July’s Hands on History session explores objects from our museum collections which can all be described as vessels. The session will look at use of vessels to hold, collect, preserve, carry and protect their contents whilst also being decorative, beautiful and tactile objects.

One particularly enticing vessel combining an elegant appearance with a specific function is this Turkish Spice Box.



The round box is made from pewtered copper and has a domed lid that lifts off, with a spire shaped handle. The lid is attached to the box base by two small chains of pewtered copper and fastens at the front with a clasp style copper loop. The design gives the impression of something precious inside. Patterns and shapes have been added to the surface of the box so that every inch of it is covered with sprays of dots, circles, zig zags, flower and leaf shapes. The inside of the box is in contrast plain and undecorated. Inside the box, spices would have been kept and preserved, filling it with their colours, textures and smells.



The spice trade originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. Trade on the Silk Road via Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (and other land routes) was initially conducted by camel drawn caravans. The spice trade in its heyday became the world’s biggest industry. Black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg and cloves amongst many spices that were introduced to the wider world.

Traders were secretive as to where they got their spices from.  Magical stories were created for specific herbs & spices. Cassia was said to have grown in shallow lakes guarded by winged animals whilst cinnamon reportedly grew in deep glens infested with poisonous snakes. These mythical tales created a sense of mystery, danger, exoticism and rarity that surrounded spices and resonate in this Turkish Spice Box from our collections.

Join our Access Assistants in the Picture Gallery on Saturday 15 July from 11am until 4pm to discover this spice box and other vessels from our collections.


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