An 18th century volume entitled Historia Universalis disguised as a Thunderbox toilet sold at Bloomsbury New York for $1500 (£850).

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It does not seem an obvious use for an old binding, but a travelling commode that might have appealed to Apthorpe, Guy Crouchback's fellow officer in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers and increasingly eccentric owner of an Edwardian field latrine in Evelyn Waugh's at Arms, appeared at Bloomsbury New York on September 17-18.

Apthorpe's thunderbox came to a memorably comic and explosive end but the example illustrated here has survived relatively unscathed since the 18th century. It has, as two of its supporting walls, the blind-tooled calf over oak board covers of a large folio volume that advertises itself on the red morocco lettering label to be an Historia Universalis.

Closed, it looks like any other large old folio, but in times of need it opens to reveal other oaken boards that fold out to form a closed square, with yet one more board that lifts up to provide a seat in which a chamber pot could be placed. The whole thunderbox - possibly intended for use on a military campaign by someone of rank - rests on four small wooden pegs and the sides formed by the binding are further protected at the foot by small brass plates.

The wooden seat is cracked and the chamber pot itself long gone, while the binding has seen some restoration and the clasps may be 19th century replacements. It sold for $1500 (£850).

There is, the saleroom informed us, another such biblio-convenience at the Chateau de Lamothe-Fenelon in the Dordogne, but that one is built up as a pile of folios on short legs and is certainly not portable or collapsible.

By Ian McKay