In the Tudor and Stuart periods, exotic spices and sugar were expensive imports that required equally precious containers. Only about two dozen silver shell-form boxes dating from the late 1500s to the early 1600s are known. Most contemporary descriptions of scallop-shell boxes describe them as sugar boxes, but the fact that some have divided interiors suggests that they were used for a variety of condiments. (See Timothy Schroder, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean Museum, 2009, vol. II, pp. 504-506, fig. 193, and Philippa Glanville, Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England, 1990, pp. 366-367, fig. 219.)
A virtually identical box by the same maker sold Christie's, New York, 16 April 1999, lot 242; another was sold from the collection of the 5th Earl of Rosebery at Mentmore, Sotheby's, 18 May 1977, lot 1714. Another example of 1620 was recently sold at Bonham's, London, 30 June 2010, lot 260. Others by the same maker are in the collections of the Huntington Library, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Ashmolean Museum (see Schroder, p. 506 for a list of related boxes).
Gerald Taylor has tentatively attributed the mark TI a star below to Thomas Jemson, a specialist in this type of box (see Gerald Taylor, "Some London Platemakers' Marks, 1558-1624," Proceedings of the Silver Society, 3, 1984, pp. 97-100).