23 April 2011

Royal wedding souvenirs: rich porcelain, jewellery, condoms

I am not certain if the Romans celebrated the significant events in their reigns by making souvenirs available to their citizens. But I do know their military and dynastic successes were indeed recorded for posterity on coins, complete with emperor-portraits.

In every nation that had a royal family, the tradition of marking significant events simply grew and became more popular. In Britain, Katharine Garstka suggested that the custom truly launched itself into a new era of modernity with the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. He was so delighted to have overthrown the Puritan Commonwealth and restored the monarchy that he went a little overboard in the celebrations.

Clearly Charles II was correct to celebrate. That event was so popular that potters soon created commemorative cups and plates as permanent souvenirs that royalists could purchase and display in their homes. And when King Charles married Catherine of Braganza in 1663, only three years later, the potters and glass makers realised another dream marketing opportunity had come their way.

William Prince of Orange married Princess Mary Stuart in 1677.
They were crowned in London in 1689. Brooklyn Museum.

Amanda Vickery noted that weddings and coronations weren’t the only huge events to attract the public’s attention. William Duke of Cumberland, the butcher of Culloden, was toasted with special souvenir mugs on the anniversary of the Highlanders’ defeat in April 1746. Admiral Nelson’s military successes were remembered with special passion by collectors of textiles, pottery and even jewellery.

Thomas Frye and Edward Heylin of the Bow factory had already taken out the first English patent for porcelain in 1744. But the Kaolin clay was hard to obtain and bone ash had to be used instead. Gradually the English market became more specialised; Chelsea manufactured high quality, European-influenced wares for the top end of the market, and Bow and others created rather ordinary table wares in direct imitation of the Chinese for the lower end of the market.

Jugs were made to commemorate the coronation of King William IV & Queen Adelaide, 1831.

George III's son William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in 1818. When their coronation finally arrived, in 1831, they were both celebrated on the coronation jug. One side had her portrait, with a banner saying “Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Adelaide “. The other side had his portrait saying “His Most Gracious Majesty King William IV”. Under the spout was a crown surrounded by a wreath of the symbols of Great Britain – roses, thistles and shamrocks.

Victoria was very young and gorgeous when she became queen in 1837 and no less gorgeous when she married Prince Albert in 1840. By that stage, commemorative pottery was very popular for royal events and items could be targeted to families at various income levels. Simple mugs for drinking tea, with a picture of the royal couple on the side, were hugely popular. Full dinner sets, in exquisite porcelain and decorated with finely drawn royal emblems, sold for a fortune to those who could afford them.

Queen Victoria's diamond bow-brooch

Here is just one example from the world of jewellery. Bow-brooches had been admired since long before 1840. But the bow-brooch that became hugely popular was the one made out of diamonds for Queen Victoria. Society matrons and brides wanted the same diamond bow-brooch that Queen Alexandra & Queen Mary wore at their coronations; less well heeled women were happy to wear a replica.

Later in the 19th century, paper souvenirs were becoming more available to ordinary families and more photographic in their images. When Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward, married Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, magazine covers, coronation programmes for the church service, photographs and other paper-based souvenirs were kept to show the grandchildren that “I was there, standing right next to the cathedral door”.

coronation programme 1937, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth

So for hundreds of years, royal families have been celebrating weddings, coronations, royal tours and other major events. And for each major event, entrepreneurial craftsmen have been creating, selling and collecting souvenir items. The favourite objects have typically been small and have usually been made of porcelain, glass, gold, brass, textiles and paper. The trick for the collector is to accurately predict which objects will be valuable in 120 years time and which objects will be in the rubbish bin as soon as the children can decently throw them out.

One 2011 souvenir that looks very beautiful is the Royal Wedding Vase, made by Moorcroft Art Pottery. Designer Nicola Slaney (and The Virtual Viictorian) said that ever since the marriage of Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, a sprig of myrtle has been included in royal bouqets. Thus the myrtle along with lillies, the bride's favourite flower, and daffodils, national flower of Wales. The vase is tall (20cm) and elegant.

