A Fine Charles I Counter Box Unusually Containing 38 Gaming Counters by or after Simon van de Passe

Circa 1640
1.01" High (2.7cm) x 1.1" Diameter (2.8cm)

Of cylindrical form, the pull off lid with a central cast portrait of Charles I, head and shoulders, looking to the left and surrounded by openwork  and engraved scrolls. The base with a fine scene of Father Time with a winged hourglass on his head and holding another in his right hand. His right hand holding a scythe and the background with buildings and mountains. The sides with 4 superb panels depicting clusters of military trophies, one panel with an oval shield bearing a grotesque mask. The 38 counters being mainly the Kings and Queens of Britain along with other significant persons related to British Royalty.


Noel Butler, Antiques Dealer, Clifton, Bristol, November 1937

Bonhams, 19th July, 2002, Lot 241

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Over the last few decades we have bought a number of counter boxes, The Albert Collection alone containing seven 17th century examples. This set, however, must rank as one of the best we have ever purchased since it contains more counters than any other that has been in our possession and has superb panels around the sides and an even better depiction of Father Time on the base. The cover is also in excellent condition. Often the fragile nature of the construction lends itself to breakages and splits in the pierced scrollwork and the head of the monarch, frequently found to be worn or rubbed, has clear and precise details.

Arguments still appear about the dating of such boxes with some saying they may be post Commonwealth. We think this unlikely as Van de Passe died in 1647 so an an approximate date of 1640 is far more likely especially as the country was about to embark on a bitter civil war. By purchasing such a box one would be showing one's loyalty to the king (if one was a supporter of the Royalist cause). Other similar items would be Royalist heart-shaped boxes and oval medallions particularly by Thomas Rawlins.

Even more theories have been expounded about the method of manufacture or decoration of the counters. The answer has only recently been confirmed as being a form of fine casting rather than engraving or die-stamping (see Mark Jones, The Technique of Simon van de Passe Reconsidered, The Numismatic Chronicle, London, Vol.143, pp 227-230).

This is a truly wonderfully historical item and the two nearest examples to have been sold at auction are: Christies South Kensington, 23.3.09, lot 166, sold for £5000 but only had 26 counters. Toovey's, 29.11.17, lot 410, sold for £7505 inc. premium, contained 32 counters

The counters, in chronological order, are as follows Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), Harold (1066), William I (1066-1087), William II (1087-1100), Henry I (1100-1135), Stephen (1135-1154), Henry II (1154-1189), Richard I (1189-1199), John (1199-1216), Henry III (1216-1272), Edward I (1272-1307), Edward II (1307-1327), Edward III (1327-1377), Richard II (1377-1399), Henry IV (1399-1413), Henry V (1413-1422), (Henry VI counter missing), Edward IV (1461-1483), Edward V (1483-1483), Richard III (1483-1485), Henry VII (1485-1509), Henry VIII (1509-1547), Edward VI (1547-1553), Mary I (1553-1558), Elizabeth I (1558-1603), James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649).

The remaining counters are: Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of James I (died in 1612). Elizabeth, Princess of the Palatine of the Rhine, Grandaughter of James I and eldest daughter of Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Frederick V, Elector Palatine and King of Bohemia, 1619-1620. Charles Louis, 2nd son of Frederick V. Philip II of Spain, husband to Queen Mary I. James, Duke of York, 2nd son of Charles I, was styled Duke of York from birth in 1633 and became James II in 1685. Charles, Prince, probably commemorating the birth of Charles I. The token reads "20th May 1630"  but modern records say 29th May 1630. The discrepancy is probably due to whether the Julian or Gregorian calendar was used. Anne, wife of James I and generally known as Anne of Denmark. Mary this would be Mary Tudor as opposed to Queen Mary I, Mary Tudor was the younger surviving daughter of Henry VII. She married King Louis XII of France and was sister to Henry VIII.