Saved From a Skip: Millionaire’s Gold Telephone Returns to Art Deco Mansion

  • Telephone back at Eltham Palace
  • Object on display from 15 February


A 1930s gold telephone which belonged to eccentric millionaire Virginia Courtauld has been returned to Eltham Palace after it was saved from a skip in the 1980s, English Heritage announced this Valentine’s Day (14 February). The newly donated gold-hued telephone will go on public display for the first time from tomorrow.

The telephone is one of only two surviving Siemens Bakelite telephones of the original 19 which were installed at Eltham Palace in 1936 for the exceedingly wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld (the other – in Stephen’s library – is plain black). This glamorous golden-coloured telephone was one of five located in the palace’s bedrooms and is the only example still in existence. Perhaps an indication of her passionate nature – Stephen said she was the sun that melted his cold exterior – Virginia, who commissioned the gold phones, was partial to symbols of romantic opulence as is evidenced by her ensuite bathroom lined with gold mosaic and onyx, gold-plated bath taps and a marble statue of Psyche (the Greek goddess of outstanding beauty who aroused the jealously of Venus and won the love of Cupid). 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, in May 1944 they finally moved out having reputedly become tired of the bombing, and passed the lease to the Army Educational Corps. The now Royal Army Educational Corps (RAEC) were permanently moving out of Eltham Palace in the 1980s when in the process of clearing the house – perhaps not realising they had belonged to the Courtaulds – all of the original 1930s telephones were thrown away. This 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 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 accidentally thrown away, it is a miracle that this telephone has not only survived, but finally found its way home."

The gold telephone was kindly donated to English Heritage and will go on display at Eltham Palace from 15 February 2020.

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