One 2011 souvenir that may not stand the test of time has a beautiful double portrait of the royal bride and groom, just as all previous royal wedding objects had. However I am not sure that the queen approved Crown Jewels: Condoms of Distinction's entry into a crowded souvenir market this year. "Lie back and think of England" indeed.

British Royalty Commemoratives was written by Alan H Bolton and Douglas H Flynn in 1997 and published by Schiffer. It is interesting, but only covers the 19th and 20th centuries.

History Today magazine (April 2011) published images of two royal souvenirs that you might like to examine::
1. beautiful Worcester porcelain mugs showing Queen Charlotte and King George III, and
2. a plainer Royal Doulton coronation beaker presented by King George V and Queen Mary to children at the Festival of Empire in 1911.


Anonymous said...

On Ebay there is a pack of cards made in 1863 for the wedding of Danish Princess Alexandra and Edward Prince of Wales. One side has the Danish royal coat of arms of her father King Christian IX. I might buy it.

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Hels said...

Check that the pack of cards really was made in the year of the royal wedding, then go for it. Royal wedding souvenirs are hot at the moment.

Hels said...

I am so pleased when readers enjoy the blog.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Our immediate thought on seeing the title of this post was, oh dear, for we have absolutely no interest in anything connected with the present day Royal family or their activities.

But, we should have known better, for this makes for a most insightful and interesting read and establishes for us [which we previously did not know] the origins of royal souvenirs.

Of course, Queen Victoria's bow brooch is magnificent. It is hardly a surprise that it would be copied.

As we write we must confess to having on our desk two coronation mugs which we use as holders for pencils. The older is for the uncrowned Edward VIII, the newer for the present Queen. What makes the latter unusual is that it is inscribed 'Presented by the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma' and was given to me, by them, on the occasion of the June 1953 Coronation.

We have delighted in the box of condoms!!

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

The trouble with royal events is that the greatest tat is produced, both visually (eg royal tea towels and toilet paper) and verbally (eg who will be invited, what will they wear, where will they be seated).

I cannot imagine that anyone in the entire British Commonwealth of Nations would care about that... but clearly I have been wrong before *sigh*

Sometimes beautiful things are created. In 1840, for example, Queen Victoria gave each of her bridesmaids a turquoise bird brooch with added pearls, rubies and a diamond. Over the top? yes. Beautifully crafted? YES

Viola said...

Thank you for another fascinating post, Hels. I did get a bit upset that Queen Victoria didn't take care of her looks, however. I suppose that it was hard to do that with nine children and a liking for good food!

It is hard to know what royal memorabilia to buy. I agree with you that the picture on the box is lovely but I don't want to buy that!

Hels said...

Jake Smith noted that _20_ course royal wedding banquets were provided by Queen Victoria for herself and for all her betrothed children and grandchildren. If the 20 courses were insufficient, wedding guest ALSO had a table piled high with hot and cold roasts, an endless supply of pickled tongue, game pies and brawn jelly moulds. No wonder many of the royals were huge.


Shelley said...

I gather that when Elizabeth II had her coronation, every school child was given a tea mug...Bill still has his.

Glen / Kent Today and Yesterday said...

Hi Helen - thanks for leaving the comment on my blog post about the wedding of Princess Alexandra and Edward.


I must confess to having a commemorative coin (somewhere) for the Queen's silver jubilee which was bought for me by an aunt.

I will not be buying anything for the current nuptials. Most of it is tacky crap made in China nowadays to be honest.


Hels said...

I heard that too. I suppose the mugs were mass produced and not very finely crafted, but it was a nice way to include small school children in the excitement of a coronation.

I was in primary school in Australia in 1953, but the queen didn't arrive here until Feb 1954. All primary school who could squash into the MCG were taken there in buses, but that held only 100,000 seats. The rest of us lined the train line she travelled along and waved as the queen passed by. It was unbelievably exciting back then to get a passing glimpse of the new monarch.

