Queen Victoria’s gold, enamel and pearl-set musical domino box

The definition of exceptional is something rare, unusual, extraordinary — this set of sumptuously decorated gold dominos in their matching musical box is all of those things and more

Queen Victoria loved to play dominos, and the daily journals that she kept throughout her life contain many references to the game. In one taken at random for Sunday 18 December, 1842, which was spent at Windsor Castle, she writes, ‘Albert read to me, and we played at dominos, such a good game…’ There are 38 such entries between 1839 and 1861.

This exceptional gold and enamel musical box and its set of gold dominos is almost certainly unique — no other examples are known publicly in either private collections or museums worldwide. When consigned for sale at Christie’s in 1974 by a direct descendant of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it had, according to family lore, once been the property of the Queen herself. She subsequently gave it to her youngest son, Prince Leopold, from whom it descended in the family from the Duke of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, Leopold’s son and Queen Victoria’s grandson.

Originally intended for the Chinese market, the exquisite enamelling and pearl-setting is archetypal Geneva work from the opening years of the 19th century, in this instance made by the celebrated firm of Moulinié, Bautte & Cie, which was famed for its fantasy musical and mechanical objects made in gold, enamel, jewels and pearls.

It is quite remarkable that this musical box and dominos have documented early provenance back to 1834, less than 30 years after they were made. At such an early date, documented provenance for an object such as this is almost unheard of. However, the domino box had travelled to England and found itself displayed among some now legendary exhibits in one of Regency London’s most extraordinary collections of curiosities — Weeks’ Museum.

We don’t know how the dominos made their way from the Weeks’ Museum sale into Queen Victoria’s possession. A clue may lie in the name of the buyer: Russell

In July 1834 the majority of the contents of the museum were auctioned by Messrs. E. Foster & Son of Pall Mall. Lot 288, which was offered on the third day of sale, was described as follows: ‘A superb gold enamelled musical box, set with fine pearls, and embellished with paintings of the four seasons, containing a set of dominos of most superior make, the pips being formed of fine pearls’. Unmistakably, the present box and dominos.

We don’t know how the dominos made their journey from the Weeks’ Museum auction into the Queen’s possession. A clue may lie in the name of the buyer: Russell. This name is significant in that Queen Victoria’s closest lifelong friend was Anna Maria Russell, later Duchess of Bedford. If Anna Maria Russell was indeed the original owner of the dominos, they would have been a most suitable and appropriate gift to the Queen, particularly given her love of the game.