Prisoner -of -war work is the name given to a whole range of artefacts produced in England in the early 19th century by French prisoners taken captive in the Napoleonic Wars. Largely carved from animal bone, they were manifold in nature, ranging from splendid models of sailing ships to more functional items. Games, including dominoes, which might have been used to while away the hours, were particularly popular. Many creations were the work of sailors from Dieppe, a centre for bone and ivory carving, and displayed great skill.

The prisoners were housed in an number of jails located inland to deter escape to the coast and a passage to freedom. To pay for tobacco and other luxuries they were permitted to sell their wares at the prison gates and some of the more spectacular pieces were undoubtedly commissioned by wealthy patrons.

One notable prison was situated near Peterborough where there is an excellent museum housing many examples of this genre.

A bone cribbage box containing dominoes. The water-colour illustrations of flowers on the end panels are well preserved but the painted ships on the sides have been largely rubbed away from use.

cribbage set


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