Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Archibald Knox Cigarette Box, 1903-04

Cymric Cigarette Case
Designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty's, 1903-4
Silver set with Opals
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early Twentieth Century as smoking grew more fashionable for men, jewelers saw an opportunity to cash in on this new, unhealthy fad by creating luxurious cases for cigarettes in the same way they made snuffboxes two centuries earlier.

This box was of silver was designed by Archibald Knox for Liberty of London's "Cymric" line of silverware and jewellery.  As a designer, Knox's creations owe stylistically to the British Arts and Crafts movement and the work of C. R. Ashbee and his Guild of Handicraft in particular.

Charles Robert Ashbee was quick to notice the similarities of Liberty's designs to his work and he complained loudly that Liberty's unabashedly plagiarized his  works.  However, close inspection reveals that while there is a shallow similarity, Liberty's metalwork was, overall, more confident and bolder than the work of the Guild of Handicraft.

Let's take a look at this handsome case.  It is made of silver in a rectangular form with a cedarwood lining with two interior partitions. The front half of the hinged lid is embossed with an intricate pattern of interlacing designs which run down over the front of the body and onto the front half of each side.

The lid is elegantly set with a large opal in a heart shaped mount with smaller, cabochon opals in the front and on each side.

Knox's work was predominantly made in Birmingham, England for retail in London. This piece was made in Birmingham between 1903 and 1904.  Knox employed a metalworker called W.H. Hassler to produce his designs.

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