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Oval patch box imitating a cowrie shell with white reserve edged with white raised 'pearls' and bearing a verse.

Enamelled patch box, 1765 - 1785, EM220

Who would have believed it that in the 18th century small patches used to cover small pox scars could also be used to send a secret message to a lover! 

During the 1700s snuff boxes, patch boxes and pill boxes were popular items for the rich and fashionable.  Patch boxes were used to hold small patches of silk or velvet to hide the scars smallpox left behind on the skin. 

A gift of an enamelled patch box could be a costly expression of admiration and sentiment sometimes painted with amorous scenes or, like this one here,  messages of love and devotion.

The patches themselves varied in form and design from simple spots, stars, or crescents to elaborate animals, insects, or figures.  Back in Georgian times, it wasn’t the done thing for young people of the opposite sex to meet without a chaperone so sometimes lovers would use the placing of these patches to send a secret message to an admirer;  a patch at the corner of the eye could indicate passion.

Mother has Fallen Asleep by Delapoer Downing, OP666

Mother has Fallen Asleep by Delapoer Downing, OP666

Here in this 19th Century painting, Mother Has Fallen Asleep by Delapoer Downing, a pair of young lovers are making the most of the fact that the girl’s mother has fallen asleep.   I wonder if the suitor has pressed the mother to have more than one drink from the decanter on the table to encourage her to nod off?  It’s quite clear that the meeting was a civilised occasion, but the mother’s sleepiness has allowed the couple to express their feelings a little more than was usually allowed to in public.

You can see displays that include items like the enamel patch box above at Bantock House Museum in Wolverhampton, Bilston Craft Gallery and Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.

You can see more images of museum objects that are linked to love and romance on our Flickr photostream

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