antique winsor & newton charcoal box

by | Oct 25, 2021 | Antiques, art supplies, Favorite Finds, sketches | 17 comments

There are some finds that you just know are special.  You know they probably won’t come around again or at least in a very long while.  Such was the case with the antique Winsor & Newton charcoal box and, when it was offered to me, I jumped at it.  And even though I knew it was special simply based on the fluttery feeling it gave me, I quickly discovered that this box was providentially meant to be with me.  Well, maybe that’s overstating it, but there was a pretty cool coincidence at play.  So, for my non-art-supply people, stick with me on this one.  It’s a good story with a great bit of encouragement at the end.

So, let’s first talk about this amazing charcoal box…

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

This antique Winsor & Newton charcoal box is meant to be used as a palette.  It’s small and very lightweight and even has a thumbhole so an artist can hold it like a palette.  While everything about the box is very cool, it’s the vial of charcoal that I was most smitten with.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | French charcoal vial | miss mustard seed

How pretty is that?!  It is the original vial of French charcoal dust that has never been opened.  I always like to use my antique art supplies, but this one will likely remain unopened.  It’s just a little too special to open and use a 100+-year-old vial of artist’s charcoal powder.  But, then again, it can always be refilled…

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

Now, for the amazing coincidence.  I bought this box from Julia of Ponder & Purchase, who has been my number one enabler when it comes to acquiring antique art supplies.  But, she’s become a good friend and, since she’s out and about shopping for her Etsy Shop regularly, she keeps finding amazing things like this antique Winsor & Newton charcoal box that I just can’t resist.

Anyway, in the box of goodies I purchased from her just before she found this charcoal box, was a collection of three Winsor & Newton art books and catalogs from the mid-to-late 1800s.  Two of the books were on painting and had wonderful catalogs in the back with easels, paint boxes, and brushes.  Oh, how I wish I could shop those catalogs!  One of the books was a drawing book, so I picked that off the shelf and turned to the product advertisements at the back.  Maybe the charcoal box would be listed…  Well, lo and behold, there it was.  The very box Julia had just found.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

It showed a picture of the box along with a detailed description of the features and contents, including the vial of French charcoal.  We were able to see that “our” antique Winsor & Newton charcoal box was intact and in original condition.  It made us both even more excited at Julia’s wonderful find and I told her to carefully tuck it in and give it a little squeeze goodnight for me.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

In the same week, I found a well-priced lot of antique and vintage charcoal that I bought off of Etsy.  I’ve tried out charcoal here and there, but have never really embraced it.  I did question buying the box and the lot of charcoals for that reason.  Am I buying them just to have them?  Just to take pictures of them?  Or will I really use them and do them justice?

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

That day, I got out some charcoals, set up a still life with an antique linen towel and some pears, and drew it.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

I have come to believe that investing in good tools, tools that speak to you and that make you excited to use them, is an investment in yourself and your growth.  Charcoals have never been a love or a strength for me when it comes to art.  They are messy and difficult to control.  I love this quote by Gunter Grass – “Art is accusation, expression, passion. Art is a fight to the finish between black charcoal and white paper.”

But, there is something hauntingly beautiful and organic about charcoal.  There is something in the lack of control that makes it fun to create with.  As with all mediums, it comes a collaboration between the artist and materials.

charcoal still life drawing | sketchbook | miss mustard seed

So, I want to rise to the occasion of these beautiful tools and be worthy of them.  I want to do them justice.  And, I think that’s a good thing.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

I share this specifically so that you will be encouraged to invest in yourself, even if you feel like the tools might be too good for you right now.  Allow those beautiful, inspiring, professional-quality tools and materials that make your heart sing to spur you along to be better.  They will encourage you to grow and to practice more.  It’s sort of like cutting vegetables with good, sharp knives or playing an instrument that has the most beautiful tone.  Good tools, like this beautiful antique Winsor & Newton charcoal box, will make you want to spend more time with them, which will inevitably result in growth.  It’s almost inescapable.

antique winsor & newton charcoal box | miss mustard seed

So, the next time you feel that pull to purchase something, but you also hear that voice that tells you it’s too good for you, just tell that voice to be quiet.  It’s not offering anything of value.  Tell that voice that it might be too good for you right now, but that will change over time.  Soon, it will be fitting and perfect.  Just wait and see. 

PS – I’ve been saying and writing “Windsor & Newton” for years and only just a couple of weeks ago realized it is actually Winsor & Newton.  It’s sort of like when I learned it’s Mod Podge and not Modge Podge!  It makes you question everything you thought you knew.  Anyone else?

In case you’re excited about vintage charcoals, I did find a few fun things on Etsy and eBay



  1. Lori Simon

    Eeking out lessons from experiences. Another area where you shine Miss Marian.

  2. Julia - ponderandpurchase

    I love your enthusiasm, your smile on stories made me chuckle. It’s a pleasure trying to find your next “must have” vintage art supplies. Here’s to many more fun days buying and seeing the beauty you create.

