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An Early 19th Century Captains Box with elaborate secret drawers and compartments Fitted with dressing accessories By  George Palmer London.

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Reference: wbcapt101

Description: A Rare brassbound Captains box of beautifully figured mahogany, having a screw-down mechanism and fitted with dressing accessories by George Palmer.

Origin: London England

Circa: 1800 and 1829.

Materials: Wood Brass glass silver

Size: 54cm wide by 27.5cm back to front by 19cm high when closed: 21.3inches wide by 10.8inches by 7.5inches high when closed.

Condition: Good, although the box has clearly been used.

 

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This is a box which needs a series of WebPages  to itself. 

It is both a writing and a dressing box. It has a screw-down mechanism, so that it can be secured to the floor, or table. There is a plethora of tricks for revealing hidden sections and secret drawers. 

 

There are secret containers even in the back sections (rare), The part which meets in the middle when the box is opened to the writing position is thicker to accommodate these. The secret containers fit very snuggly in very precisely crafted spaces. The side drawer is fitted out as a dressing box. The tops of the glass jars are in silver, a most unusual feature in boxes of combined usage. 
The silver bears the crest design of a horse in a central cartouche, an indication that it belonged to an officer of the cavalry. It bears hallmarks for 1829. A box of remarkable complexity and quality.  

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The brass is  structural, protective, and ornamental; it sets off the remarkable patterning of the flame mahogany.

The brass is fitted with brass riveting. This was innovative. Most boxes at this date have the brass fitted with flattened iron screws.

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Close up of the escutcheon. There are some veneer cracks which are surface and not structural. This is not unusual when the grain figure is particularly beautiful. Overall the box has a good patina and retains its original finish.

 

The box is featured at page 296 of our book Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies, and Society -- 1700-1880.

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Front view: the figure of the mahogany is exceptional. 

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The writing surfaces have been recovered. An embossing tool circa 1800 was used to do the embossed  edge. The color was selected to match the leather used by Palmer in the drawer.  

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There is a fitted side drawer which is secured by a pull.

The silver plate on copper inkwells are original.

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The lock is marked Tompson and Lambley --GR Patent.

 

The firm of  LAMBLEY A & CO PORTABLE WRITING DESK MFR LADIES' WORK CASE MFR  Birmingham  was active from 1800. 

Both he and Tompson are in the Wrightson's Triennial Directory for 1818 

 

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I have seen the name Tompson on other box locks. I have yet to research the patents office. 

The special quality of the lock is probably is the way the tennon can retract into the lock. 

The tennon is the bit that sticks out! there is in this lock a mechanism to countersink; I think this is probably the invention/ the special of the patent.

Some boxes of a slightly later style with rosewood veneers rather than mahogany have an escutcheon which reads Tompsons patent: see http://www.hygra.com/wb/wbdg12.htm  

There is a "Tompson, William, Patent Lock Mkr, Key Stamper, Bull St." in the Birmingham directory for 1818.

 

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Here the tennons are shown in the locked position. 

also in this picture is the turned knob of the pen compartment. The curved pen tray was introduced circa 1800. 

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The hinge: the screws unusually for the period are brass.

 

Under the flap is divided in three. The secrets are to be revealed.
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The Secrets

The lining of is slid out revealing a small hole. When a sharp object, a steal stiletto from the necessaire drawer, the sprung pen and ink tray lifts up.

There is a similar catch at the other end.

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Detail: the end of the springable liftout pentray. It is of fine dovetail construction. The hole in the brass is to allow the sharp object of release through.

 

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The liftout  pentray isolated.

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There are springs to lift the pen tray. The springs are annealed bronze. There seems to be an attempt  in this box to deal with what must have been a problem. Iron rusts.
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 In the sides are revealed ebony edged boxes for the placing of ultimate secrets.

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Another box with a Palmer label and a Royal Warrant: Palmer & Sons, East Grinstead. Pencutter to the Royal Family.

 

 

Another secret: The division slides. The wood on the side is sprung.

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The divider moves. The wood springs. To achieve this the grain direction is precise. The marks of the movements are visible.

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And comes out revealing a lift out panel. 

 

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Underneath is an inlaid cribbage box. Is this how the Captain maintained his revenue?

 

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There is a small hole in the side. The stiletto tool is inserted.

 

A panel springs open, revealing two drawers.
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The triangular shaped piece of metal is the top of a screw for fixing the box to a table or floor.

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The drawers are of fine dovetail construction.

They are both semi blind dovetail: they do not appear on the surface.

There is a description of dovetails in another box at: http://www.hygra.com/wb/wbmabrstrp.htm 

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There are some repairs to the panel. The damage, obviously, resulted from an attempt to break in to the secrets. for this photo one of the screws has been taken out so that its tip is visible. the spring is bronze. 

This box is on the edge of innovation:

It has secrets; it has evidence of attempts to breach its secrets. It has repairs to those attempts. It has some of the earliest brass screws I have ever seen. This one is steel!

 

 

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 There are more secret compartments in the upper part. They are hidden behind the panel. Even on the inside beautifully grained almost landscape mahogany is used. 

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The panel hiding the secret compartments is released by inserting a sharp object into an almost invisible hole.

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Detail of the catch. There are some marks to the top of the panel which indicate that the box had a forced entry. this is part of its history. 

What is this story? 

 

The piece of brass on the panel is a little crude and probably is a repair following the forced entry. The marks of the forced entry are visible on the panel. 

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Behind the panel are lift out ebony edged boxes. A new form of joint is used in these. The four sides are mitered. But it is not possible to glue end grain to end grain with any hope of long term success. To stabilize pieces of triangular profiled ebony have been slid through the miter joint.    

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There is the trace of a label on the underside of the writing surface. I believe this was the label of  N Middleton who was at 162 Strand London in the early 19th C. Its easier to see in the magnification.

 

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The side drawer is fitted with dressing accessories.

The maker's name, George Palmer is engraved on a brass strip inset into the inside front of the side drawer. George Palmer, who worked in St. James's London, was probably responsible for fitting the dressing accessories.

He was a maker to the King and the Royal family in the early 1830s, although it is not clear when he first attracted Royal custom.  

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There are hallmarked silver toped glass containers, razors, a boot strap puller,  a foldable comb, brushes.   

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The silver is chased and pierced. In a central medallion is the crest of a horse.

 

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On the top is a reference to Palmers Royal warrant.  "G the crown R" This is George Rex: King.

To the very left is the "maker's" or "sponsors" mark: A.D

 The next punch is the "King's head": George III
The next mark "Lion Passant"  denotes that this is silver of sterling standard. (925)
 The date letter "n" is next,  indicating 1828/9 and finally the "Leopard's head for London.

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 The glass has a cut star motif on the base.

 

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There are more brushes under the tray.

 

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Each of the parts of the foldable shaving brush is hallmarked and bears the horse crest.

 

The horse crest is also engraved on the ivory handles of the razors.

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The razors are marked with Palmers name. One of the razors has an old been repair with  a back plate and silver rivets. 

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A combination comb and knife. The comb is silver and hallmarked. The handle is tortoiseshell.

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Side view

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All text and images and linked images are 1999-2004 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly. If you require any further information on permitted use, or a licence to republish any material, email us at copyright@hygra.com