18th century leather Document Box stamped with the George Rex “Royal Cipher and Crown."

Updated: Sep 25

Deborah Powell, BCHS Past president and Museum Collection Chair

Last fall we made an appeal on Facebook for donations for the restoration of this 18th century leather Document Box stamped with the George Rex “Royal Cipher and Crown." Several people responded to the tune of $970 out of the cost of $2,600. We are so thankful for your support. 

The inside is lined with unpublished book pages that are further decorated with fanciful ink motifs and stamps.  Gary McGowan of Cultural Preservation and Restoration conserved the leather box by an elaborate process of rehumidifying it, cleaning, HEPA-vacuumed, adhesive used to rejoin the fractured and detached leather portions of the wooden carcass. Further consolidation included using sturgeon bladder glue! He recently returned it to us.

In 2016, Gary contacted Barbara Smith, Curator, Division of Political History at the Smithsonian. She lamented there are more questions than answers on these boxes but the ones that have provenances, have associations with New Jersey. A box at Princeton belonged to John Witherspoon and the makers label survives, identifying it as made in the shop of James Season, London. Smith wondered if it may have been produced by his shop and shipped here and someone else added the “Stamp Act Repeal’d” declaration at a later date or did Season fabricate them with the stamp. 

The GR & crown cipher appears in each of the four corners of the embossed diamond on the top of the BCHS box and under the iron handle.  It was not stamped with “Stamp Act Repeal’d.” 

The box is lined with unpublished pages. Michael Reade responded on the Face Book photo appeal, an effort to determine if the pages could shed any light on the history of the box. He found one of the pages came from The Irish Historical Library printed in Dublin in 1724 and two pages from the book referencing Irish Saints (St. Patrick, Colman, Columba.) Additionally, Reade found later references, for example “a text string which led to a book of extant theological writings (epistles) of the Apostolic Fathers in early Christian history (Pope Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp) compiled and published in Latin/Greek in 1838 by William Jacobson, Bishop of Chester.” Apparently, the pages are from an earlier publication. We could wish to know how exactly these boxes were used.

We have an artifact in want of more research.

The Stamp Act of 1765 was imposed on the British colonies and required many printed material (legal docs, newspapers, playing cards) to be produced on London paper. Repealed March 1766 but the act played major role in organized colonial resistance.