Yesterday I bought a little circular box which I had seen in the window of a local charity shop and fallen in love with. I was told it was carved out of rhinoceros horn, but I don’t know whether that is true or whether it is merely imitation plastic. In any case, if it is made of horn, I hope that the rhinoceros from which it came died of natural causes and was not one of the poor animals now hunted by poachers for just such a piece of horn.
The box is about 3 ins in diameter and about 1½ ins high, and has a little hinged lid with a little carved knob on top. Its tiny brass hinges and the brass studs around its base point to its being quite old. I can’t see a modern trinket-maker spending the kind of time needed to work these into the side panels. And it is also carefully lined with slightly worn black velvet which could again indicate an object made at a time when craftsmanship was more readily available and cheaper than now. It is a kind of mottled brown in colour, shot through with cream, and the small panels of its base could indeed come from something circular, such as a horn. I will not know what it is really made of, and when it is likely to have been made, until I give it to a friend of mine who haunts the Victoria and Albert Museum and knows all about these kinds of things.
I have put it on a low table on which I gather precious things I take pleasure in looking at. Here it is joined by a tiny green malachite elephant, said to come from the Congo, and a small replica of the Degas dancer, stretching her hands behind her and pointing her toes. I smile whenever I look at my little box. At a penny a smile, it is surely worth the few pounds I paid for it.