Oxfordshire saleroom Jones & Jacob of Watlington sold this Nathaniel Mills silver presentation snuff box for £16,600 at their latest sale.
The reason was two-fold: to the front was
engraved an accurate rendering of the SS Great
Britain steamship (a scene thought to be unique on a
Mills box), while to the interior was the inscription Presented
to Isambard K. Brunel by the Directors of the Great Western
Steamship Company as a mark of their gratitude for his services and
attention as Chief Engineer 1846.
Brunel, his friend Thomas Guppy and a group
of Bristol investors had formed the Great Western Steamship Company
in 1836 with the intention of building a line of huge steamships
for a regular scheduled transatlantic service from Bristol to New
After protracted delays, the SS Great
Britain followed SS Great Western into
service in 1845. At 322ft (98m) long, she was by far the largest
vessel afloat and (although rigged with secondary sail power) the
first to combine an iron hull with screw propulsion.
However, the presentation of this 4oz snuff
box (hallmarked for Birmingham 1846) doubtless pre-dated September
1846 when, following a navigational error, the ship ran aground in
Dundrum Bay on the north-east coast of Ireland. Although refloated
at great expense to the long-suffering shareholders of the Great
Western Steamship Company, she was sold for salvage and the firm
Nevertheless the ship itself did survive and
today forms part of the National Historic Fleet.
Simon Jones of Jones & Jacob said the
vendor of the snuffbox was a private collector and speculated it
was among the many personal assets Brunel sold to help fund his
next shipbuilding project, the even larger SS Great
Eastern launched in 1858.
The buyer, who bid many times higher than
the £1500-2000 estimate at the sale on December 5, was a specialist
The buyer's premium 15%