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A Victorian Government Minister’s Despatch Box, 1874
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A Victorian Government Minister’s Despatch Box, 1874

Measurements: 39.5cm (15.5in) x 15cm (6in) x 12cm (4.75in)



Provenance: Rt. Hon. George Sclater-Booth, 1st Baron Basing, P.C. (1826-94)

Red leather over wood, the hinged lid fitted with a handle over the embossed crowned VR cypher of Queen Victoria. The leading edge further embossed with the word ‘PRESIDENT’. The interior applied bearing maker’s stamp of WICKWAR & CO / 6 Poland Street’ - ‘Manufacturers / to H.M. Stat.y Office’. The lock stamped ’S. Mordan & Co. / Warranted / London /  Patent’. Complete with working key.

The original owner of the present despatch box was a Tory Minister in Benjamin Disraeli’s government of 1874-1880. The title President refers to his role as President of the Local Government Board that was created to oversee functions previously covered by the Home Office and Board of Trade. The position was abolished in 1919, following the First world War, and the duties transferred to the new position of Minister of Health.

George Sclater-Booth, 1st Baron Basing, P.C., F.R.S. (1826-1894) was educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford, and was called to Bar, Inner temple, in 1851. He was elected M.P. for North Hampshire in 1857 and was Parliamentary Secretary to the poor Law Board in Lord Derby's Government. He later served as Financial Secretary to the Treasury under Disraeli in 1868. When the Conservatives returned to power in 1874 he was appointed President of the Local Government Board. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1874 and in 1887 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Basing.

The firm of Wickwar & Co, bookbinders, manufacturing stationers and despatch box makers, is first recorded in Poland Street, London in 1829 under the proprietorship by John Wickwar. As early as 1848 James Wickwar is recorded as holding an appointment ‘under the crown’ as an employee of the Stationery Office. The London cholera epidemic of 1854 dealt the firm a severe blow by carrying off Mr Wickwar, his brother, and two employees yet the business survived and by the late 19th century was established at 96 Jermyn Street with a contract as supply despatch boxes to H.M. Stationery Office.