Ecstasy on Your Desk

The rarest of all Rolls-Royce automobilia is the full set of sterling-silver gifts given out in the 1920s and ’30s

Never has the corporate gift shone so bright.

When Rolls-Royce launched what was then the New Phantom, now referred to as the Phantom II, in 1929, it was decided to mark the occasion with a special gift to the most esteemed customers, VIPs, successful dealers and leading distributors. It was one of the first true examples of the automotive corporate gift and has arguably never been beaten in terms of desirability.

1929 ashtray.

Rolls-Royce chose a silver cigar ashtray for that first gift. Just 100 were made, and they were not available for sale. The tradition continued annually until 1937, with a break in 1931 that may have been to do with the ill-feeling caused by the Rolls-Royce takeover of Bentley, the economic depression or some other reason lost in time.

The result, though, was a desk set of sterling-silver Spirit of Ecstasy-themed gifts that are now rare – to varying degrees – and very highly sought after, although their existence isn’t widely known of.

1928 cigarette box.

How rare? Well this complete set is only the second that Simon Khachadourian of the renowned Pullman Gallery in London has seen, in the 40-plus years he has been dealing with automotive and aeronautical objets de luxe.

1930 bonbonniere.

Although it’s thought that 100 of each piece were made, some are now much rarer than others. Years ago, Simon assembled a set for a collector, but the 1936 gift – the rose bowl – is so rare that it’s only relatively recently that he’s acquired another one; the first he’s seen since 1979. He values it at £35,000, or just shy of $50,000 USD.

1932 desk blotter.

“We’ve always had four or five pieces in stock,” says Simon, “but when it got to six or seven I thought maybe I should make the effort to build the complete set. They are rather special things. They would have cost more to make than the car mascot itself; they’re much rarer and they were never sold.”

1933 barometer.

That first cigar ashtray was created by Crown jeweler Garrard of Regent Street, but after that all the gifts were handmade by Saunders & Shepherd, a well-known silversmith and jeweler that had started out in 1867 and by the 1920s had outlets around the world and factories in London, Birmingham and Glasgow. The company went on to create a gold bracelet for Lady Diana Spencer’s 20th birthday in 1981, which she later wore on her wedding day.

1934 pillar box lighter.

The first Saunders & Shepherd-made Rolls-Royce gift, for 1927, was the desk clock, wound via the miniature Spirit of Ecstasy on the top of the radiator-shaped case. They must have been popular, because enough have survived that they still come up for sale very occasionally, valued at around £15,000. The clock was followed by the beautifully made 1928 cigarette box – everyone smoked! – and the 1929 radiator inkwell, the top of which opens to reveal a neat little removable glass liner. For 1930, a bonbonnière (used for distributing confectionery) was chosen.

1935 salver.

After that break in 1931, the gifts were back in 1932 with the ink blotter. In 1933 the popular style of the clock was repeated, although this time for the barometer. This is still sought after today, tending to sell for around £8000 – even if, as Simon points out, there’s little practical need for a barometer these days. For 1934 the gift was a pillar-box lighter, which really shows off the thought and craftsmanship that went into these pieces. The lighter body is machine turned so as not to show fingerprints, and the flint is flicked to spark by a silver gearlever.

1936 rosebowl.

In 1935, the gift chosen was a silver salver, beautifully engraved with a Spirit of Ecstasy. For 1936, it was the turn of that now-rare rose bowl – once again, superbly crafted – and the final gift in 1937 was a pair of marble and silver bookends.

So what happened after that? Nobody is sure why the gifts didn’t continue at least until the outbreak of hostilities, and in fact no records of the creation of the desk-set gifts seem to have survived. Not even Rolls-Royce owns a full set.

1937 pair of silver and marble bookends.

How much would it cost to assemble a full set? Well, if you had the patience to buy piece by piece over (likely) many years, then around £100,000 should see you through… but in this case an existing complete set is certainly worth more than the sum of its parts, and Simon values the full set at the Pullman Gallery to be worth £150,000. And no, he won’t be splitting it.

Thanks to the Pullman Gallery in St James’s, London,