- Approximate Dimensions: 8.75 inches long x 3.75 inches wide x 1.375 inch tall/deep
- Weight: 7.3 oz
- Era: The history of the jeweler marked on this box presents extremely interesting records and information, which both assists in dating this box and also suggests a bit of mystery as to its likely date. That being said, the date is an estimate; this box is believed to be circa 1915-1920, late late Edwardian/early Art Deco. However, it could date as far back as 1890. Please read more in the history below.
- Manufacturer: Unknown; handmade
- Markings: The interior of the lid is stamped in gilt ink upon silk, reading “JEWELLER. L.W. Butcher 8-10 Bute Street. LUTON, BEDS.”
- Buyer Notes: This box is an extraordinarily rare find and one of the most highly desired by collectors. Very few of this style multi ring box have survived, and even fewer are in as lovely condition as this. Holding a great number of rings, this box is a wonderful example of historic retail displays. It is ideal for a collection of small to average sized bands and low profile rings, and has an intriguing back story to boot.
- Exterior Materials: Pigmented full grain (pebbled) leather-wrapped wood hard case
- Exterior Colors: Black with hand stamped and painted gold gilt double border
- Exterior Construction & Conditions: Some extremely light wear to edges commensurate with age and use, and considerably subtle in light of the piece’s estimated age
- Interior Lid Materials: Silk padded lining
- Interior Lid Color: Cream
- Interior Lid Conditions: Some extremely faint and sparse age-related discoloration near the top, faint ghost impressions from former contents, one area of slight picking along the right side; no frays or tears (possible historic maintenance along top edge).
- Interior Hinge Covering Material: Corresponding cream silk
- Interior Hinge Covering Conditions: No frays or tears
- Interior Tray Materials: Black velvet outlined by same cream silk piping
- Inner Ring Slot Materials: Unlined; velvet slit to create ring slots
- Ring Slot Count: Thirty-Six (36)
- Ring Slot Average Dimensions: Slots measure about 20 mm across x 12 mm deep x 2.65 mm wide maximum. These slots hold up to about a size 8 ring, but best fit rings between sizes 5-6 or smaller. These slots are notably petite overall, and larger/wider rings may not fit into the slots. Note that some rings, especially rings with greater heights from the shank/finger may preclude the box from actually shutting closed (as exemplified in the photos provided), making this box best for bands and/or for display purposes.
- Hardware Materiality: Brass latch; hinges are analogous, though interior hinge faces are covered
- Closure System: Decorative button-latch closure; flip open to release and re-engage to shut
- Closure Conditions: Opens and closes with with no resistance
The story of the L.W Butcher Jewellers is one of intrigue and immense mystery. To understand its enigmatic and shrouded existence, one must understand the tapestry of contexts that formed its foundation. Both the city’s history and the checkered past of the Butcher family of Luton are recorded in the city, county, and country’s numerous archives.
The Butcher family story begins with records hailing from the early 1800s during the last few decades of the Georgian era, when a man named Joseph Butcher Jr. was born sometime between 1818 and 1821. The true identity of his mother is contradicted between the multiple birth records filed. His father and namesake is mentioned sparingly, and appears to have been about 14 years old when he fathered Joseph Jr. The two were tenants and farmhands to a reverend for most of Joseph Jr.’s childhood, sometimes being marked as laborers and sometimes as renters on census records.
Joseph Sr. was in and out of trouble often, and when he was 19 years old in 1826, he was committed to Ilchester Gaol prison in Bedfordshire for “Misbehaviour in Service”. The Gaol prison records describe Joseph Sr. as being 5.5 feet tall, with a sallow complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. Even a distinguishing characteristic is provided, noting a scar on his left cheek. He was sentenced to one month of hard labor at the New House of Correction, subjected to a torturous penal device called the treadwheel (or treadmill), where he and 39 other inmates were forced to ceaselessly climb a rotating stepped machine all day, everyday. The device was outlawed by 1898 with the introduction of the Prisons Act.
