Sablé patch box and lid

about 1775


Overall: 4 x 2 cm (1 9/16 x 13/16 in.)

Medium or Technique

Glass beads on wood

Not On View


Textiles and Fashion Arts


Textiles, Printed

During the eighteenth century, it was the height of fashion for women, and some men, to wear small, dark patches of gummed taffeta on their face. These varied in design from simple spots, stars, and crescents to highly detailed representations of birds, insects, and flowers. Although some patches were used to cover blemishes and heighten the whiteness of the skin, others were worn to communicate tacit messages. The placement of patches could also be meaningful, indicating one’s political sympathies, marital status, or sexual availability.

Patches were kept in small boxes that were oval, rectangular, or circular in shape. Like snuff boxes, they were made of various materials, including precious metal, ivory, tortoiseshell, and enameled copper. The surface of this patch box is unusual in that it is covered with sablé (from the French, meaning laid or covered with sand) beadwork. This decorative art form was popular in France during the latter decades of the eighteenth century and consists of tiny beads of opaque and translucent glass that were strung on a framework with silk threads. In this example, rows of beads were joined to each other by simple, looping stitches and then removed from the frame and applied to both the bottom and lid of a wooden box. The beads are remarkable for their small size with nearly a thousand beads to the square inch. It is believed that the small, decorative objects made of sablé beadwork were created in one or two Parisian workshops as the number of examples known to exist are well under a thousand.

Many patch boxes, including this example, were decorated with amatory motifs and mottoes. On the lid are twinned flaming hearts, emblems of passionate love. The hearts are surmounted by a crown and flanked by exotic, fanciful flowers. A band of beadwork text around the side of the box reads, IL(sic) SONT UNIS / MAIGRES L’ENVIE (They are united / in site of envy).

Credit Line

The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection