Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Unexpected Coronation of King George VI, 1937

Friday, May 20, 2011


Born in 1895—the son of the future King George V and Mary of Teck—he was welcomed into the world on the anniversary of the death of his Great Grandfather, Prince Albert. His parents were nervous to tell Queen Victoria of the child’s birth given the fact that she was distraught by the anniversary of her beloved husband’s passing. And, so, to mollify his grandmother, George V called his son, “Albert.” The name was said to have pleased the Queen who wrote, “I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good.”

Known affectionately as “Bertie” throughout his life, the young prince never imagined that he would be king. At the time of his birth, he was fourth in line for the throne after his grandfather (Edward VII), his father (George V) and his eldest brother (Edward VIII). Nervous, plagued by ill-health and a horrible stutter, “Bertie” preferred a quiet life, marrying Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923.

Bertie’s mother, Mary of Teck, and father both had issues with their party-boy eldest son. His parents hoped that, somehow, Bertie would one day ascend to the throne. George V was known to have said, "I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet [Bertie and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, now Queen Elizabeth II] and the throne."

It seemed that George V’s wish would come to pass—despite reluctance from his youngest son. Upon the death of George V, Edward ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. However, Edward was not to last a year and walked away from the role of sovereign before his coronation, preferring to marry his questionable lady-friend instead of ruling the empire.

The date of the coronation remained the same, only the king was different. May 19, 1937 saw the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as The Queen Mother). Aside from his personal issues, King George VI has much to deal with during his reign—the splintering of the empire as well as the Second World War.

Souvenirs from the 1937 coronation are quite interesting to me. In my collection of Royal memorabilia, I have several items with the same coronation date—some for Edward VIII, some for George VI. The souvenirs made for Edward VIII were quickly pulled from the shelves and largely destroyed, replaced with quickly-assembled pieces bearing the countenances of George VI and Elizabeth.

I especially like this mug. The images of the King and Queen are classic late-1930’s artwork. The stylized profiles set against the primarily-colored crest look almost ethereal and are the perfect symbol of the reluctant king and his supportive bride. ads

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