The ‘Rolls-Royce Desk Set’ Pillar Box Lighter (1934)
Price Code: ££££
Saunders & Shepherd
A hallmarked Sterling silver Rolls-Royce table lighter, with hexagonal stepped base with novelty spherical sprung cap hinging to reveal a spirit cigar lighter, the whole piece surmounted by a Spirit of Ecstasy. Hallmarked London, 1934.
Height: 7 inches (18 cm).
History of the Rolls-Royce Desk Set, a set of Sterling Silver Objets de Bureau commissioned by ROLLS-ROYCE MOTORS 1926-1937.
The concept of the ‘corporate gift’ is today firmly established as an important part of the marketing and public relations strategy of most modern companies. The presentation of small, well-chosen gifts provides companies with an opportunity to keep their name or logo in front of their clients, suppliers and friends.
This practice of course, is not new. Since the late 19th Century, most automobile and component manufacturers have developed logos, badges or mascots which can be regarded as ‘automotive heraldry’, and numerous companies have produced or commissioned small presentation pieces incorporating these designs to be sold, or presented as gifts.
It is reasonable to argue that few companies in the automotive world have a richer corporate heritage than Rolls-Royce Motors, whose legendary ‘Spirit of Ecstasy‘ mascot was created by the renowned British sculptor Charles Sykes R.A. (1875 – 1950) in 1911. Sykes used as his model one Eleanor Thornton, secretary and lover of the Honourable John Scott-Montagu, Britain’s pioneer automobilist and father of the present Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who founded Britain’s National Motor Museum in the grounds of Palace House, the family’s ancestral home in Hampshire.
The Spirit of Ecstasy mascot has now adorned Rolls-Royce automobiles for over 90 years and is one of the world’s most readily identified images. In 1926, following the successful introduction of their New Phantom model (later known as the Phantom I), the Directors of Rolls-Royce Motors decided to commission a gift, to be produced in a small quantity. The piece in question was a cigar ashtray of conventional circular form, surmounted by a reduced size Spirit of Ecstasy, the whole in Sterling silver. A small number – thought to be 100 – of these cigar ashtrays were presented by Rolls-Royce as Christmas gifts that year.
The fortunate recipients of the ashtray were evidently highly delighted with their gifts, and Rolls-Royce decided to commission another piece – a desk clock – for presentation the following year. This, too, was very well received, and so the ‘tradition’ of commissioning a different piece each year evolved.
With the exception of 1931, each of the following years, until 1937, saw the creation of a different piece, always in Sterling silver and always incorporating the Spirit of Ecstasy as its decorative theme or inspiration. It is thought that no piece was commissioned in 1931 due to Rolls-Royce’s somewhat controversial acquisition of Bentley Motors that year, and the economic depression prevailing at the time.
Rolls-Royce chose the London silversmiths Messrs. Saunders & Shepherd as manufacturers, and all the pieces, with the exception of the ashtray which was made by Crown jewellers Garrard of Regent Street, bear Saunders & Shepherd’s hallmark, and of course the relevant year letter from the London Assay Office.
The quality and desirability of these Sterling silver pieces parallels that of Rolls-Royce automobiles themselves. It is important to keep in mind that, as well as being far rarer than even the most sought-after Rolls-Royce mascot, the pieces which comprise the ‘Desk Set’ were never available for sale – they were strictly the gift of the Company and as such were presented only to those considered particularly important by Rolls-Royce Motors.
Rolls-Royce Motors possess very little historical information concerning the history of the Desk Set – indeed, we understand that they do not own any of the pieces – and such information we have was imparted to us by their former Legal Director, who retired some years ago.
Pieces from the Desk Set appear very infrequently on the market and are prized by collectors and enthusiasts of the marque. Some of the pieces such as the Cigar Ashtray are for whatever reason, more easily found than others, such as the Rose Bowl, of which only two examples have ‘surfaced’ since 1979.
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