Hels said...

I wouldn't buy tacky crap made in China in 2011 either. Nor would I be buying good stuff.

But I am really fascinated by those pieces of porcelain, gold and glass that have survived from the 18th and 19th centuries, in public museums and in private collections. They are often better pieces of historical evidence than are the written chronicles.

georeg said...


Hels said...

thanks for reading this post
and for your reference

Miranda @ Howdystranger said...

I'm a sucker for kitsch wedding paraphernalia. I even had to buy the condoms! Here is my post about my recent purchases. Royal wedding fever!

Hels said...

you are not alone. People love weddings and they love to watch the activities of the royal family, so there is nothing quite as romantic as a royal wedding. Just getting a good look at Westminster Abbey would make it worthwhile.

But I can do without the kitsch. Somehow we have to locate the items that will still be beautiful when our great grandchildren are developing their own tastes.

Mandy said...

Hmmm. I don't know, maybe the condoms will be wonderfully kitsch in 50 years time, and their appalling and embarrassing reputation will wane.

That William and Mary plate must be priceless.

Alberti's Window said...

I've enjoyed this post very much, and have also enjoyed reading all of the comments. And that box of condoms - ha! Very amusing. I'm glad that other entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the upcoming wedding in more diverse (albeit less humorous) ways (for example, see here.

Hels said...

Emm and M
It is not as if I was an unthinking, gung-ho republican. Until we hear the exact details of what any new republic would look like, I will stay with the queen as the head of state, thanks. And if our new head of state ever had real power (like France or the USA), I would be thinking of emigrating.

But oh dear, some of the items over the decades have been so cringe-worthy, it makes a person blush. M, those objects are truly awful :)

Intelliblog said...

LOL! The condoms are priceless...
I love the immediacy and almost caricature-like nature of the William of Orange plate.
Happy to say we have no royal memorabilia in our house...

Hels said...


Good to see you. If people don't want to participate in a royal event, then they shouldn't. And there are very good reasons not to. Firstly half this nation don't want to be part of the British monarchy anymore. Secondly in a time of world depression, spending squillions of pounds on a wedding is offensive.

However I normally don't like satire in antiques (or in antiques of the future). So I surprised myself by loving the royal condom brand called Crown Jewels. That is very witty :)

Unknown said...

Dude amazing post, after all it is about royal families. Love Queen Victoria's diamond bow-brooch.

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Hels said...

you old romantic :)

I get very annoyed about modern commercial outlets, cashing in on public occasions for their own profit making. I grumble that only royal antiques, at least 100 years old, are worth discussing in terms of their beauty and their historical value.

But in my more rational moments, I realise perfectly well that those beloved antiques were themselves modern, profit-making projects at the time they were made and marketed.

Hels said...

I have added a reference to History Today magazine (April 2011). Unfortunately the ship takes ages to get to Australia and I didn't see these royal porcelain souvenirs until the end of May. By that stage, the excitement of a royal wedding was over.

manten said...

wow this is the best souvenirs i have ever seen, more update please :)

Hels said...


I did find more :) Have a look at the jugs that were made to commemorate the coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide in 1831.

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Somerset Wedding Girl said...

I remember my grandmother used to obsessively collect royal souvenirs, she always said that they'd be worth something one day, maybe she's right? All I know is that she would like this post!

Hels said...

Somerset Wedding Girl

*nod* I think it might have also been a generational thing. My grandmother, who was a product of the Russian Revolution, loved Russian porcelain, silverware and jewellery. Especially anything with a royal connection. I inherited a few of her special pieces but I am retiring yet :)

Anonymous said...

Hi all, I have like a postcards with all the royal seal etc with a piece of silk and tassle saying it was from the queen's wedding dress made by Norman Hartnell. Anyone else have this? Was it given to children at school or was it given to the seamstresses that made it. Who knows. Can anyone share any light on it.