Mugs and plates celebrating the coronations, marriages and deaths of British royalty are not uncommon sights in the Australian home. With the upcoming coronation of King Charles III on May 6, such memorabilia cluttering our closets is likely to only increase.
Guides for “the best King Charles III memorabilia‘ recommend buying some souvenirs, including commemorative coins, biscuit tins, tea towels, plates and of course mugs.
Yet the royal souvenir is not a recent invention.
Read more: We have been collecting souvenirs for thousands of years. They are valuable cultural artifacts – but what does their future hold?
History of the royal mug
The tradition of celebrating royal events with a mug or goblet dates back to the 17th century, when the ancestor and namesake of the current king, Charles II, was restored to the English throne in 1660-161.
Several mugs and cups produced at the time survive and depict the “cheerful monarch”.
The restoration of Charles II (after his father Charles I was executed by order of Parliament in 1649) was greeted with joy throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.
The famous social climber and diarist Samuel Pepys epitomized the general feeling of the times when he wrote that on the day of Charles II’s coronation he watched the royal procession with wine and cake and that everyone “very cheerfuland happy with what they saw.
Read more: Beheaded and banished: the two previous King Charleses booked the abolition of the monarchy
Drinking and eating at a party may explain why mugs and plates were and remain such popular forms of royal memorabilia; they were used to that drink faithful toasts from good health to the monarch on special holidays.
While a strong ale was the preferred liquid for 17th century toast, as the British Empire expanded, drinking tea became a common pastime. Teacups became popular royal souvenirs during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century.
The earthenware mugs made for the coronation of Charles II were relatively inexpensive, but were not produced on a large scale.
With the industrial revolution of the 19th century and the rise of the souvenir culture, royal memorabilia in all forms became more popular and widespread.
Since 1900, royal births, deaths, marriages and coronations have been big bucks for manufacturers of royal memorabilia.
The pitfalls of mass production were realized in 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated just months before his planned coronation in May 1937. Manufacturers were left with thousands of mugsplates and other objects in honor of a king’s coronation that was not to happen.
Many of these mugs still found their way to the market, while other manufacturers such as Royal Doulton existing designs modified and used them for the coronation of his brother, George VI.
English monarchs were not the only royals to encourage the use of their image on objects collected, worn or used by their subjects.
Renaissance Italian princes made it popular portrait medal and the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V, fostered support in his vast territories using mass-produced medallions wear his image.
Objects depicting royalty served similar functions in the 20th century. Australian school children often were medals awarded to commemorate coronations, while children in England were given earthenware mugs to drink to the sovereign’s health.
When Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, English children mugs, tins of chocolate and a spoon or coin.
Royal memorabilia not only nurtures support, but also acts as a barometer of the royal family’s popularity around the world.
Coronation mugs became popular during the reign of Charles II in 1661 because these objects expressed the joyful feeling of a nation that had endured 20 years of warfare and political chaos.
Support for the royal family has often been shown through royal weddings and nuptials: plaques depicting Charles II and his Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, were created to celebrate their union in 1662.
Recently one gold pendant inscribed with the initials of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, probably worn by a supporter, was also discovered.
For Prince William and Kate Middleton’s much-anticipated wedding in 2011, thousands of mundane and wacky keepsakes were produced, such as plates, mugs, magnets, graphic novels, toilet seat covers and PEZ dispensers.
More than 1,600 lines of official merchandise were produced for Prince Charles’ wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Less than 25 lines were produced for Charles’ unpopular second wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.
Although Charles may not be so popular like his mother, coronation fever has certainly hit the UK. Royal fans will spend £1.4bn (A$2.6bn) on coronation parties and souvenirs.
The availability of coronation souvenirs and party favors in Australia is somewhat more limited – perhaps indicative of Australia’s declining appetite for the royal family amid increased demand for another vote for a republic.
Read more: What King Charles III’s coronation quiche tells us about the history of British dining