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The Sale of the Contents of Mr Potter's Museum of Curiosities
23rd/24th September 2003, Potter's Museum of Curiosities, Jamaica Inn, Bolve (Bonham's)

Collecting Box dogs were a popular feature of Railway Stations in Victorian and Edwardian times and many of these animals, after a long and successful career, found themselves saved for prosperity by the medium of taxidermy, to end up in a glass case in the very same station, still collecting coins for charities, writes Paul Keevil.

Very few of these "stuffed" collecting box dogs have survived the ravages of time; one notable example is held by the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, whilst another came up for auction on September 23rd, when Bonham's sold the contents of "Mr Potters Museum of Curiosities", presently housed at the Jamaica Inn in Bole. The Collection has had several homes over the years, starting in Bramber in Sussex, the collection moved in the early 1970's to Arundel then on to Brighton, finally moving to its present home where the new owner has continued to add to the eccentric collection.

Lot 17 was "London Jack" (number one) who lived 1894 - 1900 and is probably the most famous collecting box dog ever.

There were at least four "London Jacks" who worked the London railway stations between 1894 and 1921. These were all owned and trained by Mr & Mrs Walter Wickens, raising a grand total of £5,747-5s-4d during this period. After the death of No. 1, he was preserved and mounted in a glass case and displayed at Waterloo Station, where he continued to collect money for orphanages. In 1915 he moved to Southampton Station where he stayed until 1966 when the late Sir William McLain acquired him and gave him a new home. In 1996 he was purchased at auction by the owners of Potter's Museum and for the past seven years has continued to collect money for charity.

Jack wears a heavy brass collar engraved "London Jack No 2, WE.Wickens, 63 Hartington Road Sth Lambeth" and collection box on leather mounting is engraved "Jack Collector for L.& S.W.Ry. Servants Orphanage London district" in glazed display case with oval plaque at the front lettered "London Jack The Orphanage Friend. This Dog from 1894 to 1900 Collected for the L & SWR Servants Orphanage £250 and for other charitable objects about £200. All contributions deposited in this box will be gratefully received and placed to Jack's credit in the record of the above named charity".

Size: 59 x 48 x ins. (150 x 122 x 46cm.)

The sale attracted unprecedented interest including Damian Hurst making a much publicised offer of £1m for the collection as a whole. This offer was later dismissed as a publicity stunt and Bonham's denied all knowledge of the offer. The sale attracted many celebrities including 1960's British pop artist, Peter Blake, photographer David Bailey and comedian Harry Hill. The collection is probably best remembered for the taxidermy tableau collections of baby animals in scenes like "The Death and Burial of Cock Robin", "The Kittens’ Wedding" and "Rabbit’s Village School". Indeed these three pieces made prices well in excess of pre sale estimates, with "Cock Robin" selling for £23,500 to Robert Chinnery from The Victorian Taxidermy Company, "The Kittens Wedding" went to an overseas bidder for £21,150, whilst "Rabbits’ Village School" went to the same bidder for £15,275.

"London Jack" however fared less well. Against a pre sale estimate of £2,000-3,000, he eventually found a new home to an anonymous bidder for just £1,600. The entire sale, described by Jon Baddeley of Bonham's as "one of the most eccentric collections left in private ownership", generated a total of £529,900, more than double the pre sale estimate with 99% of the lots offered sold.