An extremely rare brass-studded, leather-covered pine chest of drawers made for Queen Anne.
Fig. 1. Queen Anne’s leather chest, circa 1702-14. (Thomas Coulborn)
The chest most recently came to light on the Antiques Roadshow at Cawdor Castle in January 2013 since when it has caused quite the commotion. In 2015 the chest’s owner loaned it to Historic Royal Palaces where it was exhibited at Hampton Court alongside Queen Anne’s state bed. The chest is now being offered for sale by antiques dealer, Thomas Coulborn, for £185,000 ($317,733) which he describes thusly:
A pine chest covered with a thin layer of Russia leather, less than a millimetre thick, demonstrating the skill of the tanner. Originally, this leather would have been scarlet in colour, as noted in the documentation below. Decorated with two different sizes of brass studs which are used to form rosettes, tulips and scrolls; and with the monogram initials ‘AR’ studded to the top, surmounted by a crown. The chest has four drawers which can be locked, each with a pierced brass lock plate. The chest has two later replacement lion head handles on each drawer and there are handles on both sides and runners on the base. The runners which would have enabled the chest to be towed along cobbled floors or up the stairs. The drawers are lined with marbled paper which, during the 17th and 18th Centuries, was frequently used as a lining material and was originally used to cover the nailed edge of the leather. The survival of the original quilted crimson silk lining in one of the drawers is extraordinary. Chests with a silk lining were reserved for the royal bedchamber. The use of leather made such chests both lightweight and water resistant. The prominent, decorative studding made the chest identifiable, and indicated the rank of the chest’s owner. The initials ‘AR’ on this chest identify the owner as Queen Anne, or ‘Anne Regina’, and a Queen’s crown is marked out on the lid.
This chest was made for use by Queen Anne and would have only been used by the inner circle of women who worked in the sovereign’s sleeping chamber, in order to store her precious silks, linens and clothing. The five members of Queen Anne’s inner circle of women were: Abigail Masham, the Queen’s Bedchamber Woman; Elizabeth Atkinson, the Queen’s Laundress of the Body; Anne Rainsford, the Queen’s Seamstress; Agneta Cooper, the Queen’s chief bedchamber woman; and Elizabeth Abrahall, the Queen’s Starcher. Of these women, Abigail Masham, grew increasingly close to the Queen and her influence grew accordingly. In 1711 her husband, Samuel Masham, was raised to the peerage and in the same year Abigail herself became Keeper of the Privy Purse. Family tradition amongst the descendants of Abigail Masham maintains that on Anne’s death a number of items of furniture and effects from the Royal Bedchamber were removed by Abigail Masham to her private home. The family still retain a leather studded coffer that had been made for Queen Anne, but it is not known if that is how this chest left the Royal Household.
History of Ownership
Margaret (1853-1918) and Gulielma (1856-1942) Binyon: Margaret and Gulielma Binyon – known to their family as ‘Margie and Gulie’ – lived at Henwick Grove in Worcester. Thomas Binyon (1795-1865), Margaret and Gulielma’s father, bought the house in 1861. The Binyons were a leading Quaker family and the two sisters were spinsters. Having moved to Henwick House as young girls, both the sisters continued to live together until they died: Margaret died in 1918, aged 65; and Gulielma in 1942, at the age of 86.
The sisters probably bought the chest during the 1870s and it is documented in two sets of notes and one inventory following Gulielma’s death in 1942. The sets of notes record the items which were at Henwick Grove in 1937, and then at Hoe Court in 1942, following the move of items after Gulielma’s death. The inventory documents the items which were included in the inventory for the valuation of Henwick Grove for estate duty purposes in 1942, after Gulielma’s death.
In the ‘Notes on Henwick Grove, Furniture etc’, a document begun in 1937 which was written by Elizabeth Muriel Binyon (the younger daughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother) and compiled from details given by Gulielma Binyon, the chest appears in the list of items from the hall: ‘Queen Anne Travelling Chest bought by M&G. Binyon through George Goodrick. Colour of leather originally scarlet. Owned by socialistically inclined people who offered it for sale to Lord ( ? Houghton) as he had one wh. was similar to it. He doubted its being genuine & offered to send down an expert to see it, which so enraged its owner – friends of George Goodrick – that they swore he sha. have the chance to buy it, so thro. G.G. it was offered to M&G.B.’
In the ‘Notes on Furniture, glass, silver, china etc at Hoe Court, Colwall, Malvern & articles brought over there from Henwick Grove Worcester in March-April 1942’, a document started in October 1942 which was written by Cicely Margaret Wilson (the elder daughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother), the chest appears in the list of items: ‘Queen Anne travelling chest. Left by G.B. to E.M. Colman – covered in leather (scarlet originally) – Bought by M&G. Binyon on the recommendation of George Goodrick – an old quaker friend of the family who lived at Birmingham. It was owned by socialistically inclined people who offered it for sale to Lord Houghton (?) as he had one which was very similar to it. He doubted whether it was genuine and offered to send down an expert to inspect & report on it, which so enraged its owner (friends of G. Goodrick) that they swore he sha???? have it & so thro. him M&G. Binyon were offered it & bought it. We found its key in one of the drawers when turning over the contents of Henwick.’ This indicates that the chest was passed down from Gulielma to Elizabeth Martha Colman, the daughter of Cicely Margaret Wilson, and the granddaughter of Thomas Wakefield Binyon, Gulielma and Margaret’s older brother.
