Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.


  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1766-1772 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cox, James (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold, moss agate, bevelled glass, clockwork mechanism, enamelled watch dial

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 72, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case 5, shelf 9

James Cox ran a company that made objets de vertu, also known as toys. His tradecard states that he made 'a great variety of curious work in gold, silver, and other metals also in amber, pearl, tortoiseshell and curious stones'.

In 1772 Cox opened a showroom, which he called a museum, where he displayed his most spectacular work. Cox’s objects are international in nature. He employed craftsmen of many different nationalities and bought parts from across Europe. He also sold his objects as far afield as India and Russia.

His objects were intended to surprise and inspire wonder in their viewer. To help create this effect Cox often included parts which made the objects move. These animated objects were not intended to be practical. For this snuffbox the inclusion of a dial adds an additional function: when out and about it doubles as a watch. However in reality it is far too heavy to be carried in a pocket. Cox’s creations are decorative through their beauty, scientific through their mechanisms and wondrous through the combination of the two.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world’s great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

Rectangular, gold-mounted, hardstone automaton snuffbox and watch, the cover, three walls and base set with panels of moss agate mounted in gold chased with scrolls. The front is a bevelled glass panel with a white enamel watch dial, the chapter ring enamelled in black with Roman hours and Arabic minutes, flanked by the regulator and open balance. The back panel opens to reveal a landscape painted in oils with two apertures through which are visible, when rotated by the clockwork mechanism, a man on a donkey, a lady in an interior, a bird in a tree and a hen. The upper rim of the box is chased with foliage, the lower rim with a guilloche.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1766-1772 (made)


Cox, James (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Gold, moss agate, bevelled glass, clockwork mechanism, enamelled watch dial

Marks and inscriptions

No marks


Length: 6.6 cm, Width: 7.9 cm, Height: 5.1 cm

Object history note

Provenance: A la Vieille Russie, New York; Sotheby's, London, 17 May 1956, lot 95; S.J. Phillips, London

Descriptive line

Rectangular gold-mounted, hardstone automaton snuffbox and watch; James Cox, London, 1766-72

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Berry Hill, Henry and Sidney. Antique gold boxes: their lore and their lure. New York: Abelard Press, 1953, p.112, ills. 89-90.
Le Corbeiller, Clare. European and American snuffboxes, 1730-1830. New York: Viking Press, 1966, no. 287.
Habsburg-Lothringen, Géza von. Gold boxes from the collection of Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert. R. & A. Gilbert, 1983. 125 p., ill. Cat. no.19, pp. 51-2. ISBN. 0961039809.
Truman, Charles.The Gilbert collection of gold boxes, Vol. I. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991, cat. no. 105, pp. 307-8. ISBN.0875871623
Zech, Heike. Gold Boxes. Masterpieces from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection. London: V&A Publishing, 2015, pp. 110-111, no. 38. ISBN 987-1-85177-840-9
Maurice, Klaus and Otto Mayr, eds. The Clockwork Universe: German Clocks and Automata 1550-1650. New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1980. Catalogue of the exhibition held Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, 15 April - 30 September 1980 and Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, 7 November 1980 - 15 February 1981. ISBN 0882021885.
Maurice, Klaus. Die deutsche Räderuhr, 2 vols, Munich, Beck, 1976. ISBN 3406062970.
Chapuis, Alfred and Edmond Droz. Les Automates. Figures artificielles d'hommes et d'animaux: Histoire et technique. Neuchâtel: Éditions du Griffon, 1949.
The Marvellous Mechanical Museum, ed. A. Harrison. Catalogue of the exhibition held at Compton Verney, 30 June - 30 September 2018. Compton Verney: Compton Verney, 2018. ISBN 978-1-9999659-1-4.
no. I19
Snodin, Michael (ed.), Rococo : art and design in Hogarth's England, London : Trefoil Books, 1984
Gold boxes : from the Gilbert collection : an exhibition
The art of the goldsmith & the jeweler; a loan exhibition for the benefit of the Young Women's Christian Association of the City of New York, New York : A La Vieille Russie, 1968

Labels and date

9. Automaton snuffbox and watch

London, England; probably James Cox (active 1749–91)
Gold, moss agate, glass and clockwork mechanism
A video showing the automaton in action is available on the V&A website
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.384-2008 [16/11/2016]


Gold; Agate; Glass; Enamel


Chasing; Setting; Bevelling; Enamelling

Subjects depicted

Birds; Guilloche; Interior views; Hen; Leaf (plant material); Landscape; Scrolls (motifs); Figure; Donkey; Tree


Metalwork; Clocks & Watches; Containers; Personal accessories


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.