Ivory and piqué box and lid

Object name: Ivory and piqué box and lid

Object number: CHWJA:JAH29

Category: Objects

Description: Small ivory and piqué box and lid of circular form; the lid has a screw closure and is inset with tiny flower decorations and a central, circular gold tablet. George III period.  Made for Jane Austen by her brother, Admiral Sir Francis Austen.

Made: Early 19th century

Context: The closest of the Austen siblings to Jane in age, Frank was a talented wood turner, carver and toy maker.  He also enjoyed netting and made nets to protect his Morello cherries and currants, a skill he passed on to his grandsons.  According to Jane, Frank was also adept at making decorative fringes for the drawing room curtains when they lived in Southampton.

Frank believed that Jane had based parts of Captain Harville’s character in Persuasion on him; in Chapter 11, Jane wrote of Captain Harville:

 ‘He drew, he varnished, he carpentered, he glued; he made toys for the children; he fashioned new netting-needles…’

Writing to an American admirer of Jane’s work in 1852, Frank wrote:

‘I do not know whether the character of Capt. Wentworth the authoress meant in any degree to delineate that of her Brother: perhaps she might – but I rather think parts of Capt. Harville’s were drawn from myself.  At least some of his domestic habits, tastes and occupations bear a strong resemblance to mine.’

This small box, made by Frank for Jane, had passed through the family of Jane’s youngest brother Charles.  In 1926, it was given by one of Charles’ granddaughters to the eminent Austen scholar,  Dr R.W. Chapman, in gratitude for the help he had given her and her sisters in disposing of some of their Austen artefacts.  The purpose of the box is unclear; it has been variously described as either a pounce pot or a box for patches.  It was donated by Dr Chapman to the Museum shortly after it opened in 1949.

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