Boxing Clever

For more than 2000 years the shell of the Hawksbill Turtle has been prized for its beauty and mystique and used as a traded commodity as well as for the finest and most luxurious decoration. Of the latter the greatest exponent was Andre Charles Boulle, sometimes spelt Buhl, 1642 - 1732, who developed a type of veneer for furniture which has born his name from the 17th century to the present day. It  comprised mainly brass and turtleshell which, probably because it is a nicer word, we call tortoiseshell.  A sheet of each material is fixed one to the other much as a sandwich and a pattern drawn on to the top layer.  The lines of the drawing are then cut through with a fine saw blade as in a jigsaw and the two sections separated.  Two pictures are thus created, one with a tortoiseshell background and brass pattern and the other the reverse.  Such furniture was obviously highly prized and priced and at this early period made in pairs - Boulle and Contre Boulle.  While there are some wonderful examples in many stately homes in England it was more to the taste of the French and other European Courts and was hardly evident in Chippendale's England.  However after the defeat of Napoleon and the arrival in London of several notable French craftsmen, Boulle or Buhl work saw an immediate popularity and demand. This was largely due to Louis le Gaignieur who opened his workshop in the Edgeware Road in 1815.  From then on such decoration remained in vogue, with the tortoiseshell being replaced with cheaper, inferior and fake materials, easily recognised today by their instability and being prone to blister.  The one question frequently asked is how do you change an old, hard, ancient marine protector into a maleable material which can be sliced into flat sheets 1/16" thick. Well in the same way you turn an old 78" gramophone record into a fruit bowl.  You  heat it. Apparently there is a sea turtle in captivity in China at 400 years old. Now that's something of a record.