Today marks the 64th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Although Elizabeth ascended the throne on February 6, 1952, upon the death of her father King George VI, the coronation ceremony was delayed to allow for a period of mourning. Coronation ceremonies have remained unchanged for nearly 1,000 years, as has the tradition of commemorating the occasions with objects such as ceramics, handkerchiefs, coins, and more. Commemorative objects are made not just for the coronation itself but for jubilee celebrations as well. These celebrations mark a monarch’s special anniversaries. February of this year marked Queen Elizabeth II’s Sapphire Jubilee—65 years on the throne. She is the longest reigning British monarch in history and the only one to have celebrated a sapphire jubilee.
Commemorative objects have been a tradition for hundreds of years. In fact, Winterthur has many such objects in its collection. Ceramic mugs and plates are commonly created to commemorate a monarch or a specific event such as a coronation. For instance, this delftware plate portrays William of Orange (who reigned from 1689–1702) and his wife Mary Stuart (who reigned from 1689 until her death in 1694). The couple, who jointly ruled the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, is shown in an outdoor setting wearing their coronation attire with the initials “W M R” for William and Mary Rex/Regina near their heads. This plate was most likely made in Bristol or London around the time of William and Mary’s coronation. Evidence of delft commemorative plates like this one have been found in America, particularly in the New England region.
Similarly, a printed textile in the Winterthur collection features a more elaborate scene from the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. The swags of flowers that surround the scene resemble those used to decorate fabrics with American patriotic motifs, and evidence of patterns showing Queen Victoria’s coronation have been found in America.
The ceremony as portrayed above hints at the richness of objects used during the coronation—the Crown Jewels, King Edward’s Chair, the Anointing Spoon, the elaborate robes and dresses, and much more. One of the tureens that came to Winterthur as part of the Campbell Collection was from a group of pewter tureens and other tableware created for the banquet following the 1821 coronation of George IV. This banquet, the last to take place in Westminster Hall, featured turtle soup on the menu, which may have been served in this very tureen. The Observer reported that crowds plundered the tables of the coronation banquet taking the pewter dishes like this one marked for the sovereign. The mark “GR IV” appears below a crown. Unlike the commemorative objects above, which were made for the purpose of remembering, in this case, it seems people took it upon themselves to acquire an object made to serve a purpose at the event.
People today continue to value such commemorative objects, and jubilees are celebrated around the world. Among the objects commemorating this year’s Sapphire Jubilee are newly issued coins and stamps. To celebrate in February of this year, the Royal Mint introduced eight coins and the Royal Mail released a Sapphire Jubilee Stamp.
While England has marked the Sapphire Jubilee with objects such as these, the celebrations this year have not been as grand as those in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. That year, 8.5 million people attended “Big Jubilee Lunches” in the United Kingdom and 70 countries took part in these lunches. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh went on a regional tour of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and attended various other events, including concerts, contests, and exhibitions held to celebrate the milestone.
Later this year Winterthur will feature a commemorative object created for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In 2012, Angels Costumes carefully created a replica of the Queen’s coronation gown, a dress originally designed by Norman Hartnell. The replica dress was displayed as part of the jubilee celebrations, but it has recently earned new fame as the dress worn by Claire Foy in the Netflix series The Crown. Foy wore the dress in the episode portraying the coronation.
Visit us this fall, beginning October 20, 2017, for the first of our Eye on the Iconic exhibition series featuring a single remarkable object. Royal Splendor: The Coronation Gown from The Crown will explore how objects like the replica coronation dress and other collectibles help us celebrate and remember important historical moments.
Post by Kim Collison, Manager of Exhibitions & Collection Planning, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Eaton, Linda. Printed Textiles: British and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850. New York: The Monacelli Press. 2014.
Fennimore, Donald L., and Patricia A. Halfpenny. Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens at Winterthur. Winterthur, DE: The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc. 2000.
Tanner, Lawrence E. The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey. London: Pitkin. 1953.