36 East 73rd Street New York City, NY 10021 , United States Call Seller 212.517.9176


Strong Box (missal coffers) also called messenger box, France circa 1430-1470

$ 12,000
  • Description
    Strong box (missal casket), Iron over iron or fabric on an oak core, lined with leather or linen.
    France, circa 1430-1470
    Size: 4” high x 4 7/8” wide x 7 3/8” deep
    Provenance: Frédéric Spitzer, Paris
    sold, C. Mannheim, Paris, 16 June 1893
    Purchased Sanbon Dans, 1927

    With a slightly arched lid, transversed by three cross bands, which are intersected by an opposing band, this box is missing its side rings. The openwork exterior decoration consists of rows of paired and slightly reticulated ovals. The interior is unlined.


    Traditionally known as coffret à mailles or coffret à la manière d’Espagne, these strong boxes are believed to date from the middle of the fifteenth century. Scholars are uncertain about the true origin of these caskets, whether German or Spanish in derivation. Nevertheless, the majority of these caskets seem to have been made in France, which reveals the widespread diffusion of their form throughout Europe (see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the end of the Middle Ages, New York, 1975, p. 149, no. 169).
    Rectangular in form, these boxes have covers of either slightly barreled or reverse tray form, reinforced with iron bars. Elaborately decorated architectural iron double hasps span the front of each box, and enclose a solid lock, the keyhole of which is usually blocked by a secret system. These caskets, which are in fact miniature safes, are all constructed in the same manner; on an oak core, sheets of iron, decorated with reticulated, open work gothic tracery, are superimposed on either other sheets of iron or panels of fabric. The majority of the boxes are decorated with one dominant pattern, rows of interlocking loops separated by shaped reserves. Most of the boxes with the reverse tray tops, however, have a diamond patterned ground, while some rare examples have more intricate, elaborate and unique ornaments. Iron rings, two on each side for the larger examples and one on each side for the smaller ones, are attached to nearly all of these boxes. The interiors of the boxes are sometimes lined in leather, but more usually in reddish or cream colored linen. The inside of the lid is occasionally further decorated with cross bands of linen or leather in contrasting colors held in place by nails.
    Often referred to as messenger caskets, these boxes were securely constructed yet relatively light in weight to facilitate travel. Indeed, they were used to safely hold and transport precious possessions, such as costly books or objects, and most importantly missals, either by directly attaching them from their iron rings to a saddle or by suspending them within a larger chest.
  • More Information
    Origin: France
    Period: Pre 18th Century
    Materials: Iron on an oak core, with velvet
    Condition: Good.
    Styles / Movements: Other, Traditional
    Dealer Reference #: box 09e
    Incollect Reference #: 292991
  • Dimensions
    W. 4.87 in; H. 4 in; Diam. 7.37 in;
    W. 12.38 cm; H. 10.16 cm; Diam. 18.73 cm;
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