THE Badminton Cabinet, the magnificent 18th century ebony, ormolu and pietra dura cabinet made at the Grand Ducal workshops in Florence and sold by Christie for a record £7.8m in 1990 is to come back on the market again in December with the same auction house.


When Christie's sold this impressive piece, pictured right, 14 years ago, its price established an auction high for any piece of furniture, a record that still stands today. However, its reappearance at the rostrum on December 9 could change that - the auctioneers are predicting a price in excess of £8m.

The 12ft 7in (3.86m) high archictectural piece takes its name from Badminton House, the Palladian home of the Dukes of Beaufort, where it had stood for over 250 years.

It was commissioned by Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke, from the celebrated Florentine workshops in 1726 when he was just 19 years old.

The ultimate Grand Tour souvenir, this was the largest piece the workshops produced in the baroque period, its ebony case a vehicle for a superb series of pietra dura plaques.

The sale of the cabinet from Badminton House came about at the result of inheritance tax following the death of the 10th Duke in 1984. Prior to the decision to sell at auction in 1990, the trustees of the Beaufort family settlement tried to effect a private sale through Christie's to the Victoria and Albert Museum but the Museum's purchase grant and available funds were insufficient at the time. At auction it was purchased by the heiress Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the current vendor.

At that time the cabinet required an export licence to leave the country and there was an eight month export stop during which a fund-raising campaign attempted to save it for the nation and it was displayed at the British Museum and the Tate Gallery. The campaign did not succeed, however, and the cabinet was duly granted a licence for export and left the country.

Perhaps the auction in December will provide another opportunity to acquire it for the nation?