This sinister jar in the shape of a human skull belonged to the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan (1904–78), the second husband of crime writer Agatha Christie (1890–1976). They shared many interests, including a love of ceramics, and a fine collection survives at their summer home, Greenway in Devon. Many of the pieces were bought, although some were taken from archaeological digs overseas. The naturalistic jar was made in Japan in the late 19th century and Mallowan is believed to have stored his tobacco inside it. Perched on the lid is a ceramic frog, sometimes seen as a symbol of luck and prosperity. The contrast of the living frog with the skull is possibly a reference to the cycle of life and death in Japanese Buddhism. It is not known exactly when the jar came to Greenway, but it is listed in an inventory taken just before the property was requisitioned by the American Coastguard in 1942. Is this a novelty that appealed to the ‘Queen of Crime’, or is it a reminder of mortality and the fragility of human life? Skulls were commonly used as memento mori (Latin for ‘remember you must die’), a suitable subject for a crime writer.
Tobacco jar and cover, fine stoneware (pottery), in the form of a skull, the cover with a frog finial, Japan, late 19th century. (1942 P 21 a.ACM).
Introduced to the Property by Agatha Christie Mallowan. Inventory taken just before the house was requisitioned by the American Navy 1942