By Emma Philip, curator of Fine Art

For a long time the Museum had catalogued the Cottonian collector’s cabinet as being of Italian origin.  New research commissioned as part of this project now tells us that it is probably from Antwerp and made around 1670.  South American exotic woods such as snakewood, rosewood and princes wood, were used in its original construction.

Dr Bowett has found evidence that the drawers of the cabinet were remodelled in the mid Eighteenth Century to allow more space for smaller subdivided drawers.  These drawers still retain their beautiful coloured paper and silk linings.

A cabinet drawer, beautifully lined

A cabinet drawer, beautifully lined

Drawers such as these were used by collectors in the Eighteenth Century to securely and safely store small items like coins, medals, shells, fossils and minerals. When someone ordered these new smaller drawers fitted to the cabinet, locks were also installed, upgrading the security for their collection of curiosities.

We do not know which one of the Cottonian’s collectors purchased this cabinet, but there is a possibility that William Cotton III may have acquired it from the Fonthill Abbey Estate sale of 1823.  Further research may yet prove the link back to Fonthill’s famous resident William Beckford, who was well known in his day for his love of art, architecture and furniture.