University of Brighton student Sarahlouise Newman on the Edward VIII coronation mug by Eric Ravilious: a cup that was made fit for king that who was never crowned.
This short essay will explore an intriguing object in Brighton Museum’s collection: a ceramic souvenir mug, commemorating an event that never happened.
On the 12th May 1937, the coronation of Edward VIII as King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, and Emperor of India was due to take place at Westminster Abbey. However, on the 11th December 1936, Edward announced that he was abdicating, and would not be crowned king as he wished to marry the American socialite Wallis Simpson. This shocking event came about as being twice divorced, Mrs Simpson was deemed ‘not suitable’ as the King’s consort; the British monarchy at the time stated that no divorcee could be married into the family. Quite simply, Edward would not give up the woman he loved
This became one of the most memorable moments in British history. Edward’s coronation was duly cancelled, and his brother was forced into the role, becoming King George VI. Edward and Wallis, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, moved to France and were rumoured to be Nazi sympathisers.
As we can see, preparations for the coronation were already underway, and souvenirs such as this mug had been already been manufactured when the abdication was announced. This mug was designed by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), the renowned British painter and designer, and it was factory-made by the Wedgwood company, in a design partnership that Ravilious held from 1936-1940. It is a striking design: a white earthenware mug, with a transfer-printed design in black, giving a graphic silhouette effect against the background washed in bands of light blue and orange which suggest the firework celebration to come. It shows the letters ‘ER’ and the date ‘1937’ along with a silhouette of the royal seal.
This is a most unusual souvenir, for it commemorates a coronation that never happened and the majority were recalled in order to be scrapped or modified for the coronation of King George VI Its colour is also unusual; Wedgwood produced most versions of this design in blue and yellow, as seen in the V&A Museum, and this rarer blue and orange version was sold by the shop Fortnum and Mason.
Truly, this is a hidden gem in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. The design shows Ravillious’ distinctive style of light tones and delicate lettering and in a less commonplace combination of colours. It both commemorates a unique moment in British history, and it demonstrates the beauty of British designed souvenir objects by Ravilious in the era just before WW2.
Sarahlouise Newman, BA (Hons) History of Art & Design student, University of Brighton