ROYAL MUSINGS OF MERCHReading Time
With my combined love of vintage and London pride, it’s no wonder that I went through a royal memorabilia phase (let’s stick to “phase” and not “obsession”, shall we?). To me, there was something so intriguing and satisfying about the historical timeline, but also the wide range of items that were out there to collect. From homeware pieces to fashion accessories, postcards to programmes, I soon had to cut my criteria from anything royal to simple Coronation merchandise.
With Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee just days away, here’s a look at how design has changed through the reigns, from the Victorian era right up to the present day.
Fancy a cuppa?
Tea arrived in the 1650s and with seventeen monarchs since then, we aren’t short of a royal mug or two. There’s something very comforting about a solid, porcelain teacup and of course the beverage that goes inside it, and perhaps this is what makes it such a staple in our culture, and therefore our royal memorabilia too.
Designs vary over the years, with monarchs often being represented by their crest, or even just their initials, if costs needed to be kept down. In more modern times we’ve even had the introduction of logos, especially for royal occasions (the Platinum Jubilee’s emblem was designed by 19 year old graphic design student Edward Roberts, from Nottinghamshire).
Most commonly however, it’s a portrait that appears on chinaware, in pictorial or illustrated form. Photographers such as Cecil Beaton and Mario Testino have had the honour of photographing members of the royal family, but back in 1937 it was Dame Laura Knight, one of our most successful female artists to date, who took on a portrait painting of both George VI and his wife Elizabeth, and the former near-monarch Edward VIII (although his coronation of course didn’t happen). Every detail of her design is quite spectacular, with illustrations of elephants, dragons and a lion head handle.
As a complete contrast, I have a mug dating from 1902, Edward VII’s coronation; at first it appears quite plain, but look through the base and its magic is revealed! This is known as lithophane porcelain, the moulded or impressed design only visible when light is transmitted through it.
Happy & Glorious
If you wanting classic crockery, Fortnum & Mason is probably the first name that springs to mind. Their relationship with The Royal Family date back to its founder Mr William Fortnum who was Queen Anne’s footman.
As the company says “Since 1707, Fortnum’s proudly served 12 monarchs — but none has given us quite so many reasons to celebrate as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Any day of the week the Fortnum’s store is a wonderland, but they really push the royal flotilla out when it comes to jubilees and coronations. Ten years ago, they opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. Not only does it make for a fabulous visit, the customer experience extends past paying the bill, as you can head downstairs to buy yourself what you ate, and what you ate it on.
Fortnum’s really provides the royal treatment – No wonder they were hold two royal warrants.
For the People
But not everyone’s pennies stretch to Piccadilly price tags. Brands have been providing customers with a brush of regalia even at the supermarket. As packaging designers ourselves, a shelf full of branded products is enough to set our hearts on fire, let alone vintage packaging. Many household brands change up their product packaging to reflect the royal celebrations, including Rowntree’s, McVitie’s and Tetley’s. One of the favourite pieces in my collection is my mini Oxo Postbox from 1937. Once containing 6 stock cubes, Oxo thought about the longevity of their packaging, but based their design on a London iconic trademark, which has a secondary use as a money box.
Modern day brands may be eco-minded using recycled or recyclable packaging, but these little tin numbers prove they are built to last.
Today, we live online. Royalists can watch a live stream of celebrations from across the world and if you’re lucky enough to witness events in person, a snap on your phone is all you need to prove you were there. Although you can still pick up commemorative cards, they’re often seem as gimmicky, touristy, and a bit naff.
However a printed souvenir was once a precious keepsake. A postcard could be sent aboard or framed hung in a home, a printed programme provided all the information you could ever want to know from an historic event. Even a sad occasion such as the death of a monarch would have been marked by a memorial card, a tradition we see much more in other cultures today than we do in the UK.
Fashionistas unite, transcending the decades, eras and styles. Our great-great-grandparents may have worn a medal-like portrait of Queen Victoria, our grandparents a porcelain and jewelled crown, our parents an anarchic, safety-pinned union jacks – and us? The resurrection of enamel pins mean that the design possibilities are endless, from cute corgis to drag-pun slogans.
Royal merchandise combines many appealing factors, no matter the decade: it appeals to the shopper and collector in all of us, as well as history buffs. If you’ve been to any kind of conference or convention you’ll be use to the branded goodies that get handed out like tote bags, plushes, stress balls and stationery. Whether the item has a function or is just a bit of fun, it can sit on your desk, reminding you of the brand or the event.
Jubilee branded items are the same. they proclaim “I was there”, even if you were taking part from afar. Whether you are a royalist or republican keep an eye out this summer for unique royal branded items – We would love to know what you come across.