Collectible Porcelain, Resin, and Metal Trinket Boxes

Pip Harris Pip Harris

If you want to collect something small and unique, why not consider the wide variety of porcelain, resin, and metal trinket boxes, commonly but inaccurately, called Limoges?

Limoges refers to the small, intricately detailed, and finely hand-painted kaolin porcelain hinged boxes from Limoges, France. These boxes date back to the mid 1700s and were originally used as snuff boxes by the French aristocracy, and thus, were actually used as part of their wardrobe. A true Limoges can be quite pricey (several hundred dollars) depending upon the age, design, style, and where purchased.

A less costly alternative are the many porcelain, resin, and metal trinket boxes based upon the original Limoges design, and they are therefore often referred to as Limoges-type trinket boxes. You can get started with this interesting collectible for less than one dollar per box in some cases. I admit that I do have some rather expensive boxes and even a few actual Limoges received as gifts, but I find that some of my least expensive boxes are also some of the most interesting and unique.

I unintentionally started collecting these in 1997 when I received my first one as a Christmas gift, and my collection took off from there. My first box depicted Santa, his sleigh, and Rudolph atop a snow-covered rooftop. I was immediately captivated by the intricate detail of something not much bigger than three inches long, and the unique tiny wrapped packages secreted inside the box. Available in an unimaginable variety of designs and with some quite detailed, these porcelain, resin, and metal boxes show up in another new design just when you think there couldn't possibly be anything new available. I have managed to build my collection to over 340 boxes in only a few years. Amazingly over the years I have only acquired two duplicates--two milk cows and two identical Santa Claus boxes. This is even more amazing since most of my boxes were received as gifts. I think this just proves the variety available. While I do have some similiar designs, each is still unique. 

I do occasionally purchase a box for myself when I find one that I particularly like, but I have found that receiving them is part of the fun as they make a nice, small, fairly inexpensive gift for my family and friends to give, with the added benefit that they don't take up much space in my home. It has almost become a game to see who can come up with a new one I don't yet have in my collection. I began keeping an inventory of when I received each one and who gave it to me simply because it became impossible to remember them all.

Available in porcelain, resin, metal, or a combination of materials, the boxes may have a metal hinge and decorative clasp or the more modern magnetic closure. Many are hand-painted. They depict holiday themes, special events, flowers, furniture, buildings, animals, nursery rhymes, television and movie themes, or just funny ideas. I have a UFO complete with a tiny green alien inside, a barbeque grill with tiny burgers and condiments, an Egyptian sarcophagus complete with a resident mummy, Humpty Dumpty with broken eggshells and one of the King's men, and a tooth fairy. My mother gave me the tooth fairy and included one of my baby teeth she had been keeping for many years as the surprise. As you can probably tell from my list, many of these boxes come with small items hidden inside as an extra surprise as shown on this photo.  I also have a few that are working music boxes. The boxes are available as souvenirs of places visited so you can easily bring home a great reminder of a favorite vacation or trip. I have the St. Louis arch, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Statue of Liberty, etc.

As with any collection, once you decide to collect, you will start noticing these boxes at garage sales, antique shops, and most retail stores, in catalogues, and certainly the easiest and best location is on eBay, where I have purchased some of my favorites. Try searching Limoges trinket boxes, hinged trinket boxes, or just trinket boxes and you will find hundreds to choose from. Most are small (less than three inches tall or wide), but you will also find some much larger ones. My largest is over 12 inches tall, but I personally prefer the smaller boxes as they are easier to display. If giving the trinket box as a gift, you can also add your own special surprise gift inside. A few years ago I received a porcelain trinket box shaped like a heart from my husband on our anniversary. Nestled inside was a very special ring I had longed for.

Many of the less expensive boxes do not come with trinkets, but you can easily add your own small items purchased from eBay or craft stores. Look in areas for doll house items or embellishments for scrap booking. For example, I have one trinket box that is an old treadle sewing machine. I added a tiny pair of scissors, thread, and tape measure. 

My trinket boxes have become a great conversation piece, and my friends and family love to see what is new when they come to visit. During the holidays or special occasions, I also display them around my house in addition to other decorations. Use your imagination when displaying them. I have over 50 Christmas themed boxes, including an entire village, many Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and the Fourth of July boxes. I soon acquired a lighted, multi-shelf, curio cabinet to display the majority of my boxes, and found this made displaying and cleaning them a lot easier. I display the trinkets with the box as they add to the unique quality of some boxes. When a holiday is past, I simply rearrange the boxes on the shelves.

Getting started is as easy as making a few choices and checking the links shown above:

  1. Do you want to collect only porcelain, resin, or metal boxes or a combination of all types?
  2. Do you only want to collect original Limoges boxes?
  3. Do you prefer the traditional metal hinge with decorative clasp or the magnetic closure?
  4. Do you want to concentrate on a specific theme (Christmas, flowers, egg-shaped, animals, furniture, etc.) or will any design or theme do?
  5. Do you only want to collect boxes with additional trinkets inside?
  6. Do you have a size preference?
  7. What is the maximum you want to spend for each box?
  8. What is the best way to store or display your boxes?
  9. Start an inventory list with your first box.

It only takes one box to start your collection, so why not consider the small decorative porcelain, resin, or metal trinket box as the beginning of a new and interesting hobby? Good luck with your collection.