On December 27, 1851, the architect Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) wrote to Augustus Pugin (1812-52) with a progress report on the interior decoration of the Palace of Westminster.
Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell
“The drawings for the letter boxes were sent to Hardman as soon as I received them. I have this moment given Crace the drawings for the decoration of the blank lights…. I enclose a diagram which he has made of the pannels [sic] and a list of the data for their decoration; and shall be very glad, if it were not be bothering you too much, if you would give the subject your deliberate attention.”
‘Barn find’ bonus
The nature of Pugin’s letter boxes was previously unknown before the appearance of a 14in (35cm) wide ‘barn find’ at Mellors & Kirk in Nottingham on June 26. It was discovered by auction house director Nigel Kirk in an outbuilding in a country house where it had been since at least the early years of the 20th century. Obscured by rust were a series of finely chiselled mounts consistent with the work of John Hardman & Co, including a lion passant wearing a crown and carrying a postal satchel.
The ‘blank lights’ produced by Frederick Crace & Son are carved with recessed panels of Tudor roses and to the ends with an ink bottle and quills and a hooded falcon and the painted banner The Post Shall Go At…
Pugin was a prolific collector of fragments of medieval stained glass, wood and metalwork that he used to inform his own designs. The mounts of this box are thought to have been inspired by a 15th century oak cabinet door with its iron lock now in the V&A. It is rare indeed for an ‘unknown’ object designed for the Palace of Westminster to emerge from obscurity – regardless of its condition.
Estimated at £1000-1500, the box sold to a UK phone bidder at £4200 who later confirmed that the box would be cleaned and conserved rather than restored.