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Chris Yeo: Royal Memorabilia Rules

From Chris Yeo, Valuer at Clevedon Salerooms and regular expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.

Jubilee biscuit tins, God Save the Queen tea towels, Union Jack coffee mugs. To the aesthetically minded, it would seem one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on the Republican cause was the creation of the royal commemorative souvenir. From teapots to toilet roll holders, just about every significant regal event from Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 onwards has been greeted with an avalanche of mass-produced tat that would shame any jumble sale.

Image credit | Clevedon Salerooms

The old saying that if a job is worth doing it’s worth doing well, seems to have by-passed the makers of royal memorabilia down the decades and – for once justifiably – their wares are normally worth next to nothing. Even pieces made for the coronation of Edward VIII, who famously abdicated before it could take place, sell for just a few pounds at best. There is, however, one noble exception. In 1936 Wedgwood, the famous Staffordshire firm of potters, decided to mark the coronation that would never happen by issuing a souvenir mug which, in artistic terms, would be equal to the historic event. The artist they commissioned to design it was a surprising choice for the 200 year old firm.

Eric Ravilious (1903-42) was one of the foremost English modern artists to emerge between the wars. He was young and full of fresh ideas. In an all-too-brief career, he produced an extraordinary amount of work – murals, watercolours, wood engravings, and designs for glass and pottery. The coronation mug was a showcase for Ravilious’ talent. It featured the royal insignia in shaded silhouette surrounded by colourful fireworks and “E R” worked in a bold typeface. The mug was an instant success (even Mrs Simpson bought one) but was hastily withdrawn as soon as the abdication was announced. Undaunted, Ravilious simply re-worked the design for George VI’s coronation the following year. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he became an Official War Artist and lost his life in the service of his country at the age of only 39. Today Ravilious’ work is rightly celebrated and original mugs fetch upwards of £700 at auction. All in all, a far more pleasing way of commemorating a royal milestone. And not a Union Jack in sight.

clevedonsalerooms.com; @chrisyeo_antiques (Instagram)

Image credit: Clevedon Salerooms

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