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Transylvania - A land of mystery and fascination, mostly known through the 1897 Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. It's only fitting that what I'm about to introduce you is also something that fascinated people all over the world for centuries, which is puzzle boxes. These enigmatic and puzzling objects were first introduced as a way to keep one's most prized and precious possessions a secret.
That's exactly what the craftsmen of these Romanian puzzle boxes had in mind when they first created them in the 1700's. It was also a nice way for men to court their future wives, since they could show off their skills and ability. The tradition was kept from generation to generation by way of passing the know-how from father to son.
The modern take on these traditional puzzle boxes was done by Istvan Bondi, from the region of Kalotaszeg, Romania, who made and carved them for a while, now concentrating mainly on distributing them. A small team of makers and carvers make the boxes now, always following the same traditional hand-made methods. You can visit the official TransylvanyArt website for more information. The company also makes beautiful and detailed Chess/Backgammon/Checkers wooden sets.
(Click to Enlarge) - Views from different angles
From the colors you see on the boxes, to the different sizes and floral patterns carved on the boxes, everything was meticulously planned and designed with the utmost attention to detail, all hand-crafted and made from local maple and beech wood. An experienced craftsman can make between 5 to 7 puzzle boxes a day, and carving one box takes about 30 minutes - Steady hands, lots of concentration and perseverance are some of the skills necessary to make these boxes.
There are three different sizes for the puzzle boxes: small, medium and large. The small box measures 8cm x 6.4cm x 4.8cm (3.2" x 2.5" x 1.9"); the medium measures 10.7cm x 8cm x 7cm (4.2" x 3.2" x 2.8"); and the large one measures 14cm x 10cm x 8cm (5.5" x 3.9" x 3.2"). There are some modifications on the opening mechanism that differ from the small to both the medium and large boxes, but the same original and innovative way of opening them is common to all three sizes. The colors are more varied and there are five different ones to choose from: black, brown, blue, red and green, all available to any of the three box sizes.
(Click to Enlarge) - Left: Large Puzzle Box; Middle: Medium Puzzle Box; Right: Small Puzzle Box
The floral patterns carved on the boxes were what I found most fascinating about these boxes. The decoration, or presentation, says a lot about a craftsman's work, and here on these boxes you can witness the high level of craftsmanship, only achieved through centuries of passed-down knowledge. The overall appearance of the boxes, although merely a coincidence, resembles a stack of books on a shelf. This is most noticeable on the red box, as the side of it sort of looks like the spines of several books. Even though it wasn't the intention of the designers, I find it adds character and personality to the boxes, more style. For a more exquisite and elegant finish, the surface of the boxes is varnished with clear and shiny lacquer, which also serves to protect the wood from the elements.
Talk about books... As you've seen from the top photo, there's a puzzle that looks exactly like a book, and that one is no coincidence. Designed by another talented Romanian craftsman, these puzzle books have a totally different mechanism from the boxes, and are a little easier to open, since they only require a couple of moves.
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They share, however, the same beautiful type of floral patterns and colors of the puzzle boxes as two siblings would do. The puzzle book is about the same size as a normal book, measuring 15cm x 11.7cm x 3.8cm (5.9" x 4.6" x 1.5"). The hidden compartment is large enough to conceal many objects, like a gift to someone special.
Returning to the theme of the boxes... To open them, a little more cunning and astuteness is necessary than to open the book. The opening mechanism sort of reminds me of those secret rooms hidden behind a book shelf - How you'd reach for a particular book and turn or slide it in a way so it unlocked the door. The whole process until you finally open the box is some of the most creative and original works I've seen in puzzle boxes. You need a couple of steps for one part of the opening process, and another couple of steps to actually open the lid. This is where the difference between the small and the other two boxes lie, which is a couple of steps. It's different enough to justify the purchase of a small box along with at least one medium or large box.
Also, another interesting difference between the two bigger boxes and the small one is the hidden compartment inside the lid, once opened - There's none in the small box. This hidden compartment is found behind the mirror of the larger boxes by way of sliding it sideways. It's just another clever addition to these already fascinating objects.
I really loved TransylvanyArt's puzzle boxes and book. They're quite unique, completely different from anything I've seen, with a brilliantly clever mechanism and a gorgeous and striking design. If you like puzzle boxes, this is definitely a must-have in your collection. It's a beautiful decoration center piece, a perfect gift for a loved one, or simply to indulge yourself with a magnificent work of art. It's a masterpiece!
Availability: There's a couple of places where you can get these beautiful puzzle boxes and the puzzle books. PuzzleMaster from Canada, and PuzzleBoxWorld from the USA.