Prime Minister's Parliamentary Red Dispatch Box 1850-1900, Disraeli, Gladstone

By wickwar

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Prime Minister's Parliamentary Red Dispatch Box 1850-1900, Disraeli, Gladstone  


This box is the oldest Primenister Despatch box in circulation, and the only known box that has the title "First Lord of the Treasury"


As of the beginning of the 17th century, the running of the Treasury was frequently entrusted to a commission, rather than to a single individual. Since 1714, it has permanently been in commission. The commissioners have always since that date been referred to as Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, and adopted ordinal numbers to describe their seniority. Eventually in the middle of the same century, the First Lord of the Treasury came to be seen as the natural head of the overall ministry running the country, and, as of the time of Robert Walpole (Whig), began to be known, unofficially, as the Prime Minister. The term Prime Minister was initially, but decreasingly, used as a term of derogation: it was first used officially in a royal warrant only in 1905. William Pitt the Younger once opined that the Prime Minister "ought to be the person at the head of the finances" (though Pitt also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the entirety of his time as Prime Minister, so his linkage of the finance portfolio to the premiership was wider than merely proposing the occupation of the First Lordship of the Treasury by the Prime Minister).



To this day the ironmongery on 10 Downing Street lists the residence as First Lord of the Treasury.

Red Calf leather bound pine dispatch box used for transporting Parliamentary papers of the Prime Minister (embossed in gilt lettering 'First Lord of the Treasury') between 1850 and 1900 and presenting at Prime Minister's addresses to Parliament at the 'Dispatch Box'. Extremely rare item, probably a unique survivor.
Measures L40 W27 D11 cms.
These dispatch boxes were also used for the transport of the Prime Minister's papers often between the Prime Minister and Queen Victoria to seek her Royal Seal. The box would have used by all the British Prime Minister's between 1850 and 1900 including Prime Minister's Disraeli and Gladstone. It would have transported papers covering historic events such as the Crimea war, including Royal decrees and Parliamentary addresses.
After 1905 the title of 'Prime Minister' was officially recognized by the 'order of precedence'. Between 1850 and 1905 the Prime Minister took the official title of 'First Lord of the Treasury' The role of 'First Lord of the Treasury' evolved into what we recognize today as the title of 'Prime Minister.' 
At number 10 Downing Street, the front door brass letterbox still caries the same title of 'First Lord of the Treasury' stamped on it as the building was built prior to 1905. The style of lettering found on the letterbox is actually very similar to that embossed on this leather box.
The stamped Davis Patent lock by A. Wright of 52 Chapter Street in Westminister (census enclosed) and casing has been examined by a forensic locksmith (references can be included in the sale on request) and is a later mid period lock to the case, as often was the case, the locks were replaced during the box's use, for security reasons. It originally had a Bramah lock. Davis locks were special security locks chosen by Parliament.
The case is made by 'Wickwar & Co. 6 Poland Street' and is also stamped Manufacturers to HM Stat y {Stationary] Office in Gilt typically marked for this period.
The brass handles and escutcheon are period to the case and original. The lid and sides carry Queen Victoria's black and gilt cypher.  
The box itself is lined by its original red calf leather, but I suspect the underlid black lining has been refurbished around 1890, probably at a similar time when the lock was replaced. The wear is again typical for these boxes, where horse drawn carriages would have transported the box over cobbled streets with little suspension. The box is very similar to the Chancellor's famous old red box from Gladstone, which is now retired on display in Parliament but this box is clearly in style, older and has the top handle intact. In my view from a political and historical stance, this case is more significant.
Most dispatch boxes are made in black leather. The red leather was a visual cue/signal to Queen Victoria on the level of importance of the documents and was only used by top members of the Cabinet and the Royal Family.
The brass side lock was used to trap place of delivery paper slips for transport destination. The top carrying handle was used for ease of opening at the Parliament dispatch box. The brass side handle was used for carrying into and within Parliament, the Palace and other Government buildings