This box is ostensibly identical in design to the ‘budget box’ which until recently appeared in the hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer outside 11 Downing Street on budget day; perhaps most notable is that both boxes are gilt tooled with the title of that great office of state. The ‘budget box’ is thought to have been the first red ministerial dispatch box, commissioned by William Ewart Gladstone, circa 1860, to a design which remains in use, largely unchanged, to this day. The Gladstone box was said to be unique, however, the appearance of this box, of near identical design and apparently of similar age, raises the tantalising possibility that this box may have been originally used in tandem with the famed Chancellor’s ‘budget box’ and was almost certainly commissioned either for Gladstone himself or one of his 19th century successors.
The British Government continues to order several new boxes each year. Handmade in pine, grown in a cool climate for greater durability, the boxes are covered with red-stained rams’ leather and many were lead lined to ensure they sank if thrown overboard in the event of capture. Such was the demand for these boxes that several firms were engaged to produce them, but the predominant makers were the London-based company, Barrow, Hepburn and Gale (now Barrow and Gale). Red dispatch boxes were introduced by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert; the colour red being the dominant colour of his family's, the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas', arms. The Queen also owns several of these boxes, some inherited from her father, King George VI and state papers are still delivered to her Majesty in these on a daily basis (except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday) via a Page of the Presence.
Lord Gibson was a Scottish Lawyer who served as MP for Greenock 1936-41, when he was appointed as Chairman of the Scottish Land Court, a position he held until his death in 1965.
We are grateful to the archivist at Barrow & Gale for her assistance in researching this box and for confirming the attribution.