Since the 1700s it has been a tradition in the Officers’ Messes of the Household Cavalry to gift something silver to the Mess upon leaving it. This is a story about one of the most extraordinary objects in our collection.
Lawrence Dundas, the Marquess Zetland, purchased a commission in The Blues in 1866. By all accounts, although much given to wearing his regiment’s uniform around town, Dundas didn’t spend a lot of time with the regiment and wasn’t a particularly popular character.
He resigned his commission in 1872 - some say under a bit of a cloud - and left without presenting a gift to the Mess. But following the death of his uncle in 1873, he became the Earl of Zetland, and a very rich man. The Blues rather opportunistically took this moment to remind Dundas that he hadn’t presented a memento of his service to the Mess. Quite the faux pas.
Zetland decided to rectify this by saying offhand: “Oh, buy a piece of silver and send me the bill.” The Blues took him at his word and commissioned a massive solid silver centrepiece so large that it takes four men to lift it. The Blues dining table had to be specially reinforced to bear the weight!
And what was the bill for this enormous piece known as the Zetland Trophy? Well, in 1874 it was £1,000, which equates to £116,000 in today’s money. Crickey!
While his former comrades no doubt laughed at their good fortune - even the well-heeled Lord Zetland drew breath at this eye-wateringly large bill. Today you can see the incredible artistry of the Zetland Trophy up close in the Museum.