PRESENTING AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE & IMPORTANT late 18C Anglo Indian Sadeli Mosaic Sarcophagus Sewing Box.

VERY, VERY EARLY Sadeli Mosaic piece, which is what makes it all the more important!

Made in the area of Bombay, India circa 1780-1800.

The box is in a classic Regency Era Sarcophagus form, very reminiscent of an Egyptian/Summarian Coffins/Tombs. This form features regularly in Tea Caddies of that period and helps us identify this piece as, most definitely, late 18th Century.

The box is flanked on either side by scroll shaped ends, with a raised platform on the lid.

The box is completely covered in an early version of ‘Sadeli Mosaic’.

It is edged/banded in faux ivory and ebony stringing.

The box case is made of sandalwood.

This box is a really EARLY example of this type of mosaic work.

The craftsmen of the Bombay area became famous for their ‘sadeli mosaic’ work, through the 19th Century and most examples of boxes with this mosaic, date from the mid-19th Century up to the early 20th Century.

As the surface of the early sadeli work, is quite rough/coarse to the touch, it was very difficult to maintain, as dusting with a cloth, would often ‘lift off’ some of the mosaic. Thus, very, very few pieces have survived fully intact.

There is no disputing that this box has lived a ‘full life’, BUT, that is to be expected of most Sadeli Mosaic pieces from 1880 … let alone one, from 100 years earlier than that!

It is remarkable that it has survived at all!

If this were in better condition, it would be in a museum and/or would have a VERY LARGE price tag of multiples of our asking price!

There has been quite a loss of mosaic and banding on the exterior, but the loss has been halted, by a gentle application of filler and clear lacquer.

The interior of the box is SUPERB, it is ‘pretty much’ in ORIGINAL CONDITION!

The mirror is the original and removeable. It is edged/banded with sadeli mosaic, bone and ebony.

It has a removeable base tray with various lidded compartments.

Original red velvet lining on the inside of the lid and under the tray.

The tray has 3 Sadeli mosaic lidded compartments (1 large and 2 small).

The ‘sadeli’ work on the lids, is exceptional and very well preserved, with only very minor losses. You can really see the quality of the original mosaic work on these!

It has a removeable pin cushion, banded in bone and hand decorated and the original burgundy velvet.

There are 4 bone lids for holding the 6 faux ivory thread spools, thimble, and hand decorated thread cannisters.

There is 1 long bone lid for storage underneath.

The interior is pretty much as good as it gets!

It sits on 4 brass ball feet.


SADELI MOSAIC: “Anglo Indian boxes were made in India for the English residents from the early part of the 18th century. They were brought back or sent back to England usually by the people who had commissioned them. From the beginning of the nineteenth century they were imported more commercially, although not in any significant numbers until the middle decades. They were very highly valued, especially the early ones, to the extent that the designs were copied on late 19th and early 20th century tins.

The ancient art of Sadeli Mosaic is said to have been introduced from Shiraz in Persia via Sind to Bombay, a long time before the Anglo Indian boxes were made. It was a technique, which required a high degree of skill and patience. It was executed very lavishly, in that the frequent cuts wasted a great amount of the precious materials used. The workmanship was however more than commensurable to the value of the materials.

Ivory, silver, pewter (or other metals), wood and horn were cut into faceted rods which were bound together to form geometric patterns. When the glue has set, the rods were sliced in transverse sections. This gave the maker a number of angled circular pieces in the original pattern. Several variations of patterns could be achieved by combining the materials in different ways. The ivory was sometimes dyed green to give an extra color.

The mosaic pieces in a combination of patterns, often separated by ivory, ebony, horn or silver stringing were used to veneer sandalwood boxes. In the early boxes, which date from the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, there are large panels of mosaic covering tops and sides of boxes. It took incredible skill to cover such large areas without any shakes or wavering of the pattern. The corners and joins on these boxes are impeccably matched.

The makers (reputed to be Persian) of Sadeli mosaic made in the first two decades of the 19th century displayed a total understanding of the qualities of the different materials they used. They combined substances, which can expand and contract according to atmospheric conditions with others, which are hard and unyielding. The result was a sharp definition of the lines and patterns, which made up the whole design.

On the early boxes the designs look deceptively simple. The fact is, they emerged from a culture, which had mastered geometry and understood how to generate a pattern from a set number of points. The patterns are so harmoniously combined that their incredible complexity is not immediately apparent.

The earliest Sadeli boxes are of simple rectangular shapes. The combination of the diverse patterns is a triumph of artistic judgment, impeccable workmanship and deep respect for the material in hand. The boxes have an opulence emanating from the richness of the materials, yet the total control of these materials and the cerebral nature of the overall designs give them a restrained dignity. These early Sadeli boxes are now very rare indeed.

The carved Anglo Indian boxes fall into two very distinctive categories:

1. Early 19th century sandalwood boxes which were finely carved with repetitive floral and bird motifs and

2. Later 19th and 20th century wooden boxes much more crudely carved with or without late period Sadeli mosaic.

There are of course variations in the quality of these later boxes and some of them are very striking.

Boxes from the first category are very rare. ”



This is a VERY RARE BOX and despite its damage/repairs, it is still HIGHLY DESIRABLE AND COLLECTIBLE, as a VERY EARLY ANGLO-INDIAN SADELI PIECE!

18C Anglo Indian Sadeli Mosaic Sarcophagus Sewing Box

Provenance: Part of our extensive Anglo-Indian Collection. Bought at auction in the UK, in the early 2000’s.

Dimensions: 10.3 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall (closed) and 9.75 inches tall (open) and 7 inches deep

Condition: Has some obvious condition issues, as is evident from the pics. Loss of mosaic to exterior and numerous repairs. But would still be considered to be in reasonably good condition, for a piece of this age and with that old ‘coarse’ to the touch mosaic. Interior is very good.


Copyright - Rockwell Antiques LLC 2021