It’s amazing what you can stumble on to over here. A few weeks back, my wife wandered into a little shop down the road from our house to buy something for the kitchen. On the wall was a photo of Christian, the lion cub famously raised in a flat above a shop by a couple of young Australian travellers before being returned to the wild. Turned out this was the shop.
Then last week, we spotted a sign in our neighbourhood saying “John Bly Antiques”. Recognising John as the nice man on TV’s Antiques Roadshow who values priceless chairs and sideboards that some lucky bus driver from Tooting has inherited from a great aunt, we went in. John wasn’t there, but his son James was, and when he saw me looking at an exquisite mahogany table with a roulette wheel in it, he told me its story. Back in 1907, avid gambler Lord Rosslyn told his friend, King Edward VII, that he’d worked out a system to break the bank at roulette. Unfortunately, he said, roulette wheels were always rigged to aid the house so the system could not be proved. Not so, said the king, who commissioned Sir Hiram Maxim, engineer and inventor of the portable automatic machine gun, to design and build the perfect roulette table. It was set up in an apartment in Piccadilly in September 1908 and for ten days and nights, starting with a then-substantial bank of £10,000, Lord Rosslyn managed to lose the lot.
The table, which folds into a card table on which the king liked to play, has been passed down through generations of the Maxim family and is now being sold on the owner’s behalf by James. It includes the original ball, croupier’s rake and the playing chips used by Lord Rosslyn to disprove his theory. I can personally vouch that the wheel still spins beautifully.
It’s been valued by Sotheby’s at about £100,000 ( $A184,000 ), which is another good thing about the shops around here – it doesn’t cost anything to look.
ard postc from