Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sweetly made: Bonbonnières

When Italian designer Luca Nichetto's new Bonbon side tables (above) appeared in my inbox last week, it was pretty much love at first sight... but they also got me thinking about the term bonbon, in general. It is February, after all, the month of all things sweet and gooey, so I'm indulging in a little history. The word bonbon, which (for the most part) means a small chocolate candy with a soft center, is of French origin and translates simply to "good good" or "doubly good." Its first known use is, according to Webster's, 1770, although various sources point to later 18th-century dates and suggest it was actually a nursery word. Some, however, take it back even early, tracing the introduction of chocolate to France by Louis XIV's bride, the Spanish princess Maria Teresa, in the 1660s. She loved her daily sip of hot chocolate and someone in the palace kitchen had the brilliant idea to create a pretty little morsel from the cooled cocoa. (You can read more about that here.) So while sweets have long been a part of the human diet and have been served in a variety of ways (some, like syllabubs and possets, even requiring specially designed vessels), the advent and popularity of small candies created an entirely new need: where to store your bonbons! Not to fear, manufacturers responded by creating pretty dishes for tabletops, as well as hinged containers that could slip easily into pockets and purses. And with that, the bonbonnière was born. Here now, a little visual history of their development:

Bonbon dish, Doccia manufactory (Florence, Italy), 1750-55, hard-paste porcelain, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Bonbonnière in the form of a pug’s head (Continental, possibly German), c. 1755, enamel on copper with hand-painted decoration; gilded-metal mount, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Bonbon dish, Meissen Porcelain Manufactory (Germany), 1760, porcelain, Cooper–Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City

Box and cover, Spode (Stoke, England), c. 1820, porcelain, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Bonbonnière and scent bottle in the form of a female bust, Made by Samson porcelain factory (Paris, France), late-18th or early-19th century, enamel on copper with hand-painted decoration and brass mounts, The
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Ambassador bonbonnière and cover, designed by Oswald Haerdtl for J. & L. Lobmeyr (Vienna, Austria),  1926, mold-blown glass, Cooper–Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City

Bonbon dish, designed by Robert H. Ramp for Reed & Barton (Taunton, Massachusetts), silver, 1950, Dallas Museum of Art

Prototype candy dish by Richard Meier, 1983, silver plate, The Modern Archive

Alligator candy dish (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), c. 2012, porcelain, Piselli Projects