The coffre-fort had gone under the hammer at Woolley & Wallis in June this year, catalogued as a Franco-Flemish. These strongboxes are European in concept and many were made on the continent. However, according to dealer Mark Pargeter (of Alexander George Antiques), the drawer construction suggested that it was an English work of the Charles II period. Pargeter said the quality of the workmanship meant it could be the work of one of two hands, and tracing the records, one name turned up as having a history of creating coffre-forts for clients: the Dutch or Flemish cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen (fl.1667-d.1715), who worked in London.
The c.1675 chest, measuring 20in (51cm) wide, is decorated entirely in burr walnut veneers and adorned with thick foliate gilt brass mounts and strapwork. There is a gilt brass clasp opening on a push-spring release to reveal a crossbanded interior lined in cascading book-matched figured walnut with two drop-down compartments, each concealing its original hidden box. Within the strongbox, a series of moving drawers and panels lead to ever more concealed compartments.
For the buyer, a UK client new to the gallery, it was the mechanics rather than the maker that appealed.
“I wanted a coffre-fort of this type because when I was about 12 I used to go and view one repeatedly,” said the buyer, who wished to remain anonymous. “It was in a museum on the outskirts of Edinburgh called Lauriston Castle. The staff used to open it for me so that I could examine it thoroughly. I decided that one day I’d have one of my own, but I wanted a really good one and now that’s just what I have.”
The attribution to Jensen places it in a small but significant group. The royal cabinetmaker to successive monarchs from James II to Queen Anne, his output was prodigious. Bills surviving in royal accounts are numerous but few firmly attributed pieces remain.
His first recorded customer, Charles Stuart, 3rd Duke of Richmond, paid £10 for a table, stands and strong box.
Jensen later supplied a walnut-veneered strongbox to Colonel James Graham of Levens Hall, Cumbria in 1688. The example in question is most closely related to a strongbox in Ham House in Surrey, which is made in kingwood but with identical hardware.
The chest at Alexander George Antiques sold for £26,800.