East India Company – Saddled with a Ballot Box?

The Ballot Box, still in use today

On a visit to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers Hall in the City recently,  I was honoured to be shown some of the treasures of this most interesting livery company. As I viewed the King’s Champion’s Saddle and Gauntlet and many other items, my attention was caught by the Ballot Box and the connection to the East India Company.

The Ballot Box was made for the General Court of Election of the East India Company. The operations of the Company’s earlier years were not successful and certain members were not comfortable or happy with their exclusion from the Committees, as the board of directors was then called. They felt that the Company’s Court of Elections, when balloting by show of hands, were often swayed by and/or would result in the election of Court favourites and other powerful men of the day. So the idea of a secret ballot was brought to bear.

Accordingly the ballot box was made and produced at the Court of The East India Company’s Election in 1619. Its use, however, was rejected by the Committee and the King himself (James I) intervened, declaring that “He would have no Italian tricks brought into his Kingdom”.

The description below is extracted from The Saddlers’ Company link


The ballot box, probably the oldest English example in existence still in use, is a rare specimen of Jacobean workmanship. It is made of wood, painted with the elaborate centipede scroll which Indian craftsmen of the period had adopted from earlier Korean and Chinese designs. It bears the date 1619. It has been in regular use since at least 1676 for the annual election of wardens, although the archives of the Saddlers’ Company suggest that secret ballot was in use as early as 1610.

The box contains three drawers, which may be used to receive ballots. The voter places his hand into the central funnel and, by turning the wrist, allows his vote to pass, unseen, into the drawer of his choice.

What happened to the box after this is not known, nor how it came into the possession of the Saddlers’ Company, but there is a first reference to it in the Audit Book in 1676. It is possible that it was produced as a replacement for an earlier box that had been destroyed in the Great Fire.

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