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However, as Thomas Sheraton tells us in his Drawing Book, the two were not the same. Knife boxes, the designer wrote in 1791, were not made in “regular cabinet shops” and instead executed by specialists such as John Lane of No.44 St Martin’s Le Grande, London, whose work he considered to be of the “best taste”.
Lane, or at least a craftsman of equal importance from the previous generation, was a candidate for the manufacture of the remarkable suite of four mahogany knife boxes illustrated, offered for sale on behalf of a private client in the Taunton area by the Wiltshire auctioneer Finan & Co from the Old Ship Hotel, Mere on October 7.
Knife boxes are traditionally made in pairs but this suite had been commissioned as a deliberate foursome in two different sizes: a pair for table cutlery, 14in high by 9in wide, and a pair for dessert, 123/4in high by 8in wide.
All were of the desirable moulded serpentine form – a style which dated them to c.1770-5 – and embellished with kingwood, boxwood and ebony stars and a series of silver mounts, handles, escutcheons and ball and claw feet. These mounts were struck only with the lion passant and the unidentified maker’s mark IW within a rectangle and engraved with the arms of two Devonshire families, Cholwich impaling Duntz.
Few people who viewed this choice consignment could claim to have ever encountered a set of four: the quartet were subject to the competition of six telephone lines before they sold to a specialist dealer for £26,000 (plus 15 per cent premium).