By 1841, Joseph Jr. was about 20 years old, still employed as a laborer and recorded as being illiterate and without an education, and intermittently living with a woman five years his senior named Betsy. Within the following year he was charged with larceny and was admitted to six weeks imprisonment at the same prison in which his father served time. Almost immediately and recorded in 1842, Joseph Jr. was charged by I.M. Quantock, Esq. with “Stealing a heath broom [sic] the property of George William Wellington”, which landed him back in Ilchester Gaol prison for another six weeks. The prison records for this latter duration describe Joseph Jr. in strikingly similar terms as his father, noting that he was 5 feet 4.5 inches tall, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. Akin to Joseph Sr., Joseph Jr. was “…maimed or particularly marked [with a] scar on [his] right cheek & [on his] back right hand.” Interestingly, the prison record also states that he is married at this point. Perhaps Betsy is his spouse, but no formal marriage record for any wife by 1842 can be found.
The 1847 county directory lists Joseph Jr. as a pawnbroker, also affirmed by the 1851 Census, in which he is listed as married to a woman named Sarah. They are noted as residing at 73 High Street (no longer standing), and have two children: Sarah, age 7, and Emma, age 5. Both daughters are listed as “scholars”. Without fail, Joseph Jr. is arrested again for larceny on March 9, 1854, and ordered to serve 2 months’ time. Once out, another directory confirms he is continuing his pawnbroking business. Yet again in 1859, Joseph Jr. was found guilty of two convictions of “Simple Larceny”, for which he was sent to 3 months of imprisonment for each count. The record states that, at the time of these convictions, he had “before [been] convicted of Felony.”
By 1861, Joseph Jr. was about 41 years old, and a decade had passed with no public record or mention of his wife Sarah. By that year, he was a father of four, the youngest children being Mary Ann, born around 1855, and William Joseph, born in 1856. Of great note is that the family had relocated to Bendrose Farm, where it seems Joseph Jr. also owned cottages. He had acquired three servants in his employ: Caleb Garner was a 58 year old laborer, Henry Jones was a 17 year old carter (cart driver assisting farmhands), and William Batson was a 13 year old housekeeper. The change in lifestyle and clear increase in wealth offers an impression of self-improvement, and perhaps it was, though it was not to last.
A few years passed and by 1864, Joseph Jr. was back in the city and is working as a watchmaker and jeweller. Yet, in 1867, he was again convicted of simple larceny, though this time found not guilty. An 1869 directory states that he had maintained his job as a jeweller and pawnbroker, and the 1871 census likewise asserts his job as a pawnbroker. This census makes no mention of his children whatsoever, though Sarah is indeed recorded. She was 55 at the time, and apparently worked with her husband at the pawnshop. As well, a third character, Richard Chalkley aged 16, is named as a laborer and servant for the couple, his occupation listed as a pawnbroker warehouse assistant. It seems that the Butcher family business was certainly growing, even hiring employees to better run the establishment.
Even so, Joseph Jr. fell upon hard times within the following years. On February 5, 1874, he was admitted to a workhouse to earn wages, room and board and to be fed. While neither Sarah nor the children are referenced in the admissions, a woman named Selina is. Selina is the same age as he, and they were admitted together by an Officer Powell, and again checked out together on March 16 of the same year. Selina never reemerged in records with any direct reference to Joseph Butcher Jr. Being that workhouses were institutions for those who could not support themselves, it is especially curious as to Selina’s identity, her involvement and relevance.
In an effort to rebuild his life, Joseph Jr. established a “£50 Occupation” on Bute Street by 1875. This income made him eligible to vote in local elections, and was also an attempt to clean up his reputation from criminal to respected businessman. Through this business, his yearly earnings are the equivalent of £5,868 ($8,068.34 USD) in today’s rate, a considerable and skyrocketed sum within less than a year of being forced into a workhouse. It is worth noting that a low to middle class income was documented to be about £21 to £23. This evidence shows that Joseph Jr. was making over double low to middle class wages. Could his lifelong larcenous tendencies have a hand in this rapid turnaround? Whatever the source, his business was going strong by 1877, even heralded as “the pawnbroker & jeweller on Bute Street”.
