The box can be dated with some certainty to the first third of the Victorian period, under the premierships of Peel, Lord John Russell, the Earl of Derby or the Earl of Aberdeen. Given the high quality of the workmanship the box is likely to have stayed in use for several decades, although it will not have had the longevity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's despatch box (also manufactured by Wickwar of Poland Street), which was commissioned for Gladstone and remained in use for some 150 years. The presence of distinctive inset black lozenges with the royal cipher date the box to between 1841 and 1854. The disappearance of these lozenges after that year is almost certainly a result of the death of a master craftsman: Wickwar brothers relied on highly skilled craftsmen based in workshops along Poland Street, which was at the epicentre of the notorious 1854 Soho cholera epidemic.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Barrow, Hepburn & Gale for their advice in the cataloguing of this lot.
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