Lot 81
  • 81


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  • larger: H. 30 1/2 in., D. 28 1/4 in.; smaller: H. 27 3/4 in., D. 28 in.; 77.5 cm., 71.75 cm.; 70.5 cm., 71 cm.
reputedly used at the Battle of Waterloo, with some later overpainting with two letters from George Potter & Co. and a manuscript paper label now mounted on card (some losses)Asking Price: $140,000


The larger drum with George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840), prior to 1819;
Then presented by the Mayor of Basingstoke to Henry Potter & Co., London in 1855;
Both drums with Henry Potter & Co, later George Potter & Co., Aldershot and London, by the 1870s;
Dillingham & Company, San Francisco, 1999; 

Where acquired by the present owner.

Catalogue Note

These drums were formerly in the collections of George Potter & Co. of Aldershot and its sister company Henry Potter & Co., leading suppliers of military drums and band instruments for almost two centuries. According to company archives, they reputedly were made for the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Soldiers (now the Coldstream Guards) and used in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, where the regiment defended the Château d’Hougoumont  under the direction of Colonel Alexander George Woodford. Just south of Brussels, Waterloo was where Napoleon made a final attempt to reverse his military setbacks, but he was defeated by Allied armies led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Field Marshall von Blücher and subsequently exiled to the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.
     Both drums are decorated with the royal coat of arms incorporating the Order of the Garter flanked by the English Lion and Scottish Unicorn above the motto of the Monarch of the United Kingdom DIEU ET MON DROIT (God and my Right). The shorter one bears the arms in the format used between the Union with Ireland in 1801 and 1816, before the electoral bonnet of Hanover above the central shield was replaced with a crown, the electorate of Hanover having been raised to a Kingdom at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. The arms are unusual in that the unicorn faces outwards rather than towards the central crest and flanking lion.
     The larger drum bears a coat of arms with the 1816 alteration of the crown painted over an earlier version, and it also has a later-painted banner reading BASINGSTOKE PRESENTED BY H. DOWNS Esq. MAYOR. 1855, referring to Henry Downs, mayor of the Hampshire town from 1854-56. An old label in 19th-century handwriting discovered in the interior of the drum recounts the piece's fascinating history: Received from Geo. Ricket Sergt. in the Volunteers residing at 50 Coley Place, Reading. The drum has been used on many special occasions in Reading. It was first the property of the Duke of Marlborough. He occupied Whiteknights Park near Reading and used this in his private band. Used for military purposes by the Woodley Troop of Berkshire Yeomanry...Capt. Montague about 60 years ago. Used...Reading celebration of passing of Reform Bill in 1832 when the people had dinner in the streets, also by the Reading Band at the first Temperance procession in Reading 50 years ago. Also at the Coronation of Her Majesty the Queen in 1838. At the peace celebrations after the Russian War in Crimea.

The 5th Duke of Marlborough, styled the Marquess of Blandford until his father’s death in 1817, resided at Whiteknights Park outside Reading from 1798, where he spent extravagantly on the gardens and on profligate entertainments. He eventually went bankrupt in 1819 and returned to live at his ancestral seat Blenheim Palace.
     Henry Potter & Co. was founded in London in 1810 by the composer and Head Drum Major of the Coldstream Regiment Samuel Potter, named after his son who took over the business on his father’s death in 1836.  Henry opened the firm’s celebrated shop in Charing Cross Road in 1858, and two years later his son George launched his own enterprise George Potter & Co. selling drums and military band wind instruments in the important garrison town of Aldershot, not far from Basingstoke. In 1918 the two family firms merged and flourished for many more decades; the London showroom closed in 1970 and the Aldershot shop ceased trading in 2007.