For sale, an Edwardian glass replica of the Cullinan diamond enclosed upon an ebonised base and glass dome from the collection of mineralogists Gregory, Bottley & Lloyd.
The Cullinan, the largest gem quality white diamond ever found, was discovered at the Premier Mine on 26th January 1905, eighteen feet below the surface and weighed 3106 carats. The rough diamond was nearly flawless and named the Cullinan in honour of Sir Thomas Cullinan, the founder of the Premier Mine in which it was found. After its initial public display at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank it was sent to London for inspection by King Edward VII and owing to its immense value, a decoy replica was created for carriage by steamboat back to The United Kingdom accompanied by the requisite security, whilst the original was simply sent via registered post.
The diamond was offered for sale in London by Sales Agents, S. Neumann & Co but remained unsold until 1907 when Louis Botha, premier of the Transvaal, persuaded his government to buy the diamond for £150,000 and presented it to King Edward VII as a token of thanks for granting Transvaal its own constitution.
Prime Minister Henry Campbell Bannerman advised against accepting the diamond but Edward VII was eventually persuaded by Colonial Under-Secretary (and later Prime Minister) Winston Churchill. According to Leslie Field in her book, “The Queens Jewels”, “the Transvaal Government presented Churchill with a model of the diamond in gratitude, which he delighted in showing off to his friends, sometimes displaying it on a silver salver”.
The Cullinan was handed to Amsterdam’s House of Asscher to polish. The diamond was divided into 9 major gemstones, 96 smaller stones and about 19.5cts of unpolished pieces. The two largest gems were kept for England’s regalia and the rest went to Asscher as payment. King Edward bought one of the major gems for his consort, Queen Alexandra. The Transvaal government bought the remaining stones and pieces, and presented the other 6 major gems to Queen Mary in 1910. Two of the small stones were presented to Louis Botha, who gave one to his daughter when she turned 17.
As evidenced by the Transvaal Government’s gift of a glass replica of the uncut stone to Churchill, it seems that a number of these were produced as gifts during this period. One such example remains in The Royal Collection (inventory No: RCIN 84453) and is accompanied by a note stating that it was “presented by HM The Queen in 1915”, another is referenced in The American Museum Journal (Vol VIII) of January 1908 where the publication states that:
“There has recently been placed on exhibition in The Hall of Mineralogy, a natural-sized model in glass of the great Cullinan diamond which the museum has received as a gift from the Premier Transvaal Diamond Mining Company Limited, Johannesburg, South Africa”.
There is also another replica example in the Capetown Diamond Museum but it is unclear whether it dates from the period or is a modern replica.
This example came from the former stock of Gregory Bottley & Lloyd, the famous mineral and fossil dealers who were the successors to the James R Gregory London business. It seems likely therefore that the firm either purchased this replica at the time or were gifted as an example from the mining company. The founder, James R Gregory died in 1899 but was no stranger to the diamond business and was perhaps most famously known for his failure in 1868 to see opportunity for diamond mining in South Africa. In that year, he was commissioned by the diamond merchant Harry Emmanuel to travel to the country to investigate.
He is quotes on his return as saying that, “the whole story of the Cape diamond discoveries is false, and is one of many schemes for trying to promote the employment and expenditure of capital in searching for this pereachous substance in the colony. Any genuine diamonds had most likely been swallowed and excreted by wandering ostriches from a far distant region.”
Unfortunately for Gregory, it was just a short time later that The Star of South Africa was discovered. It would be tempting to think that this replica was gifted as a tease to the Gregory company from the South African mining company or from The Transvaal Government but whatever the reason it remained in the company’s collection throughout Bottley’s and Lloyd’s subsequent ownerships so it must have had some significance. The company were certainly influential enough.
The mineral and fossil specimen retailer James R Gregory founded his business in 1858 and garnered a huge reputation throughout his career. Unusually, he was not active as a field collector but simply bought through auction and private purchase but he was renowned enough to have exhibited at most of the London Exhibtions after 1851 including London, Paris and Sydney. He was also a member of both The Geological Society and The Mineralogical Society. Gregory’s two sons both worked in the business and the name was changed to James R Gregory and Co in 1896 just three years before Gregory’s death in 1899.
The company continued until 1931 whereafter it was taken over by Percy Bottley and renamed to Gregory, Bottley & Co. Upon Bottley’s death in 1981 it was taken over again and renamed Gregory, Bottley & Llloyd and was finally taken over in 2016 by Timeline Auctions who continue to exist today.
The glass model measures 7 x 10 x 5 cms