American, 1900. A 14K gold match safe, possibly by Shreve & Co., the exterior set with grey gold quartz panels, the front featuring a gold panel with the enameled crossed flags of the United States and Belgium beneath a crown set with six diamonds, sliding out to reveal a presentation panel reading Presented to / His Majesty / Leopold II / King of Belgium / by / Henry I. Kowalsky / San Francisco, Cal. / U.S.A. 1900. Unmarked; ht. 2 5/8, wd. 1 3/4 in.
Lot includes a medal commemorating the Exposition Universelle d'Anvers and featuring a profile portrait of Leopold II; dia. 2 3/8 in.
This match safe was purportedly given to Lucien Philippe Delacroix Durieux (1906-1984), King Leopold's son with his mistress Caroline Delacroix (1883-1948).
King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) is remembered for being, at the time, the world's wealthiest monarch, and for being personal owner of the Belgian Congo from 1885-1908. Leopold enticed American investors to the Congo using land grants that could include valuable commodities such as rubber. Henry I. Kowalsky, a larger-than-life San Francisco defence attorney, gifted this match safe to Leopold in 1900 in an act of self-promotion. The two began a correspondence that continued until 1904, at which point Kowalsky was hired by Leopold as a lobbyist to Congress on matters relating to the Congo. This was in exchange for 4,000 pounds sterling worth of stock in the Congo Free State.
The arrangement lasted until 1906, when Leopold and Kowalsky had a falling out. Having lost his lucrative position, Kowalsky sold his correspondence with Leopold to William Randolph Hearst. The publishing of information from these letters reflected poorly on King Leopold who, in 1908, sold the Congo to the Belgian government.
Some losses to enamel and scratches to hidden panel.
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