This rare amber casket is engraved in intaglio, on the top of the lid and on each of the counter boxes, with the arms of William IV, Prince of Orange, (1711-1751), those of his wife Anne, Princess Royal of Great Britain (1709-1759), and those of Hanover. They married at the French chapel, St. James's Palace on the 25th March 1734. Anne was the eldest daughter of George II and Queen Caroline; Prince William IV of Orange was the only son of Jan Friso, Prince of Orange and Nassau-Dietz, Stadhouder of Friesland and Groningen who succeeded his kinsman King William III of England as Prince of Orange in 1702 (fig. 1.). The two coats of arms are surmounted by a crown and flanked by lion supporters with a scroll beneath inscribed with the Orange motto: JE MAINTIENDRAI. Indeed it is interesting to note that the coats of arms, apart from the insertion of the Hanoverian quartering, are almost identical to those of their kinsmen, William III, Prince of Orange (1650-1702) and King of England (1689-1702), and of Mary II, Queen of England (1662-1694)
The amber employed here is from the Baltic Sea. Formed from fossilised tree resin, this multi-hued opaque and translucent material has, since Paleolithic times, been regarded as precious, because of its association with therapeutic healing and cures for ailments such as jaundice and arthritis. The individual pieces were rarely over two inches in length and the present casket is constructed from hundreds of such examples. The two main centres of amber work were Konigsberg, now Kaliningrad, the capital of Prussia and Danzig (Gdansk) in Poland. Amber goods, prized for their skilled workmanship as well as their intrinsic value were ideal diplomatic gifts and were often used, as is likely with the present example, to commemorate the union of two important royal houses.
The base of the casket, presumably intended as a games box, is constructed on a wood core and is fitted with a lower interior drawer. This lower section is veneered with translucent amber inset with small, opaque, quatrefoil amber pieces. Each side and the base is centred by a translucent panel engraved with landscapes of port and harbour scenes together with smaller panels enclosing scrolling acanthus leaves. These can be closely compared with those on the small casket in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. No.C.44-1923) dated to the late 17th or early 18th century which Trusted (op.cit.) explains derives from 17th-century engraved sources such as the work of J.W.Baur, Melchior Kuszel or possibly Matthaus Merian the Elder. Another related casket, probably made in Danzig, is illustrated in Laue (op.cit.), (figs. 2. & 3.), as are 17th-century panels with similar scenes incorporated into the early 18th-century amber cabinet in the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig.
The upper section of the present casket as well as the counter boxes are constructed of panels glued and dowelled together and the front feet of the casket are in the form of two crowned eagles. The incurved lid is surmounted by carved white amber finials at the corners in the form of baskets with the central armorial panel bordered by shell and foliate motifs. The finials as well as the central decorative motifs are repeated on a cabinet tentatively attributed to Danzig and illustrated by Trusted which is also in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. No.C.706-1909) as well as on a Danzig cabinet signed, Johan Georg Zernebach and dated 1724 which is preserved in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna (op.cit.).
It is rare to find a casket with its original four counter boxes extant and one which provides a more precise dating due to the inclusion of the royal armorial devices.
M. Trusted, Catalogue of European Ambers in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1985, nos 17 and 18;
G. Laue, Bernstein. Kostbarkeiten Europäischer Kunstkammern, Munich, 2006, no. 44;
W. Siepel, Bernstein fur Thron und Altar, Das Gold des Meeres in furstlichen Kunst und Schatzkammern, exh. cat. Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, October 2005-January 2006, no. 83
Amber on wood core, gilt hinges and lockplates
Casket: 15.8 by 30.2 by 20.5cm., 6¼ by 11 7/8 by 8in. counter boxes: 6 by 12.2 by 8cm., 2 3/8 by 4¾ by 3 1/8 in.
Prince William IV of Orange (1711-1751) and Anne, Princess Royal of Great Britain (1709-1759);
Prince Willem Frederik of the Netherlands (1797-1881) and Luisa, Princess of Prussia (1808-1870) (daughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Prussia and Luise, Princess of Mecklenburg Strelitz);
Princess Marie of the Netherlands (1841-1890) (great great granddaughter of Prince William IV and Princess Anne);
Thence by descent