A Superb Pair of William IV Silver-gilt Caskets

Edward Farrell
6 1/8 x 5 1/8 x 3 1/2 in, (15.3 x 12.8 x 8.8 cm)

Each silver-gilt and raised on 4 ivory bun feet, the front and back with six panels superbly engraved in the rococo revival style with swirling leaves and shaped reserves of trellis work, crescents, pellets and fish scales, all on matted grounds. The sides with 4 similar but larger panels with matching engraving. The lids bordered by the same decoration and each enclosing a finely painted scene. The interiors lined with ivory and each with a keyhole and lock at the front

15000 GBP
  • Christies South Kensington, 21st June 1995, lot 654

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These extraordinary boxes are very unlike any other pieces to emerge from Edward Farrell's workshop. His "house style" is usually associated with very heavy, elaborate and classical designs but by contrast these boxes are both delicate and subtle. Made in Britannia standard silver and covered in a delightful colour of gilding there are virtually no other comparative pieces bearing his mark. The nearest would appear to be a silver-gilt casket made one year earlier in 1835 with light foliate engraving and set with pietra dura panels (see The Sotheby's Directory of Silver 1600-1940 by Vanessa Brett, page 271, plate 1244)

The whole construction is so unusual that it poses the question as to why they were made. The keyholes and locks suggest they may have been made as dressing table boxes for keeping valuables but there are no crests, initials or armorials so perhaps they were presented to a City of London dignitary or a lady of significant stature or position. The 2 painted panels in the hinged lids are of superb quality depicting St. Pauls Cathedral and a view across the river Thames of the Royal Hospital Greenwich. The detail and accuracy of each suggests they are after a member of the Havell family and most likely Robert Havell Junior who was alive at the date of manufacture of the boxes (1836). Robert was most notable for being the principal engraver for Audubon's Birds of America. The overall shape is reminiscent of a Japanese Temple and the sides are finely engraved with panels in the rococo revival taste whilst the interiors are lined in ivory.

It would be tempting to attribute their provenance to the likes of William Beckford who was well known for his fanciful and usual commissions. Beckford, however, was obsessed with heraldry and most of the silver made for him after 1800 was engraved with armorials or crests, particularly the Latimer Cross and the Hamilton Cinquefoil. The boxes, whilst being very much in the Beckford taste have seemingly unconnected views of London. There is also an influence of the interiors of the Brighton Pavillion albeit finished some 13 years earlier.

These are being offered for sale with a full certificate issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as "Pre-1918 item of oustandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value".