In the England of the long 18th century there was a wealth of gentlemen's clubs of varying reputation and quality where a man might escape from the rigours of the Georgian world. From Brooks's to the Stratford or even the Eccentric and beyond, whatever your political persuasion, tipple of choice or propensity for a wage or two, there was a club to suit you.
Of course, membership of some of these establishments was not given out lightly and in some cases a prospective might well find his membership put to the vote of his would-be fellows. Each member who would be voting was given access to a supply of black and white balls (or ballotta) and a ballot box like the one above. One by one and unseen by other voters, the members would insert either a black or white ball into the box using a cloth to cover their hand if necessary. A white ball indicated that the member was in favour of admitting the gentleman under discussion, black meant that he was not deemed a suitable member of the club.
Once all members had voted, a representative of the club opened the box and displayed the balls within. All white balls meant that the club could now welcome its new member; one black and the jig was up; the would-be member was sent on his way, perhaps to apply another day if the rules of the club allowed it.
To be blackballed was an embarrassment for a gentleman and one that he would surely not look kindly on; I wonder how many disputes and blackballs this particular box was witness to in its days of service!