11554 A RARE REGENCY PENWORK CASKET, ITS EXTERIOR DECORATED WITH DEPICTIONS OF SEASHELLS AND CONTAINING THE ORIGINAL CONCHOLOGY COLLECTION OF ELIZA MARRIOTT, ON A LATER STAND English. Dated 1820. Measurements: Height: 30″ (76.2 cm) Width: 18 1/2″ (47 cm) Depth: 14″ (35.6 cm).
Of ochre colored penwork on a black painted ground. The rectangular casket with rising lid opens to reveal a compartmented interior with original pink paper lining and Etruscan style black and white painted border trim. Some of the shells with original finely written labels attached. A single drawer below the upper section similarly compartmented and filled with shells. The exterior of the casket decorated on all sides with depictions of shells.
Inscribed in ink on underside of lower drawer:
9th of October 1820
Miss Eliza Marriott, Sidmouth
The personal collection of Mario Buatta, 120 East 80th Street, New York
This finely decorated Regency penwork box, designed to contain a shell collection, is signed in ink and dated by Eliza Marriott 9th October 1820. Her place of residence is also indicated; Temple Cottage, Sidmouth, Devonshire (figure 1). Eliza’s box is dated when she was around 22 years old; it is not clear whether she herself decorated the exterior of the box or added her name with pride to her careful collection.
Archival research has revealed some interesting elements of her life. Born in India around 1798, where a substantial number of her relatives resided, she soon lost her mother and returned to England with her father, the wealthy Queen’s Council, Christopher Marriott. Both her uncles, Major Charles and Thomas Marriott remained in military service in India, until at least 1806, and the former through at least 1830.1
Christopher Marriott appears to have remarried when Eliza was around eight years old and chose to settle in the beautiful seaside town of Sidmouth, highly sought after for its spectacular natural shoreline and charming environs, which attracted the English Royal family and a multitude of illustrious visitors, including many artists and poets. The Duke and Duchess of Kent owned Woolbrook Cottage from around 1819 and stayed there with the infant Queen Victoria; Grand Duchess Helen of Russia took a house on the esplanade in 1818; the great architect Sir John Soane built Knowle Cottage for Lord Despencer.2 Christopher Marriott acquired two buildings within a new development of several Regency residences called Elysian Fields. “Much taste has been displayed by Mr. Barrett in the disposal of these buildings, which excites the admiration of every visitor to this charming retreat. Entering the iron gateway, on the right is Temple Cottage, the residence of Christopher Marriott, Esq. who also owns the next, Rosebank Cottage, now occupied by Mrs. Martin.”3
It is interesting to speculate that the building acquired the description of Temple Cottage after the Marriott’s acquisition: according to local legend the cottage was named after a “Hindoo temple” in the garden, which would be consistent with the Marriott family’s strong connection with India. Eliza continued to reside at the cottage until at least 1861, when her name appears in the local census.4
From the late 20th century, the shell box formed part of the personal collection of design icon Mario Buatta at 120 East 80th Street, New York (figure 2).
The casket is an extremely rare survival of an intact conchology collection, which, most unusually is inscribed with the details of the individual who created the collection. It is further distinguished by the fine penwork decoration of its exterior, which pleasingly consists of depictions of many and various types of seashells, probably taken from contemporary naturalist publications like those by Emanuel Mendes Da Costa, whose Elements of Conchology, or, An Introduction to the Knowledge of Shells (1726) contains a number of drawings quite similar to those on the cabinet.
It is a further rarity that the compartmented interior retains its original pink paper lining, as well as Etruscan-style black and white border trim.
- See Charles MacFarlane, Our Indian Empire, Its History and Present State, from the Earliest Settlement of the British in Hindostan to the Close of the Year 1843, Volume II (London: C. Knight, 1853) p. 159, and Will of Christopher Marriott of Sidmouth , Devon 5 MAy 1830 , PROB 11/1771/245, The National Archives, Kew, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D239710
- Candida Lycett Green, Sidmouth, Devon. 9 May 9 2014. http://www.candidalycettgreen.co.uk/live/seaside-resorts/sidmouth-devon/
- Butcher, Edmund. A New Guide, Descriptive of the Beauties of Sidmouth. Exeter: J. Wallis, 1830.
- “England and Wales Census, 1861,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M7PK-R4P : 20 April 2019), Eliza Marriott, Sidmouth, Devon, England, United Kingdom; from “1861 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO RG 9, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.