Lot 48
  • 48

Thomas William Dee & Sons, circa 1859-1867

3,000 - 5,000 GBP
8,125 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Gorilla and Riffle Sugar Caster
  • hallmarked London, 1861
  • silver
gilt inside of rim, glass eyes

Catalogue Note

Victorian silver table toys, comprising a vast range of pepperettes, mustard pots, claret jugs and other novelty items made for the most part in the form of animals and birds, have long been sought by collectors. They were at the height of their original popularity between the 1850s and the late 1880s. Only a few, such as William Henry Curry’s silver-mounted glass Carpenter claret jug of 1886,1 after John Tenniel’s illustrations to Lewis Carrol’s poem ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), appear to have been inspired by contemporary literature or passing events. The present gorilla sugar shaker belongs in the latter category; it recalls the controversies over Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, and the African explorer Paul Du Chaillu’s appearance in London in 1861 with his collection of stuffed gorillas. The same year, Du Chaillu published Explorations & Adventures in Equatorial Africain which he wrote of his encounter with a gorilla, the first by a non-African. ‘No description can exceed the horror of its appearance,’ he recounted, ‘the ferocity of its attack or the malignity of its nature.’ The accompanying illustrations included one entitled ‘HUNTER KILLED BY A GORILLA,’ in which the great ape, towering over his victim, is caught in the act of breaking the barrel of the hunter’s rifle. The gesture is echoed in the design of this sugar shaker.

 Du Chaillu’s lectures and the publication of his adventures, especially coming so soon after the appearance of Darwin’s provocative book, gave substance to a hitherto mythical beast which stirred all too powerfully concerns about man’s relationship with apes. In this tense atmosphere of debate and argument it was inevitable that a lighter view of ‘the origin of species’ would be aired. Du Chaillu’s gorillas proved a godsend for a number of satirists. On 25 May 1861 Punch featured a cartoon, ‘THE LION [i.e. celebrity] OF THE SEASON,’ by John Leech in which a gorilla in evening dress presents himself to an alarmed flunkey at the entrance to a fashionable gathering.’ Within a few weeks ‘gorillas’ made their theatrical entrance. The first, on 19 June, was played by the dramatist and actor Henry J. Byron who, ‘made up so as to resemble as nearly as possible the gorilla depicted in the recent Punch cartoon,’ spoke the prologue to a burlesque staged by members of the Savage Club at London’s Lyceum Theatre. He declared that, ‘Really I am not the great Gorilla Monsieur Chaillu shot. The monster, about whom there’s so much jaw . . .’2

 Mr. Gorilla, a farcical sketch, was next produced at the Adelphi Theatre, London, on 1 July 1861, which, according to The Morning Post, was ‘silly without being ludicrous . . . insignificant and worthless.’3 Even so, the piece ‘excited considerable laughter,’ the fun being led by two leading comic actors of the day: Paul Bedford and J.L. Toole, the one tall and imposing, the other short and slight, who were a perfect foil to each other. Bedford was made up as a gorilla, in the manner of Leech’s cartoon, and Toole played a timid drysalter. Suffice to say of the complicated plot, the latter receives a present of the gorilla but wearies of its company and attempts to poison the beast with an arsenic-filled sandwich.4

 The public was still enjoying such gorilla-related nonsense at the close of 1861 and beginning of 1862. Harlequin Gulliver, the Covent Garden pantomime first seen on 26 December, included a Mr. Gorrilla, accompanied by his wife and daughter5 (played by the Lauri family), and Howard Paul at this time caused something of a furore in one of his entertainments when he appeared as ‘Mr. Gorilla. The Lion of the Season.’ His disguise was again based on the Punch cartoon as he introduced himself to his audience in song, with words written by H.J. Byron: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen how do you do, / I am the Gorilla of Monsieur Chaillu. . . / I’m mild although I look as fierce as Timour and amiable too. . .’ By January 1862 Paul and his company were due to appear in Dublin where his ‘Mr. Gorilla’ was ‘said to be one of the most effective and amusing displays of burlesque comic talent ever presented on any stage.’6


1. John Hawkins, ‘Alexander Crichton and Through the Looking Glass,’ Silver Studies, The Journal of The Silver Society, no. 27, London, 2011, p. 107, figs 4-4d

2. The Era, London, Sunday, 23 June 1861, p. 11d

3. Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences Relating to Literature, The Sciences, and the Arts, London, July 1861, pp. 16 and 17. London, Tuesday, 2 July 1861, p. 5f

4. The Standard, London, Tuesday, 2 July 1861, p. 6c; The Era, London, Sunday, 7 July 1861, p. 10d

5. The Times, London, Friday, 27 December 1861, p. 6f

6. Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Dublin, Saturday, 18 January 1862, p. 3e