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Sweet isn't she?


An Egyptian wooden cosmetic spoon  said to be dated to 1500-1070 BC.


This was purchased by a private collector from a well known auction house in 1956.


  • Cosmetic spoons were used by the ancient Egyptians to mix and apply kohl and other substances to their faces.
  • This piece was carefully examined by Edna R. Russman during her time as Visiting Curator at the Kelsey Museum ...and she showed that it's a fake. 
  • The wood is very lightweight which is generally  a good indication that the object is ancient. But the grain of the wood is coarse and it is made in a common wood which would not have been used for such a special and fine utensil.
  • The carving is rather crude: one would expect to see a rather careful technique in creating such a piece.
  • And what is the swimmer girl holding? A strange blob. Usually  it would be a well defined carved flower, a detailed fish or a duck. 
  • The body of the girl is clumsy and very un-Egyptian in form and usually the figures on these spoons  wear a girdle, a collar and elaborately styled wig.
  • If this was meant to be a grinder-spoon, it is much too flimsy and weak. This inferior wood would not have survived its first use, much less come down to us intact through the ages.
  • The universally appealing design of these cosmetic spoons makes them a popular item among collectors as well as a popular template for forgers.



Another opinion, albeit after the fact!


  1. The material:
    This wood is very light in weight, which suggests that it may be ancient wood. It is, however, coarse-grained utilitarian stuff, not what one finds for these deluxe items.

  2. The carving technique:
    Similarly, one would expect much attention to detail and careful finishing of the surface, obviously not the case here.

  3. The object she holds:
    This is unique among swimming-girl figures; most other examples hold a small vessel. Uniqueness per se would not, of course, be enough to condemn the object. But deviation from a well-defined class is certainly cause for suspicion...The object itself is unconvincing, because it is unidentifiable. The suggestion that it was meant to function as a grinder becomes absurd when one considers how fragile and ill-designed the figure is for exerting pressure on even a fairly soft substance.

  4. The anatomy:
    It is not only clumsy, but clumsy in an un-Egyptian way; for example, the too-short, elbowless arms; the small, deeply-recessed pubic triangle; the uneven, paddle-shaped feet.

  5. The vaguely masculine hairdo.

  6. The face:
    More attention has been given to the face than to any other part. It is recognizably modeled on Amarna-type faces, but with a telltale lack of definition, especially in the lower half. This kind of face frequently turns up on small forgeries of New Kingdom material, and it is probably a clue to when this forgery was made, and perhaps even the identity of the maker.


Compare this fake with the real thing:  Christie's June 4, 1999 Lot 225, a New Kingdom Wood Cosmetic Spoon, Dynasty XVIII, 1353-1335 B.C., 9 3/4 inches long




  • The elite classs of ancient Egyptians apparently took great pride in their appearance and cleaniness. They bathed often and in the absence of soap, they used animal or vegetable oils mixed with powered limestone.
  • Unguents were applied to the skin to keep it from drying out under the intense Egyptian sun.
  • To prevent drying effect of the sun on the hair, it was treated with a lump of moisterising cream in the form of a cosmetic cone - often depicted in paintings, reliefs and sculptures from the New Kingdom. The cone would gradually melt thereby giving the wig a pleasant fragance.


Cosmetic spoons in the form of a swimming girl are well known from the New Kingdom onwards.


  • The girl is often typically Nubian and shown wearing a girdle or collar around the waist and an elaborate wig.

Cosmetic spoon


  • The girl's outstretched arms usually hold a container which may take the form of a duck, gazelle, fish or a bouquet of flowers.


The small image is of a fragmentary stone cosmetic spoon


  • This form became quite polular throughout the Eastern Mediteranean.
  • This one, in the British Museum (Room 13, The early Greek world, 1050-520 BC, case 6, top shelf ) is  Greek, about 600 BC and foiund in Kamiros, Rhodes.



  • The one pictured below is an ivory one, also from the BM. (Room 72 Ancient Cyprus, case 8
  • It is earlier than the one above, Late Bronze Age, about 12th century BC and from Enkomi, Cyprus
  • Ivory cosmetic boxes from the Late Bronze Age (about 1650-1050 BC) have been found in many of the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, from Greece and Cyprus to Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
  • Duck-shaped boxes were particularly widely distributed; and the swimming girl type is often considered to be a variant variant.
  • It is not clear if the vessel shown here had a duck-shaped bowl, but some sort of a lid is missing so the object is a box and not a large spoon.
  • In the richly mixed cultural world of the Late Bronze Age, ideas could pass from one area to another quickly. A fashion started in the Syro-Palestinian region could very soon be adopted or adapted in Egypt, and vice versa. The makers of Cypriot ivories incorporated influences both from the East and from the Mycenaean Greek west and it is often difficult to trace them to a specific origin. However, the carver of this particular piece had certainly looked eastwards for inspiration.




As you see, this  type of piece is widely dispersed over time and geography.


The details vary; the materials and the formal features. But there is a stylistic consistency considerations and one hopes to not inadvertently purchase the inventive creation shown below; though if you want one, they should cost no more than $30.



And lastly...........


This one.


Offered for sale on eBay at the time I was creating this page.




What do you think?



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