His first wife Sarah does not reappear in records, though an 1880 marriage licence request marks Joseph Jr. as a widower and documents his filing for a marriage licence to marry a woman named Ellen Isabella Jennings. At this point, he was 60 and she was 49. Within the year, they were married and logged as residing at 10 Bute Street in Luton with his youngest child William Joseph, then 25 years old. A 20-year old “general servant” named Mary Nash is on record as living with the newlywed family, as well as a 15-year old “Pawn Shopman” named Harry Weston. An electoral voting record states that the family once again owned “Freehold Cottages” at Farley Hill 2.5 miles away, earning them voting rights for the year. The property would eventually be bombed out by the Germans during World War II.
Joseph Jr. died on March 27, 1882 at the age of approximately 60-64, depending on the correctness of any number of records. In the probate court, his will was proved by his son, then 26, a co-executor of his father’s estate and himself described as a pawnbroker. William Joseph had acquired his father’s business on Bute Street, as so mentioned in another directory of the same year, published months before Joseph Jr.’s death. Joseph Jr.’s estate was worth a total of £1,106, 16 shillings and 1 pence at the time of his passing, the equivalent of £136,602.73 ($187,907.30 USD). However, in the 35 years that Joseph Jr. had been pawnbroking, no legal, formal registration exists defining the business as legitimately founded or even in operation, perhaps conjuring even more questions than assurities. Through the seeming chaos of his life, a persistent pattern emerged: Joseph Jr. was a repeat offender with multiple felonies for, specifically, larceny over the course of fifty years, while also attempting to transition from a laborer to a pawnbroker to a jeweller. Is this evolution, with extreme financial spikes and losses, a coincidence or evidence of a life of crime establishing the foundations of a family business? A conclusion may never be drawn.
Following in his father’s footsteps, William operated the pawnbrokerage after his father’s death. By 1891, William was 35 and married to a 26 year old Lily Rhoda. They lived at 12 Cardiff Road, about a five minute walk to the shop at 8-10 Bute Street. Together, the couple shares a son named Richard, a name that recalls that of the pawnbroker warehouse assistant employed by William’s father some 20 years prior. It is plausible that William and the original Richard grew quite close working around the shop together, as the two were respectively 15 and 16 years old at the time. As Richard is not a Butcher family name, it may be inferred that William named his firstborn son after his close childhood friend. Further adding intrigue to the mystery of the Butcher business story, the 1891 census reveals that William and Lily’s nextdoor neighbor also bears a familiar name: Selina. It appears that Selina’s husband works as a straw hat manufacturer next door to the Butchers’ pawn shop in town. Might this Selina be the same one who entered and exited the workhouse with Joseph Jr. seventeen years before?
Very, very little may be found of William Joseph aside from his work as a pawnbroker and jeweller on Bute Street, save for the birth of a sixth child in 1900: Leonard William. By the time Leonard was 10 in 1910, he was very likely learning about his father’s business, a shadow to the endeavor on Bute. As well, records show that William’s eldest son Richard was 20 by this point, and working as an assistant straw hat manufacturer, presumably at the straw hat manufacturer that employed Selina’s husband and was located next to the Butcher pawn shop. Just like Selina’s elusive identity and relationship to the Butchers, we may never be able to fully uncover the interconnected secrecy surrounding the Butcher business, its origins, funding or development.
It is Leonard William (L.W.) Butcher whose name appears in gold on this box. Though he never met his grandfather Joseph William Butcher Jr., it was his scandals, thievery and corruption that ultimately paved the way for Leonard to inherit the business and all of its heavy history. By all accounts, Leonard strove to develop the business from ‘guilt’ to ‘gilt’ in hopes of a more honorable family pursuit than its origins had fostered. However, by the 1930s, all records found cease to describe the business as a pawn shop and there is no more mention of jewellery goods. In fact, records of the business from 1939 show all of the entries surrounding Leonard’s name lawfully censored by the government, blacked out and repeatedly branded with a searing “This record is officially closed” on every line. Keeping all visible information as vague as possible, this same document addresses Leonard’s occupation simply as “Shop manager”. This is the last record of the shop known to exist.
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