A rectangular strong box, decorated with Gothic design gilt brass strapwork, hinges, corner mounts and carrying handles. The exterior lid and front are fitted with brass mounts with fleur-de-lys finials, which extend to form hinges. The eight corners are each fitted with a three-part corner mount, held on using metal pins. Both of the side panels have a long vertical floor- or carriage-bolt fitted in the centre (one missing). With a hinged lid, the top lifting to reveal an interior with a shallow compartment. The fall front opens to reveal two drawers, each with a single pull. There are two secret compartments inside this strong box, which can be accessed by removing the drawers; and reaching above into the static front board, removing a trapezoidal verneer to release a small wooden container.
Strong boxes of this type were made in England and across northern Europe in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth Centuries. The 1st Duke of Richmond’s bills from 1661-73 reveal that Gerrit Jensen (active 1680-d.1715) supplied the Duke with a ‘strong box’ (Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds), ‘Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840’, Furniture History Society, W.S. Maney and Son Ltd, 1986, p.486).
Whilst being decorative, strong boxes were very difficult to force open or to steal due to the strong lock and the two long iron bolts, concealed in the sides of the box. This feature allowed these portable boxes to be screwed down and securely attached to a surface, even when travelling on the floor of a coach. Strong boxes were consequently used to keep valuables secure whilst their owners were in transit. The heads of these bolts could only be turned while the box was open, and so only the key holder could move it. The hidden compartments inside the strong boxes provided an additional level of security for small items such as a piece of folded paper, gold or jewels.
Strong boxes were luxury objects, sold by cabinet-makers who constructed and veneered the boxes, and then fitting them with mounts, hinges, handles and locks purchased from brass founders. The elaborate veneering and conspicuous brass mounts show that the appearance of these objects was important. A comparable example is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection, dated 1680-1700 and probably originating from London (Museum number: W.10-1951; https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O167479/strong-box-unknown).
Adam Bowett (Furniture History Society Newsletter, No. 157, February 2005), pp.2-3.
Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (eds), ‘Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840’, Furniture History Society, W.S. Maney and Son Ltd, 1986.