the present owner.Please note: a brown painted egg with incised date of 1841, naive incised decoration and partially illegible name was found inside box and will accompany this lot.