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Detail from the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation set by Britains, #2081, showing the young monarch riding in a royal carriage. The set to which it belongs achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA and LiveAuctioneers.

Bid Smart: Collectors pay royal premium for coronation souvenirs

Britains, the venerated British toy soldier company, released set #2081 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The only known complete boxed example achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA and LiveAuctioneers.
Britains, the venerated British toy soldier company, released set #2081 in 1953 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The only known complete boxed example achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — If there’s one thing people love to celebrate, it’s the pomp and circumstance of royalty. Even in the United States, a country that launched a revolution in 1775 to declare independence from England’s King George III, there is still a fascination with the British royal family. Millions of television viewers across the world watched the late Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953 as well as the wedding of Charles and Diana in the summer of 1981, and the weddings of Charles and Diana’s two sons decades later. Queen Elizabeth II had the longest tenure of any British monarch, serving slightly more than 70 years in all, and she ruled longer than any woman head of state.

With Elizabeth’s death, her eldest son, Charles, became king and his official coronation, scheduled for May 6, 2023, has attracted worldwide attention. The last coronation in Great Britain was when then-Princess Elizabeth became queen at the age of 27. Her father, King George VI, who died in February 1952, unexpectedly became king in 1936 (and had his coronation in May 1937) when his brother Edward VIII abdicated a few months before his own planned coronation to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

Billions of souvenirs, official and unofficial, marking the coronation of King Charles III are for sale online and in shops, from commemorative bone china cups and plates to pins, T-shirts and playing cards. In keeping with his stated desire to streamline the monarchy, only about 2,000 guests were invited to view the coronation from inside Westminster Abbey. These spectators will mostly be members of the royal family and foreign heads of state. By comparison, his mother’s coronation, which was the first to be televised, hosted more than 8,200 invited guests inside the Abbey.

In England, the Royal Collection Trust authorized a commemorative collection of handmade bone china pieces marking the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. The design on the plates depict the royal coat of arms along with laurel leaves symbolizing peace, oak leaves for strength and four other species of flora symbolizing the United Kingdom’s four nations: a daffodil, a rose, a shamrock and a thistle.

Most coronation-themed collectibles are produced in great quantities, which will affect their value in the decades to come. If past British coronations are any indicator, though, demand will be high enough to ensure a strong future market for many of these souvenirs. Those that are hand-made and offered in limited production runs will likely command the best prices.

Detail from the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation set by Britains, #2081, showing the young monarch riding in a royal carriage. The set to which it belongs achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA and LiveAuctioneers.
Detail from the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation set by Britains, #2081, showing the monarch riding in a royal carriage. The set to which it belongs achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021. Image courtesy of Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA and LiveAuctioneers.

Not surprisingly, countless businesses have found ways to capitalize on these typically once-in-a-lifetime events. Britains is well known in its native England for its toy soldiers, and its Queen Elizabeth Coronation set #2081 has formidable cross-category appeal to different camps of collectors. An example of this set sold for $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA. Issued in 1953, #2081 was the company’s largest post-war set, totaling 211 figures. The lot handled by Old Toy Soldier Auctions USA achieved such a high price because it was the only known complete boxed example.

A 1937 sovereign set of 22K gold coins struck for King George VI’s coronation sold for $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of Revere Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A 1937 sovereign set of 22K gold coins struck for King George VI’s coronation sold for $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of Revere Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Commemorative coins are issued to honor the coronation of a king or queen in Great Britain, and their designs tend to be simple yet elegant. A case in point is a 1937 sovereign set of four 22K gold coins produced for the coronation of King George VI, which sold for $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023 at Revere Auctions. The proof set included a quintuple sovereign, or five-pound piece; a double sovereign, which equates to two pounds; a full sovereign and a half sovereign. The obverse, or front, of each coin depicts Humphrey Pageta’s left-facing portrait of the king while the reverse, or back, of each features Benedetto Pistruccia’s depiction of Saint George and the dragon.

Conservatively estimated at $200-$400, a Queen Victoria coronation pass, admitting the holder to a gallery seat in the nave, brought $4,315 including the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
Conservatively estimated at $200-$400, a Queen Victoria coronation pass, admitting the holder to a gallery seat in the nave, brought $4,315 including the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of RR Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Events that have the scale and importance of a coronation generate tons of ephemeral material, from tickets to programs. A pass to Queen Victoria’s coronation in June 1838, assigning the bearer to a seat in the gallery in the south aisle of the nave at Westminster Abbey, brought $4,315 including the buyer’s premium in April 2022 at RR Auction. Measuring 6½ by 4½in, the pass was embossed with the seal of the Earl Marshal of England, the title holder through the years responsible for organizing key state ceremonies such as coronations and funerals of monarchs.

Commemorative platters historically have been a popular coronation keepsake in part due to their accessible price points. These platters are well suited for beginning collectors, and even a modest quantity yields an attractive display in the home. A grouping of six hand-painted plates and a platter created in honor of King Edward VIII’s coronation — which was, of course, canceled — realized $500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022 at Briggs Auction, Inc. Many souvenirs for the event were sold before the coronation was called off.

A collection of plates and a platter created circa 1936 to celebrate King Edward VIII’s coronation, which was canceled when he abdicated the British throne to marry an American divorcee, made $500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Briggs Auction, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
A collection of plates and a platter created circa 1936 to celebrate King Edward VIII’s coronation, which was canceled when he abdicated the British throne to marry an American divorcee, made $500 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2022. Image courtesy of Briggs Auction, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

Coronation collectibles extend to dozens of realms, food and beverages included. Biscuit tins celebrating this weekend’s coronation are already on sale and being gathered by collectors as keepsakes that likely will increase in value. Limited-release alcoholic beverages should find favor, too. A cone-top can of a special batch of British beer dubbed Coronation Brew 1937, offered in that year by H&G Simonds in Reading, England, earned $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Morean Auctions. The 10-ounce can features bold graphics and colors. Another fact that made it interesting to collectors is Simonds was the first brewer in England to sell its beer in cans. It’s also worth mentioning that Greene King, a centuries-old brewery, created a coronation ale for Edward VIII. After he abdicated the throne, Greene King stashed the beer in its cellars, where it remained until it was discovered in 2011, during renovations. The brewery will auction several crates of the decades-old beverage on May 5, the day before the coronation of King Charles III, with the proceeds going to the charity the Prince’s Trust. Greene King also released a 2023 coronation ale as well.

A cone-top can of Coronation Brew 1937 by Simonds Reading, honoring King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, realized $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019. Image courtesy of Morean Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A cone-top can of Coronation Brew 1937 made by H&G Simonds Ltd. of Reading, England, honoring King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, realized $1,400 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019. Image courtesy of Morean Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors who are intrigued by British royalty join a long tradition dating back to the 17th century when the man dubbed the “merry monarch,” Charles II, was restored to the throne and commemorative mugs and drinking glasses were made in his honor. Today, would-be collectors are spoiled for choice, with coronation-themed collectibles in nearly every category imaginable, priced to suit even the scantiest budgets, up to and including what have become the traditional coronation souvenirs: biscuit tins, commemorative plates and coins and tea towels.

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