18th century Billet Doux (love notes case/courier's etui)
Vernis Martin decorated wood body, shell inner lip, sterling silver rings.
Condition: Very good to excellent for age and type, very light surface wear, 2 small chips on the inner shell lip.
Measurements: 7/8" diameter, 5 1/2" long.
I just love these old things. The history is as fun as the object. These are rare! What some think might be a cigar case is, instead, a 1700s "billet doux", or directly translated, "sweet note". The case is that into which love notes, invitations to clandestine trysts and such words of love would be sent by courier to one's beloved. Marriage being what it was among elites and titled persons in Marie-Antoinette's era and earlier, one did not always consort with only one's spouse. A love note would be written, rolled and slid into the tube, closed and perhaps even sealed with a small sealing wax/cachet to avoid prying eyes of even one's trusted courier. These survive today mostly in museum collections. We've had and sold some splendid ones over time. The most wonderful are these hand painted ones, in the manner of the Brothers Martin - layered paint varnish, sometimes foil or gold and silver. A beautiful patterned one shown here, it might have belonged to a gentleman. Note the gold stars in the circles. The layered varnish and oil paint manner in which it is worked is a favorite of Marie-Antoinette, and is referred to simply as "vernis martin" now, as then.