The Allen Gallery

Alton, Hampshire

A Wedgwood royal commemorative mug

This mug is a relic of what is probably the most famous non-event in British history; the Coronation of King Edward VIII. As we all know, in December 1936, less than a year after his succession, the King abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson. Being American, with a past containing two failed marriages, a powerful lobby saw her as unfit to share the throne. So when the date set for the coronation arrived, 12 May 1937, the former King was in France with Wallis, whilst his brother, the Duke of York, was in Westminster Abbey being crowned King George VI.

Wedgwood Mug

One could be forgiven for thinking that souvenirs of Edward’s planned Coronation must be very rare. Of course, after the abdication manufacture ceased and unsold material was recalled, but quite a bit had already found its way onto the mantelpieces of the nation; no one knows quite how much. The closest measure to hand, Hampshire Museums own collection, contains 17 souvenir items for Edward and 39 for George.

Like most manufacturers, Wedgwood simply amended the ware already in production. The design on this particular mug was created for them by Eric Ravilious, a designer and illustrator who would surely have come into his own in the post-war years but who died whilst serving as a war artist in 1942. On the abdication, the E was changed to a G and an alternative colour band was introduced –‘marina’ green. For the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, recognising that the work of Ravilious seemed to belong to the 1950s as much as, or more than, the 1930s, Wedgwood re-used the design - on a pink ground. Finally, in 2002 it appeared yet again, to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

Times were sometimes hard for Wedgwood in the 30s. Sadly recent times have been harder still. Waterford Wedgwood went into administration at the beginning of 2009, and as I write it is uncertain if, 250 years after Josiah Wedgwood struck out on his own, the company has any future. Small consolation that time effectively comes to a stop for clay once it is fired, and on this mug the fireworks and the celebrations will go on forever.