The chest appears in ‘The Estate of Miss Gulielma Binyon, deceased: Inventory of Furniture and Effects, Garden and Farm tools, Dairy Cattle, Horse etc. at Henwick Grove, Worcester’, dated 14 February 1942. It is listed as: ‘An Old English leather covered chest of 3 drawers with pierced key plates, studded with designs in brass nails and royal cypher and crown of Queen Anne, 30” high 39” wide.’
The workshops of Richard Pigg, Junior and William Johnson: This chest was made by the workshops of Richard Pigg, Junior or William Johnson. Johnson was Pigg’s cousin and also one of the beneficiaries of his will, hence he took on Pigg’s business. Richard Pigg, Junior was ‘trunk maker to the Great Wardrobe’ from the reign of Charles II until his death in c.1706, at which time he was succeeded by William Johnson, who is referred to on the bills of the Great Wardrobe as a ‘Coffermaker’ (‘Index: P’, in ‘Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 17’, 1702, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1939), pp. 1395-1417). The accounts of the Great Wardrobe are held at the National Archives. These records reveal that, in the bills of Richard Pigg and William Johnson, similar studded, leather covered, silk lined and perfumed trunks were supplied and appear regularly in the accounts. In 1705-7, Richard Pigg appears in the Great Wardrobe accounts alongside William Johnson: ‘William Johnson, ‘capsario’ [coffermaker], for a coffer, etc. £98 9s 0d’ and ‘Richard Pigg, ‘capsario’ [coffermaker], for leather work, £7 3s 6d’ (‘Declared Accounts 1707: Civil List’, in ‘Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 22, 1708’, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1952), pp. ccxciv-cccvii. British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol22/ccxciv-cccvii).
In 1704-5, Richard Pigg supplied the Great Wardrobe with: ‘one large trunk with drawers covered with Russia leather lined wth silke quilted and perfumed garnished with yellow nailes the lockes, handles & hinges of the very best with brasse plates and scutcheons’, for which he charged £6.00. In 1713, William Johnson’s bill included: ‘two large Cabinets covered with Russia leather with Drawers lined with silke quilted and perfumed and garnished with guilt bras nails brase worke Locks and hinges with two painted frames and leather cases to them’ for £30.00. The Wardrobe bills do not include a description of the chest of drawers which matches this chest. However, generic descriptions appear in the accounts as many of the chests supplied are described using very similar terms and it is likely that variations in design would not have been recorded in the bills.
A Bill of William Johnson Coffermaker, dated 5th September 1711 from the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Department. Great Wardrobe’ describes: ‘A Large Trunk Cover’d with Russia Leather garnished with yellow Nails Lock handles & plates of ???. Best laid with Silk quilted & perfumed’ for £5, and then ‘For one Ditto with Drawers’ for £6 (The National Archives, ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Department. Great Wardrobe. Bill of William Johnson Coffermaker 5th, September 1711’.)
Comparators: There are a number of examples of royal travelling trunks covered with leather with a royal connection. However, the configuration of four graduated drawers which feature in our example is apparently unique. A softwood trunk covered with leather, with metal fittings and studs, is housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection. This chest has the monogram of William III and Mary II and is dated 1689-1702 (Museum number: 497-1894). This example also has drawers – but only two – which sit below a flat lid with a compartment, all of which are fitted with locks as in our example, covered with leather, and studded with brass round-headed studs forming patterns of scrolls and rosettes (http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O158511/trunk-unknown/).
A large leather trunk, decorated all over with brass studs, decorated with tulips, the lid with a ‘GR’ cipher and the date 1745, which was made for George II, is in the Royal Collection and is housed in the Great Gallery, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It stands on a japanned wooden stand with bracket feet. (RCIN 636; https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/636/trunk). The lock on this trunk is surrounded by the same brass plate as on our chest.
Supplied to Queen Anne.
Purchased by Margaret and Gulielma Binyon, Henwick Grove, Oldbury Road, Worcester in c.1870.
Thence by descent.
‘Coffer makers to the Stuart Court, 1660-1714’, Olivia Fryman, ‘Furniture History’ volume 52, forthcoming October 2016.
‘The Dictionary of English Furniture: Volume Two: CHE-MUT’, Ralph Edwards, Antique Collectors’ Club, 1983, see ‘Chests’, pages 17-20.
‘Historic Worcester Streets: Their History and the People Who Lived and Worked in Them’, Terry Wardle, MTC, October 2014.
‘Worcester’s Memory Lane’, Michael Grundy, Newsquest, Worcester.
Exhibited in the Historical Section at the Worcestershire Exhibition, 1882. The exhibition label stated: ‘Old Chest of Drawers’.
On loan to Historic Royal Palaces and exhibited at Hampton Court in the Prince of Wales’ apartments alongside Queen Anne’s state bed, February – November 2015.
Fig. 2. Queen Anne’s cypher. (Thomas Coulborn)
Fig. 3. Quilted silk-lined drawer. (Thomas Coulborn)
Fig. 3. Marbled paper-covered drawer. (Thomas Coulborn)