  3. monique Odman

    Charcoal or fusain was a lot of fun to use while I was in art school, we had life models, and we had huge sheets of white paper on an easel and our drawings were life size. I still have a few rolls of them. We all made so much dust and had black fingers and all. I have great memories of those classes and of our marvelous teacher who was barely older than we were. I was top of the class. I did not learn oil painting, but charcoal is wonderful to explore. A Swiss friend of mine made her own charcoal sticks 4 years ago with twigs and proudly gave me a few of different thickness. So you may try that one day, as you like to explore.
    Enjoy your fusains.

  4. lynne

    the lace on the antique linen towel that you drew with charcoal is absolutely wonderful!! what a beautiful job……

    • Cynthia Johnson

      I so agree~ it makes the pears stand out with the dainty cloth.

  5. Diane Hammer

    I took a lesson from you a couple of weeks ago and bought a small vintage lapdesk that closes up into a box. It now holds all my colored pencils and alcohol ink pens in one place. Yay for moving up from the cast off flower pots that held them previously. It has a nice writing slope and I have been enjoying using it on my desk to practice art and script on. I did debate on the purchase, but it was perfect and as you said, it may not come around again for quite some time.
    Thank you for the reminders that sometimes we need to invest in ourselves.

  6. Wendy

    I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have fallen in love with antique art supplies! I found 2 small boxes this past weekend and told my husband it is just the first of my collection!

  7. Mona

    I have followed you for many years and have usually enjoyed your posts.

    So its sad tor me to say that I just don’t enjoy your posts as much as I used too. They are more about art and less about the more common things you used to write about. Not saying you are wrong, since I can see you are growing in what you now love to rather talk about. I don’t have the money or the connections you now naturally lean to. So I have to think whether I want to continue to follow your blog. It has been a wonderful ride but I feel that you are going into new directions that I am not interested in following. Have a great life!

  8. Jan

    Charcoal is actually a very forgiving medium. You should use the vintage powder to do a subtractive drawing! Start by laying down a midtone “ground” on 80 lb. or heavier drawing paper. Rub the powder into the paper with a cotton cloth until you have a nice consistent value then use different sized erasers to subtract the charcoal to create the drawing image.
    You can go back into your image with charcoal sticks to push into darker values. It’s great fun!
    Good Luck.

  9. Alli for Short

    The wonderful thing about investing in yourself is that it doesn’t have to be something expensive necessarily, but even something little that can give you a little more inspiration or confidence to try something new. Like a little piece of charcoal, or a pretty twist of antique paper…that is so special! Thank you for sharing your lovely purchase!
    Never let anyone’s negativity make you feel sad.

  10. KathieB

    I love old catalogues and advertisements. They make my heart sing. I love art supplies too. Collecting it is definitely a separate hobby to doing the art! I like to use some special things but I don’t feel like I have to use everything to justify having it. I think of some things as decorative like a painting on the wall – just there to be beautiful and make us happy. I’m ok with that. I loved this post. Thanks for sharing Marian.

  11. Susan

    I was very inspired and excited by your post today. I feel too old to be collecting things that bring me joy but do so in a small way from time to time. I can live vicariously through you !!! I as well was spelling Winsor incorrectly until a few weeks ago when suddenly it popped right out….reminding me of a time when I was applying for a scholarship around 40 years ago and ended up spelling the family’s name incorrectly…spelling it as I had pronounced it many times. I got the money but did I feel foolish when I found out !

  12. Suzy Linger

    How fun it was to see this lil box! I have one just like it that was my grandmother’s. My mother put it away for me with a note “save for Suzy” and the date of the note was from when I was just five years old. Seeing yours brought back such a sweet memory of my mom.

  13. Vicki

    What a wonderful and serendipitous find! Your charcoal still life is lovely! Enjoy!

  14. Addie

    Well…..I learned something today!!! You mean it’s not Modge Podge !!!!????? lololo….that’s what i’ve been calling it for years!!!
    I love your charcoal box with goodies. How cool to find the advertisement in the book. I love things like that. I love all art supplies too!!!
    I found a old wooden art box with a bakelite handle at the Goodwill this weekend for $5.49!!!! It had been really used….love that. I do pen and ink and watercolors so believe it or not I almost didn’t get it. I felt maybe I should leave it for an oil painter. I loved it, so I did get it. When I was cleaning it, stuck under one of the partitions was a very old nib!!!! Ahhh…. that was pure joy!!! It was okay for me to have it.

  15. Lee Atkinson

    I absolutely love your new old charcoal box, and of course your charcoal drawing is wonderful. Please keep including your art adventures in your blog I do so enjoy them.It is such a treat to have a variety of interest in one spot. Thank you or that. Lee .

  16. Amy

    Thank you for your encouragement to invest in really beautiful supplies, and in doing so, to invest in yourself. Art for Art’s Sake comes to mind here, as well!

    I feel a wave of longing just looking at this set. I’ve never invested in vintage art supplies myself, but find that I have to click over and have a looksee . . .


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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