Saved From a Skip: Millionaire's 1930s Gold Telephone Returns to Eltham Palace
Boudoir telephone back on display at Art Deco mansion.
A 1930s gold telephone that belonged to eccentric millionaire Virginia Courtauld, and was found in a skip in the 1980s, has been returned to Eltham Palace.
The newly donated gold-hued telephone went on public display for the first time on 15 February 2020. The telephone is one of only two surviving Siemens Bakelite telephones of the original 19 that were installed at Eltham Palace in 1936.
The glamorous golden-coloured telephone was one of five located in the palace’s bedrooms and is the only example still in existence. By contrast, the other – in Stephen Courtauld’s library – is plain black.
Perhaps an indication of her passionate nature, Virginia was partial to symbols of romantic opulence. Not only did she commission the gold phones, but her en-suite bathroom was lined with gold mosaic and onyx, gold-plated bath taps, as well as a marble statue of the Greek goddess Psyche. Her bedroom also connected to Stephen’s through a secret hidden door.
Although the Courtaulds spent the majority of their time at Eltham Palace during the Second World War, they finally moved out in May 1944 after reputedly growing tired of the bombing and passing the lease to the Army Educational Corps.
In the late 1980s the now Royal Army Education Corps (RAEC) threw all the old telephones away, perhaps not realising that they had belonged to the Courtaulds. The gold telephone was rescued from the rubbish by a passing member of the RAEC, and has now been kindly donated to English Heritage.
Dr Olivia Fryman, English Heritage’s Curator of Collections and Interiors, recently said:
‘It is wonderful that the only surviving gold telephone belonging to the Courtaulds has returned to Eltham Palace and into the care of English Heritage. This important object gives a real sense of the glamour and modernity of the interiors and the couple’s extravagant lifestyle. From being housed in bomb-hit Eltham during the Second World War, to being accidently thrown away, it is a miracle that this telephone has not only survived, but finally found its way home.’
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