This bonbonnière by Neuber is a previously unrecorded example of his small group of gold boxes that are set with numbered stones set in a mosaic pattern between stripes of gold, called Zellenmosaic, a technique which is similar to creating cloisonné enamel. Neuber was born in Neuwunsdorf in 1736. He became a master of the goldsmith’s guild in Dresden in 1762 and Director of the Green Vaults in 1769. By 1775 he had been appointed Hofjuwelier to the court of Frederich Augustus III. Responding to an emerging interest in science and geology amongst the European aristocracy, he invented the Steinkabinettabatiere or a snuffbox forming a mineral cabinet, creating in his own words a small portable masterpiece that combined ‘luxury, taste and science’.
In an advertisement in the Journal der Moden of April 1786, Neuber praised his stock-in-trade which he sold 'at the cheapest prices', and the present box must have been of the category of 'oval and circular boxes for gentlemen and ladies, as stone-cabinets, mounted in gold and lined with gold, of all Saxon country-stones, such as carnelians, chalcedonies, amethysts, jaspers, agates and petrified wood, numbered, together with an inventory of the names, and where they can be found’. Neuber sometimes provided an accompanying handwritten specification booklet with his boxes which would list the stones used in the construction of the box and the geographical areas from where the stones had been collected. The engraved number above each panel would correspond to the number in the booklet. The friezes of imitation half-pearls that are a frequent and recurring element in Neuber’s work are composed of cylindrical pieces of rock crystal on which the underside has been hollowed out in a half-circle and then lined with powdered silver to create the illusion of a natural pearl.
A stylistically very close box with petal-shaped stones is in the Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris (illustrated in C. Le Corbeiller, European and American Snuff Boxes 1730-1830, London, 1966, fig. 473), and very similar is the bonbonnière from the Dreesmann Collection, sold Christie's, London, 11 April 2002, lot 947. Three oval examples are also recorded (H. and S. Berry Hill, Antique Gold Boxes, London, New York, 1953, figs. 112 and 113, and A. K. Snowman, Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe, Woodbridge, 1990, figs. 692 and 692A and Christie's, Geneva, 14 November 1995, lot 51). Two further similar circular boxes were sold Christie's, Geneva, 14 November 1995, lots 92 and 112.