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Donation of Verkade’s Koh-I-Noor tin

Last summer, Escher in The Palace received a special donation from Escher expert and mathematician Doris Schattschneider. She donated a Koh-I-Noor tin by Verkade, inspired by the Koh-I-Noor, one of the world’s most famous diamonds. This Verkade tin was an important inspiration for a tin that Escher designed in 1963.

Koh-I-Noor tin by Verkade, 1953, tin. Donated from private collection of Doris Schattschneider
M.C. Escher, Icosahedron, convex polyhedron with sea stars and shells, 1963, tin

Escher was asked in 1963 to develop a tin drum to mark the 75th anniversary of tin manufacturer Verblifa (De Vereenigde Blikfabrieken). Escher initially hesitated to accept the commission. After all, he did not have to do it for the money. But his doubts gave way to enthusiasm when he saw a Koh-I-Noor tin by Verkade. When he saw the tin, Escher said, “Look, the design of this drum fascinates me. For it is part of a regular icosahedron […]”. He would accept the commission only if the design could be an icosahedron (twenty-faced polyhedron), inspired by the Koh-I-Noor tin. And so it came to pass.

After various preliminary studies, Escher designed an icosahedron covered with a tessellating motif of starfish and shells. The pattern is reminiscent of Escher’s mezzotint Sea Shells (1949) and repeats to display the beautiful symmetry of the polyhedron. The tin was filled with chocolates and was a gift for business associates. In total, Verblifa manufactured 7000 of them. It was a costly project, as production costs were very high, at 8 guilders per tin. The most expensive tin at the time cost at most 1.75 guilders. Due to the large size, extra chocolates were needed to fill it, which contributed to the increased price.

M.C. Escher, Sea Shells, mezzotint, July 1949
M.C. Escher, Regular division drawing with shells and starfish, no. 42, India ink, coloured ink, pencil and watercolour on paper, August 1941

The linked triangular faces of Escher’s Verblifa tin resemble the Verkade Koh-I-Noor tin, which is shaped like an octagonal antiprism. Verkade has been making rusks, biscuits and chocolate since the late 19th century. The tin was first issued in 1931 and contained typical Verkade biscuits. In advertisements, the tin was referred to as a gem because of its striking shape, which reflected sparkling light from different angles.

Escher in The Palace is very grateful to Doris Schattschneider – the American mathematician who has been studying the work of M.C. Escher for several decades – for her donation, which deepens our understanding of Escher’s sources of inspiration. The tin is on display beside the icosahedron at Escher in The Palace since 27 March.