Stephanie Gibson, Te Papa’s Curator of Contemporary Life & Culture writes: It was with great sadness last week that I read about the demise of royal visit souvenirs (‘No royal knick-knacks thanks, we’re Kiwis’, The Dominion Post, 1 April 2014). According to the journalist ‘tacky royal collectibles are becoming relics of a bygone age’. There would be very few souvenirs apart from stamps and coins to mark the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their baby George.
I hoped it was an April Fool’s joke because we treasure the royal visit souvenirs in our collections. So I went in search of material. I found generic Union Jack flags, baby booties printed with Union Jacks, and one lonely badge printed ‘George’ in blue – all imported. I immediately wanted to collect the badge but was told it was for display purposes only!
The smallest of souvenirs
Badges are amongst the smallest of souvenirs, and one of my favourite types. Sometimes known as buttons, they are cheap and quick to mass produce, easy to distribute and wear, and small enough to keep without becoming nuisance clutter. Being round in shape, they are the perfect format for displaying portraits, symbols and concise messages. In one tiny hit, they can deliver significant history, politics and culture.
This badge (above) celebrates the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1953-54. A young school boy wore it with great pride when he and his class were taken to see the Queen when she visited Devonport, Auckland, on Christmas Eve, 1953. He kept it for over 50 years in a box with other special mementoes before gifting it to Te Papa.
Badges never worn
The most beautiful royal visit badges in the collection never actually made it to anyone’s chest.
Badges were among the many souvenirs produced in preparation for the royal tour of King George VI in 1949. The tour was cancelled due to the King’s ill health.
These pristine badges are still attached to their sale cards, and sport fabulous ribbons in the patriotic colours of blue, white and red.
Their lavishness illustrates New Zealand’s excitement about the tour as it was to be the first time a reigning monarch had set foot in New Zealand.
Each badge lovingly details different aspects of the tour and the royal experience – the people, transportation (from coach to plane), and even remembrance.