Lot 68
  • 68

John Peck & Son, London

5,000 - 7,000 GBP
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  • Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for The Colonies: Despatch Box No. 7
  • stamped John Peck & Son, Nelson Sqre, Blackfriars, Manufacturers to H M Staty Office
  • leather, pine and brass
  • 16 by 47 by 31cm., 6¼ by 18½ by 12¼in.
  • Made circa 1920.
the lid embossed with two royal insignias and inscribed THE Rt HON WINSTON S. CHURCHILL, M.P. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES


This extraordinary box shows its great age and the fact that it was in heavy use and much travelled is also evident. It most probably travelled to Cairo with Churchill which indicates how functional an object it was and how it was very much a working piece of 'equipment' and not regarded as an 'artwork'. It was placed by Lady Soames in her entrance hall and would have been exposed to varying temperature changes, pets and grandchildren! There are scratches to the red exterior leather throughout. There are stains to the leather, which include ink and oil. There are losses to this leather surface notably to the word OF, which is lacking completely. There is naked timber visible underneath in several places. There is lifting to the leather from the pine. There are tears. The gilt royal cyphers are very scratched. All of the extremities are bashed and bruised. The brass work is tarnished and scratched. The interior has a large crease to the black leather lining. The hinges sites with distressed black leather. There are losses and fraying to the fabric underside. There is much wear throughout from age and use. Despite this wear, it is quite simply very stirring and the most atmospheric of objects.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for the Colonies

This despatch box is remarkable in that it is a rare survivor from Winston’s short tenure as Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was moved to that Ministry, early in 1921, from his position in the War Office by Lloyd George. His twenty months in the Colonial office were dominated by the reconstruction of the Middle East and the independence of Southern Ireland.

The pinnacle of his involvement in the Middle East was the Cairo Conference at the Semiramis Hotel on the 12-22 of March 1921 (in all likelihood the offered lot may have travelled to Cairo too). British Military Leaders and civil administrators were called to attend and were joined by T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who was appointed special adviser by Winston.

This was also a period where his own strongly held opinions diverged from that of the Prime Minister and coalition government. Roy Jenkins writes ‘towards the end of this period [Winston Churchill as Secretary of State for the Colonies], the Coalition moved towards its downfall, Churchill’s private expressions of view became increasingly detached about both its record and the Prime Minister’s individual performance. But he nonetheless thought that his own record made in the 1921-2 parliamentary session the most successful of his career’ (Roy Jenkins, Churchill, London, 2001, p. 353).

Government Despatch Boxes

The distinctive red boxes used by Royalty and Government have been used to hold and transport State documents safely since the 1840’s. William Gladstone’s battered box is still, famously, used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and held aloft by him on Budget Day. The colour red of the leather, reputedly comes from the scarlet used in the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family armorials and was introduced by Prince Albert as a distinctive colour for these boxes. They were conceived to be durable and are still made from ram’s leather laid on pine with a distinctive handle placed to the top, to ensure they were safely locked when picked up.

John Peck & Son

The firm of John Peck & Son, despatch box makers, was established in the early 1840s by William Peck (1820-1865). He was born in Clerkenwell, the son of John Peck, a dyer, and his wife, Harriet. The 1841 Census lists him as an apprentice, living at 26 Noble Street, City of London, the house of Joseph Summerfield, a pocket book maker. The latter's female servant was Maria Capon (b. 1820) who at St. John, Hackney, on 4 February 1843 was married to William Peck, pocket book maker. They had six children, the eldest being John Peck (1843-1922) who succeeded to the business upon his father's death in 1865, by which time the Pecks had been makers of dressing cases for several years and had moved from Clerkenwell to Nelson Square, Southwark. From about 1870 Peck's was known for its manufacture of writing desks and despatch boxes. John Peck was married at St. Saviour's, Southwark, on 14 March 1868 to Victoria Louisa Hunter (c.1845-1928). Their second son, George Frederick William Peck (1872-1953) joined the family business in the 1890s after which it was styled John Peck & Son. George F.W. Peck, who was married in 1901 to Florence Mary Watson (1874-1956) and was subsequently (1911) described as a fancy leather goods manufacturer, continued to run Peck's until his retirement and the firm's closure about 1930.