Geo III work box
Lot 1599
An exceptional George III rolled paperwork rectangular work box, retaining its original, vibrant colouring and reputedly decorated by Mary Earnshaw in 1795
Sold for £ 15,980 (US$ 22,602) inc. premium

Lot Details
Geo III work box Geo III work box
An exceptional George III rolled paperwork rectangular work box, retaining its original, vibrant colouring and reputedly decorated by Mary Earnshaw in 1795
The satinwood edge mouldings bordered with rope inlay, the top with a central steel axe head handle within a vivid turquoise rectangular panel with gold, cream, black and gilt decoration within a green border, the sides set with multicoloured ovals, teardrops and other variant quillwork panels in a variety of colours including black, cream, yellow, green and blue, the compartmentalised interior lined in pink paper with a brass rod fitted with five individual whitewood reels flanked by a pair of whitewood cotton barrels, an open rectangular compartment flanked by a thimble recess and a pink silk and ribbon mounted needle book, the front fitted with a ratcheted roller flanked by a silk pincushion in tumbler form whitewood cup and a tape measure aperture fitted with a Chinese bone tape measure, lacking tape and spindle. Sold with the remaining contents, as consigned, comprising; a flannel with eight pins, a turned ivory stiletto with screw-off cover, 5.7cm, a circular cream silk pincushion initialled in pink 'E.J./H.J.', a box containing a bracelet with colour printed label for 'E. S. Smith, Venetian Shell Jewellery and Dublin Fish Scale Ornaments ... E. Eastern Gallery, Crystal Palace', a pair of 'books', Poems I and Poems II in red card with gilt foil details, Vol. 1 as an emery, Vol. 2 containing a yellow silk skein holder and double needle flannel, another 'book' in green material and gold foil, fitted with a drawer to the long 'page' edge with a pink lining and two needle flannels, the box 21.6 x 14 x 7.2cm, with original steel key, with an outer hand-made blue paper covered cardboard box with lift-off lid, stitched base and lid, the lid edge applied with two white paper strips, the lid inscribed in old ink script 'Jane Earnshaw, 1816, Lace', and again to the interior 'J.E. 1816', 23.2 x 19 x 19.5cm.

See illustration


  • A typed note accompanies the box and states 'This box, which is made of rolled paper, belonged to Mary Earnshaw. She died on the 12th July 1797, in her eighteenth year. It is thought she made the box in 1795' with a modern envelope inscribed 'Mary Earnshaw's box, she had connections with Wakefield'.

    Rolled paperwork or quillwork work boxes are among the rarest of all work boxes, although more common as tea caddies, to find one in such exceptional condition with an apparent provenance to its original owner and artist probably renders this example a unique survival. While the work box was a receptacle for the required tools to execute and display a lady's skill, rolled paper boxes provided a further platform to establish a lady's skill in executing delicate and detailed work to the highest standard.

    'Whitewood' boxes were manufactured by the specialist box maker with raised decorative edge borders, leaving receessed panels for the intricate paperwork to be worked flush, either by professionals, or, as it would seem in this case, the talented amateur.

    The outer blue card box is also interesting, carefully but somewhat crudely hand-crafted, the inscription of Jane Earnshaw, presumably its originator, is dated 1816, some twenty one years after the apparent manufacture of the rolled paper box, and nineteen years after Mary Earnshaw's death. The further inscription of 'Lace' to the cardboard box suggests it may have originally been constructed for another purpose, but significantly the cardboard box's dimensions echo those of the rolled paper box and wear on the interior of the cardboard box lid, relates directly to the steel axe head handle on the lid of Mary's box. In the absence of precise documentary evidence, it seems reasonable to assume that Jane was Mary's sister and that she simply used the box, constructed for storage of her lace, to house a box inherited on the death of her sister, equally there may be an unrecognised significance to the inscription. For the rolled paper box to be preserved in such exceptional condition it must have been protected, not only from daylight, but also other sources of potential damage immediately following Mary's death - it was no doubt a highly and sadly treasured 'memento mori'.

    A search has revealed a possible connection:

    Jane Earnshaw, Christened 10th November 1777, All Saints, Wakefield, Yorkshire, Daughter of Richar Earnshaw

    Mary Earnshaw, Christened 16th October 1779, All Saints, Wakefield, Yorkshire, Daughter of Richard Earnshaw.
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £175,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £175,001 to £3,000,000 the Hammer Price
12.5% from £3,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, cheque with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveller's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Similar Items