Most commemorative objects, from coins to china plates, tend to cost a lot more to buy than you get back for re-sale, as the plethora of relatively modern specimens which come up for sale in Bamford’s general sales testify.
Today you can expect to pay in the region of £10 or more for a 1953 Coronation mug, given free to most school children (including me) at the time. But it is not so much the occasion commemorated, but the manufacturer that made the item. For instance had one’s parents gone for a Wedgwood one for about £1 with a design after that striking and original inter-war artist Eric Ravilious, then today you might expect £250-280. The best names show the best returns, in other words.
The earliest Royal images on mugs (or similar) were those of Charles I and Charles II which turn up on a few extremely rare tin-glaze mugs, for which you may expect to pay £5,000 or more assuming the condition is better than dire. Up until the mid-eighteenth century all commemorative mugs were hand painted, too, but towards the end of that era however, the invention of printing on pottery allowed for mass production.
As a result you can find plenty of George III images making that monarch known to far more of his subjects as a result. Consequently, it is possible to put together a selection of mugs that chronicle the most significant events of the King’s 60 year reign. Those that celebrate the return of George to health after his first bout in mental difficulties sell for about £400, depending on condition.
The reigns of his two sons George IV and William IV saw mugs to commemorate both their coronations and deaths. These tend to cost £300 or more, although royalty was not the only subject to catch the potters’ eye. Heroes of the wars against France, Nelson and Wellington in particular were at a premium. Today it seems to be Nelson who outshines Wellington in popularity. A Nelson, blue printed mug used to make around £400 but since the bicentenary of Trafalgar in 2005 prices have increased noticeably, whereas the bicentenary of Waterloo had a notably less inflationary effect on Wellington’s.
For the new collector, the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 offers the most opportunity with prices starting at £20. Her Coronation (1838) mugs have been the subject of debate amongst collectors as to whether they were made in Staffordshire or South Wales, although in either case auction estimates hover around £750-850 for examples in good condition.
Fortunately Victoria’s Golden and Diamond jubilees of 1887 and 1897 offer richer pickings and more affordable ones, too. A good maker such as Doulton produced Jubilee bone china mugs in several colour schemes, now fetching around £120 for a clean example. Earthenware Jubilee mugs by lesser known makers can regularly be found for £30 and less but some of these bear images of the old Queen which she would have found less than flattering.
The advent of the new century saw more in the way of Coronation mugs: Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and the Queen all provoked a welter of commemoratives of varying quality. For most a price of between £10 and £40 should be the norm, and at Bamfords they turn up our general sales rather than in Fine Art ones. People often mistakenly assume that because Edward VIII reigned only 10 months and abdicated without being crowned, his commemoratives will be scarce, but this is not the case. In fact every enterprising pottery in the country put out commemoratives in anticipation of his coronation, and they had to be sold off inexpensively when he decided to give it all up for love. One of the best is, surprisingly Burleigh earthenware, but designed by Derbyshire’s own Dame Laura Knight, which sells for £50-60.
As we are currently remembering the slaughter in the trenches and elsewhere occasioned by the Great War, mugs relating to this conflict have edged up a little being usually in the £30 to £60 bracket.
In more recent years subject matter has included our Queen’s two Jubilees but more importantly her children’s rite of passage. At home I found a mug commemorating the inauguration at Caernarvon Castle of the Prince of Wales in 1969 by Delphine pottery, and royal weddings have generated a wide variety from Princess Anne through to that of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (with Meghan and Harry to come pretty imminently). The 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana generated a plethora of mugs, some pretty dire, but one in bone china by, say, Caverswall sold for a bit over a fiver in 1981 would now fetch £25 or even a tad more, for Caverswall is a good maker, whereas mugs by less well regarded firms go for prices nearer £8-12.
Of course, here in Derbyshire, it is often worth going for Royal Crown Derby examples. They are very good quality, for which initially one would pay a great deal comparatively, but second had examples in good condition with their boxes are still highly collectible, although if you bought one new, it will take a few decades to make your money back.