After 19 years, one of the gold boxes stolen in the Waddesdon raid is recovered
A stolen gold box has been returned to Waddesdon and will go on display from 27 April in the Rothschild Treasury, a gallery that houses more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects.
At about 2am on Tuesday 10 June 2003, Waddesdon Manor, the Rothschild house and garden in Buckinghamshire, experienced a dramatic break-in and theft.
A masked gang in blue boiler suits smashed their way through a window, and within just minutes had made off with more than 100 gold boxes and other precious objects.
The stolen items – mainly 18th-century French pieces, along with some English – were of high value. Very few of them have ever been recovered.
In August 2021, one of the boxes was identified by the team at Art Loss Register (ALR) when it came up for sale at a UK regional auction house which subscribes to the ALR’s service providing due diligence checks on items for sale.
The gold box that has surfaced is a French bonbonnière dated 1775-1781 and made in Paris, a centre for the production of gold boxes in the 18th century. These small circular boxes were personal accessories, kept in a pocket or in a boudoir or salon, and used for sweets. Often embellished with painted or enamelled scenes, this one has a miniature of an unknown woman holding a basket of roses on its lid. It is decorated with gold piqué (inlaid) stars on a dark blue ground and has a tortoiseshell interior.
As soon as the ALR identified it, they alerted staff at Waddesdon, who checked the images and other details to confirm that it was in fact one of the stolen boxes. They then notified the auction house. They also contacted Thames Valley police so that they could investigate further given the seriousness of this theft and the number of other boxes still missing.
The box has now been returned to Waddesdon and will go on display from 27 April in the Rothschild Treasury, a gallery that houses more than 300 objects made from rare and precious materials that celebrates the Rothschild family as collectors of extraordinary objects.
This is serendipitous timing for this particular gold box to return home to Waddesdon, as it was acquired by Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922). Alice was the sister of Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), who built Waddesdon, and she inherited the Manor and its contents from him. This spring Waddesdon is marking the centenary of her death by celebrating her life, collections and legacy with Alice’s Wonderlands – a comprehensive programme of exhibitions and displays that highlight her pivotal role in Waddesdon’s history.
Pippa Shirley, Director of Collections, Historic properties and Landscapes at Waddesdon says “I am absolutely delighted that this box has returned, and very grateful to the Art Loss Register for its part in its successful recovery. The 2003 theft was deeply traumatic for everyone at Waddesdon – I remember it vividly – and this feels such a positive outcome and gives us hope that the other boxes may yet come back to us. It is also such a happy coincidence that it should reappear in the year in which we are celebrating Alice de Rothschild and her extraordinary contribution to the collections here.”
The ALR played an integral role in locating and ensuring the return of the box to Waddesdon on a pro-bono basis. Lucy O’Meara, an expert on country house thefts and recovery specialist at the ALR, says “I am thrilled to see the box returned to Waddesdon Manor. It is an honour to assist in returning a small part of the house’s cultural history to its rightful place and I am hopeful that the remaining boxes will be reunited with the National Trust collection very soon.”
Bonbonnière will go on display in A Rothschild Treasury from Wed 27 Apr. Waddesdon Manor is open to the public weekly, Wednesdays – Sundays until 31 October.
Many of the items taken in the theft remain missing – you can see a full list of them here.
Should anyone have further information and would like to assist in ensuring these important objects can be returned to public display, please contact the ALR at firstname.lastname@example.org