1957.0122.001 A B Box, view 1
  • 1957.0122.001 A B Box, view 1
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  • Category:

    Organic (ivory, horn, etc.)

  • Place of Origin:

    China or Japan, Asia

  • Date:


  • Materials:

    Tortoise shell (marine turtle)

  • Museum Object Number:

    1957.0122.001 A, B

  • Complete Details

Object Number

1957.0122.001 A, B

Object Name



Organic (ivory, horn, etc.)

Credit Line/Donor

Museum purchase

Place of Origin

China or Japan, Asia

Origin Notes

Two inscriptions, one in Japanese characters and one possibly in Chinese.



Mark or Signature or Inscription or Label

1. Inscription; Cover; "IMT" engraved on reserve


Tortoise shell (marine turtle)

Dimensions (inches)

1.1 (H) , 4.7 (Diam)

Dimensions (centimeters)

2.7 (H) , 12 (Diam)

Object Description

Web - 03/23/2021

In decorative arts, the term "tortoise shell" is commonly used to describe scutes, or plates, of the shell from Hawksbill, Green, or Loggerhead marine turtles. Turtles once flourished in tropical waters in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with the Tortugas, the Cayman Islands, and the Mosquito Coast all having large populations before they were fished to near extinction. Early objects made from tortoise shell were an ultra-luxury for elite consumers in Europe and Asia. As a raw trade material, “shell” could be 8 to 10 times more costly than elephant tusk ivory during the 1700s. By the early 1800s, tortoise shell was in wide use for merchant-class fashion accessories such as tea caddies, magnifying lens cases, fans, boxes and vanity sets as well as handles on many elegant tools, but especially for lady’s hair combs. Tortoise shell as an artistic material transitioned from rare and exotic to widely-desirable and internationally-produced, and then back to scarcity within two centuries.

This circular box is intricately carved on the lid and bottom with figures amongst buildings, trees, and a boat performing various activities. The lid also features a cypher “IMT” in a small oval at the top.