Published 7th November 2023
By Lissy Tsigarides View profile
The allure of owning a piece of history, particularly one connected to royalty, is truly irresistible. Such artefacts serve as tangible links to eras long gone, connecting us to the lives and events that shaped our world.
Exeter based auctioneers and valuers, Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, recently made headlines by auctioning a slice of Queen Victoria's wedding cake, serving as a reminder of this timeless fascination. Their remarkable Collectables department stands as a leading destination for those in search of exceptional and rare artefacts spanning centuries. From coin, stamp and medal collections to militaria, weaponry and vintage toys, the appeal is diverse. Yet, it's the unusual artefacts linked to explorers, royalty and major historical figures or events that often steal the spotlight.
Presented with delicate grandeur, the cake slice resided within a presentation box featuring the inscription, "The Queen's Bridal Cake. Buckingham Palace, Feb 10, 1840," beneath a majestic crown. Its journey through time was apparent; the original postage paper revealed its destination: 'P F Tytler. 34 Devonshire. New Road.' The regal aura was further affirmed by two Royal Household wax seals, elegantly testifying to its noble origins. These slices of history remain exceptionally rare, a testament to their ephemeral nature. Gifted to select distinguished guests at Queen Victoria's wedding to Prince Albert, their scarcity grows with each passing year. Time and fate conspire to diminish their numbers - some victims of disintegration, others meeting their end in the clutches of attic-dwelling mice, perhaps.
This particular slice of the royal cake, featured in the August Sporting & Collectors’ auction, had been bestowed upon Patrick Fraser Tytler (1791-1849), a notable Scottish advocate and historian. Despite his absence at the wedding, the Queen greatly admired his book ‘History of Scotland,’ leading her to send him the slice as a cherished gift, a token then passed down through generations. His final resting place in Greyfriars Kirkyard attests to his historical significance.
This slice stands as a tangible link to a momentous occasion—a piece of the ephemeral past preserved for posterity. Surpassing its estimated value, it fetched an impressive £700, underscoring its enduring allure and the intrigue of its survival. To dispel any culinary curiosity, a gentle reminder accompanies the slice—it's not for consumption! The 6cm box cradles history, its fragility echoing the passage of time. However, this slice of cake wasn't the sole culinary gem in the historical showcase.
In the same auction, Lot 395 unveiled a Victorian Boer War Christmas and New Year chocolate tin, containing remnants of Cadbury Chocolate bars, which commanded £200 in the saleroom. These chocolate tins, once presented to soldiers by Queen Victoria, not only provided a taste of comfort during tumultuous times but also reveal the Queen's concern for the well-being of her troops. They are typically found empty, with the chocolate consumed or perished, making this surviving tin a true rarity. Its existence raises questions about its journey through time. Interestingly, a similar Cadbury's 1900s chocolate tin is set to appear in the upcoming Sporting and Collectors sale in November. As with many unexpected treasures, they appear in clusters, like elusive buses finally gracing the street.
Both the cake slice and the chocolates share a common allure—rarity, fragility, and uniqueness. For those contemplating the experience of a century-old cake, it exists as delicate dust, punctuated by the faint scent of plum!
Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood takes immense pride in hosting three Sporting & Collectors sales annually, offering an eclectic (and often eccentric!) mix of items that resonate with buyers and collectors fuelled by nostalgia—individuals in search of tangible connections to the past. Their range has expanded in recent years to encompass additional categories such as vintage wines and spirits, rendering these auctions truly exceptional.