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Coronation souvenirs

28 April 2023

The crown is taken, but at least you can have a mug. Caroline Chartres browses an eccletic collection through history


Coronation souvenirs on sale in Windsor, Berkshire

Coronation souvenirs on sale in Windsor, Berkshire

COINS and medals have been struck to mark coronations since ancient times: one minted to commemorate the coronation of Edward VI in 1547 was auctioned in 2014 for £30,000. If you were looking for mugs or beakers, you could, without much difficulty, find souvenir mugs going back at least to the coronation of George III in 1760. These would include a surprising number made for the intended coronation of Edward VIII, in 1937 (for which arrangements were so advanced by the time of the Abdication that the date and ceremony were simply recycled for his successor, George VI) — notably, some designed for Wedgwood by the artist Eric Ravilious.

As with all collectibles, value is directly related to rarity and condition (or — as with some celebrated versions of the Bible, or Harry Potter first editions mistakes). After Elizabeth II’s coronation, the chairs and stools that had been specially commissioned for the service in Westminster Abbey were sold to recoup costs: a stool worth £4.7s.6d in 1954 would be likely to fetch more than £500 today.

Church TimesKing-sized Fry’s Coronation issue chocolate cream bar

An invitation to Queen Victoria’s coronation — or, more accurately, a royal command: “These are to will and command you (all excuses set apart) to make your personal attendance on us at the time abovementioned furnished and appointed as to your rank and quality appertaineth, there to do and perform all such services as shall be required and belong unto you whereof you are not to fail” — personally signed by the Queen herself, is currently on sale for just under £10,000.

This pales into insignificance compared with the sale at Christie’s, in 2010, of a Delft plate celebrating the restoration in 1660 of the monarchy in the form of King Charles II, which fetched almost £110,000. One of the more startling souvenirs is a silver-lidded inkwell made from the hoof of an ox that, in 1911, was the centrepiece of an ox roast in Clitheroe marketplace to celebrate the coronation of George V.

Images of souvenirs produced to mark Elizabeth II’s coronation are a striking reminder of how much the world has changed in 70 years (and not only because most of them are in black-and-white); but the coronation of King Charles III has still precipitated an avalanche of commemorative teapots and T-shirts. Not the smallest change is our new environmental awareness: the 2023 coronation souvenirs produced by the Royal Collection Trust have been designed with sustainability in mind. Handles on cups and mugs have been reshaped to require fewer firings (and, therefore, use fewer resources); and solar power has been deployed in the manufacture of the commemorative tea caddy.

AlamyWedgwood mug (right) designed by Eric Ravilious for Edward VIII’s coronation, dated 1937

National sensitivities and inclusiveness have also been taken into account: while the china clay for the crockery is sourced in Devon and Cornwall, and fired in Stoke-on-Trent (England), the recycled leather bookmark was created in Scotland, the tea towels printed in Northern Ireland, and the Coronation socks made in Wales.

The new royal coat of arms that is the centrepiece of the Royal Collection’s design incorporates the floral emblems of the four countries of the United Kingdom, together with laurel leaves for peace, and oak leaves to symbolise strength and longevity. And the official Coronation logo has been designed by the creator of the iPhone, Jonny Ives — an illustration of perhaps the greatest change of all: the telecommunications revolution, and our global interconnectedness.

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