on June 21, 2003
Anyone who's ever touched a small box or tea caddy or folding writing desk from several hundred years ago knows the thrill of holding that object, one used by ancient sets of hands. Or maybe it's the thrill of seeing rare and ancient woods -- amboina or coromandel or burled yew or satinwood -- up close. Whatever leads you to boxes, lead yourself to this book. The pictures are gorgeous, but even better is the precision of the social history which surrounds them, whether it's the intricacies of the tea-opium trade, or the influence of the penny post, or the Prince Regent's taste. Many books I've seen before -- small "Shire" studies of writing antiquities, for example -- are good but small, and almost impossible to find in the States except at occasional antique shows. This is both scholarly in its documentation and readable, even enjoyable, in the portrait of Britain it unfolds. And the pictures are a refreshing change from the blurry amateurism that marks too many specialized "guides." Pricey but worth it.