An antique British dressing case by Asprey with a colourful history and a connection to a Victorian art dealer is offered on the website of dealer Daniel Lucian.
It was one of the first major dressing cases manufactured at Asprey. The project lasted from 1848-51 and was then purchased by leading art dealer Ernest Gambart (1814-1902) as a wedding present for his third wife, Annie (1835-70).
The pair wed when Annie was 16 (an event notably recorded in a wedding portrait of her by William Powell Frith).
Early in their relationship Gambart apparently showered her with luxurious clothes and jewellery.
Veneered in Kingwood, the case features ormolu decoration depicting Neptune and mythical sea creatures. Encased in a claret velvet interior are 13 heavy gauge silver-gilt topped glass containers as well as a perfume bottle funnel, pin cushion, match vest and nib blotter. The silver was manufactured by Thomas Diller and hallmarked London 1848.
Elsewhere in the case, enclosed in various concealed drawers and compartments are further items such as brushes, mirrors and a fretworked mother-of-pearl shoehorn.
The centrepiece of the lid and the accoutrements within all bear the matching cipher Annie.
Shortly after the wedding the case was loaned back to Asprey for presentation at the Great Exhibition of 1851, where it was awarded honourable mention – a good result for a three-year-old company.
Two missing elements, a needle case and the finial for a White Carnelian pen, were reported as stolen during the exhibition by Charles Asprey (an image of the crime report is available on Lucian’s website).
Gambart and his wife’s relationship disintegrated the following decade.
According to a 1975 biography, the couple’s eventual separation was precipitated by a gas explosion at their home near Regent’s Park following a fancy-dress ball. The blast was so powerful that various paintings were found several gardens away and Annie was left in a state of serious anxiety.
Subsequently, Gambart was apparently found to have several young mistresses kept in various lodgings around town.
By 1867 the relationship was over. That year, the dealer moved his gallery to the back of Asprey’s shop and around this time the dressing case is believed to have returned to Asprey’s archives where it stayed until the late 1960s. At this point it was purchased by a Canadian businessman as a wedding anniversary gift for his wife.
It is now offered for £145,000.