“Albert read to me, and we played at dominos [sic], such a good game,” wrote Queen Victoria in her diary on Dec. 18, 1842. Dominoes was a favourite game for the newly married monarch. Between her accession to the throne in 1837 and Prince Albert’s death in 1861, she recorded more than three dozen references in her journals of playing the game.
Now, the extraordinarily beautiful set with which Queen Victoria played so many games of dominoes will be auctioned at Christie’s in Geneva on May 15. The set, made of solid 18-karat gold, covered by a royal blue enamel and dotted with pearls, is housed in a box that contains a musical player. The sliding cover is decorated with a vignette of Cupid while panels on each side showcasing a different season of the year. All of the 28 dominoes are made of solid gold, overlaid with blue enamel, inset with pearls that pick out each domino dot. The bottom of each domino is outlined with more pearls, and covered with more enamel, this time a rich red hue. (The Christie’s article includes a video that showcases the staggering quality and beauty of the domino set and musical box.)
Who made Queen Victoria’s domino box?
This set was created in 1808 by Moulinié, Bautte & Cie. As Christie’s explains, the Swiss firm “was famed for its fantasy musical and mechanical objects made in gold, enamel, jewels and pearls.” This domino set is a classic example of its richly detailed creations.
Queen Victoria’s box has a long history of being sold, and resold through auction houses. Indeed, the first reference to the domino set occurred in 1834 when the contents of a London museum went under the hammer. “A superb gold enamelled musical box, set with fine pearls, and embellished with paintings of the four seasons, containing a set of dominos of most superior make, the pips being formed of fine pearls,” was offered as Lot 288, according to Christie’s.
How an item originally designed for the Chinese market became to be owned by Queen Victoria isn’t known, but the best guess is that it was a gift from her good friend, the Duchess of Bedford. (Her last name, Russell, is also the name of the buyer in the 1834 auction.)
After decades of use in palaces and castles, the game ended up with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s youngest son, Prince Leopold. In 1974, one of his direct descendants consigned it to Christie’s. Now it’s back there again.
With an estimate of between US$300,000 and US$500,000, this unique objet d’art is likely too valuable to ever be played with again. Which is a shame, because, as royal journals show, it was well-used and well-loved by Queen Victoria and her family.