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A Queen Victoria Despatch Box, 1868
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A Queen Victoria Despatch Box, 1868

Measurements: 9cm (3.5in) x 31.5cm (12.5in) x 23cm (9in)

£2200

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Gilt tooled red leather over wood. The hinged lid embossed with the Royal coat of arms of the period 1837-1952 within foliate border, the interior lined in red velvet and bearing printed paper label inscribed ‘Despatch Box / used by / Queen Victoria / for correspondence with / Prime Minister Benjamin / Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield’. Complete with working lock ad key. 

The present box takes an altogether different form from the Government despatch boxes of the 1860s, and was designed as a royal warrant box by stationers John Peck & Co of Blackfriars in the second half of the 19th century. The same foliate scrollwork  continued to be used on warrant boxes into the 1920s, but was later superceded by plain version without foliate borders.

Benjamin D’Israeli (1804-1881) became Prime Minister in February 1868, leading a modernising minority Tory government, which was dissolved in December of the same year, but was able to pass laws that banned public executions, ended electoral bribery, brought all telegraph companies under Post Office ownership, amended laws relating to the railways and education, and ordered the expedition against Tewodros II of Ethiopia. It was also during his first few months in office that Disraeli grew close to Queen Victoria. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Victoria had largely retreated from public view, meeting her government officials only in private. The only government official that she agreed to be seen in public with was Disraeli. This was arguably evidence of the close relationship between the two.

The present correspondence box contains the calling card of a Mrs Stanley F. Male, Brook Lodge, North Stoke, Oxfordshire, inscribed verso, ‘British / Cabinet / Despatch Box / used in Queen Victoria’s reign’. Mrs Male was the wife of Major Stanley Francis Male (1897-1972). He was given a commission in 1914 in the Somerset Light Infantry but served on the Western Front with the Royal Engineers. In 1917 he was temporarily blinded and paralysed by a gas shell in the Second Battle of Arras. He was treated at the Duchess of Westminster’s hospital in the casino at Le Touquet before being evacuated to England. He later attended Wadham College, Oxford, worked as a civil servant and journalist in East Africa where he was a military censor during the Second World War. His sometime Oxfordshire residence Brooke Lodge was formerly the home of Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936), the renowned English contralto whose signature piece was Sir Arthur Sullivan’s ‘The Lost Chord’. The song was a favourite of Queen Victoria who reportedly quoted it to D’Israeli when she said, ‘You have struck my lost chord and sounded my great Amen’.

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