June 1953: Last month last century

Sixty years ago, Queen Elizabeth II is crowned (2 June 1953)

Robert Buhler, 'Spectators in the mall', 1953, England. Purchased 1954. © Estate of Robert Buhler/Bridgeman Art Library. Te Papa

Robert Buhler, ‘Spectators in the mall’, 1953, England. Purchased 1954. © Estate of Robert Buhler/Bridgeman Art Library. Te Papa

Only selected officials were invited into Westminster Abbey to witness the formal coronation ceremony, so thousands of people lined the route of the coronation porcession in order to see the Queen. Robert Buhler’s lithograph (above) depicts part of the crowd that watched the historic event.

The coronation was, as Wellington’s Evening Post put it, ‘one of those rare occasions when tradition brims over for all the world to see, when history comes to life and a new page is written’. In this case, over 20 million people also saw the procession and ceremony live on television – although New Zealanders had to make do with radio broadcasts.

Tablecloth, circa 1953, England. Storeys. Purchased 2011. Te Papa

Tablecloth, circa 1953, England. Storeys. Purchased 2011. Te Papa

Queen Elizabeth had allowed a relaxation of the use of royal emblems and photographs of herself on coronation souvenirs, although they could not be associated with advertising or makers’ names, or used on clothes. Many souvenirs were domestic reminders of the splendid and majestic occasion, such as this plastic tablecloth (above) and matchbox (below).

Royal Wax Vesta coronation matchbox, 1953, Dunedin. New Zealand Wax Vesta Co. Ltd. Te Papa

Royal Wax Vesta coronation matchbox, 1953, Dunedin. New Zealand Wax Vesta Co. Ltd. Te Papa

The New Zealand Department of Education distributed booklets to school pupils that explained the coronation to them. This was to help them to understand the importance of the event and, by extension, their British heritage. Pupils at one school in Wellington sent back letters of appreciation to the department. Marian Smith, in Standard 5 (Year 7), wrote that ‘I shall cherish this Souvenir and [will] give it pride of place in my Royal Family Scrapbook.’

’The Coronation Cut-Out Story Book’, 1953, London. Dean and Sons Ltd, Hankinson, Cyril, Maker unknown. Gift of Patricia Blades, 2010. Te Papa

’The Coronation Cut-Out Story Book’, 1953, London. Dean and Sons Ltd, Hankinson, Cyril, Maker unknown. Gift of Patricia Blades, 2010. Te Papa

Other children treasured copies of The Coronation Cut-Out Story Book from which they could make their own miniature coronation procession. Patricia Lawrence’s parents bought a copy of the book (above) for her as a Christmas present.

Learn more about New Zealanders’ equally enthusiastic responses during Queen Elizabeth II’s tour of the country on the Slice of Heaven exhibition website

One Response

  1. adele

    I can remember souvenirs for the Coronation, my old school in London put out a propelling pencil, still have it.. and there was a lovely gold coloured coach and horses made, often seen for sale in antique shops these days, just wish I had one! Needless to say I am a Royalist… waiting for the next celebration of a Prince or Princess!

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