Ming Porcelain `Betel` Boxes :
Oval and rectangular late Ming boxes with a divided central compartment have traditionally been referred to as betel or betel nut boxes. In fact it should be called the Areca nut, but this has often mistakenly translated in the English language as betel nut. The nuts are widely chewed in South East Asia for there mild stimulating properties. These Ming boxes might have been used in some countries for areca nuts, however it is clear they were used for different purposes in different country`s. For example, they occur in Japan where they were used as incense containers for the tea ceremony and examples are known in Holland where they would probably have been used, well for what ever the owner wanted. Most, but not all, can be considered as Kraak ware, they share a common trait, that is the tops are quite different in design to the bases. The tops are often decorated in the same way as plates or dishes might be, where the bases might be seen as similar to the decoration on the reverse of dishes or plates.
The following references are all to blue and white porcelain examples ;
References, a Painting in the National Gallery :
For a blue and white Ming porcelain `betel box and cover` see `Still Life with a Lobster` by Willem Claesz Heda c.1650-1659 in the National Gallery London. The description of this painting on the National Gallery`s website helps lend a different perspective to this Ming box and cover “To a 17th-century viewer the objects brought together in this still life would have suggested considerable wealth and luxury. Not only the lobster, but also salt, pepper and citrus fruit were costly items at that time. The elaborately crafted gold goblet and the stand supporting the glass on the right, were highly valued for their material and workmanship. Blue and white porcelain was imported into the Netherlands from China.While it remains debatable whether such a display of wealth served as a reminder of the transience of all earthly belongings, the luxury objects clearly point to the elaborate lifestyle of successful Dutch merchants during the `Golden Age`.” http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/willem-claesz.-heda-still-life-with-a-lobster.
Other References :
For a Ming porcelain box and cover of this type was recovered from the `Witte Leeuw` of 1613. See : The Ceramic Load of the Witte Leeuw, 1613 (Edited by C.L Van Der Pijl-Ketel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1982,ISBN 90-9309-6) page 138. Other but later Ming porcelain boxes of this type were recovered from the so-called `Hatcher Cargo` see : The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes, The Complete Record (Colin Sheaf and Richard Kilburn, Phaidon 1988.ISBN 0-7148-80469) page 35, plate 36. These were described as `betel boxes`. A further box and cover is illustrated in : Ming Porcelain for the Japanese Market, Ko-Sometsuke & Ko-Imari (S.Marchant & Son, Kensington Church Street 2008) page 27, item 9, dated as Wanli or Tianqi c.1620.