Here’s my first blog post for Barneby’s.
You can also read it on the Barneby’s website:
Image via royalhats.wordpress.com
British coronation furniture is becoming increasingly collectable. If you enjoy visiting English country houses you may have noticed coronation chairs tucked away in corridors, halls and even bathrooms. These were made specifically for guests to sit in at the coronation of English- later British monarchs, held at Westminster Abbey since 1066.
In 1902, at the coronation of Edward VII, guests were invited to buy the chairs to keep as souvenirs, and this charming practice has continued to the present day.
George VI (1937) chairs are of a simple modern design, constructed from limed oak, with chamfered legs and upholstered in green velveteen emblazoned with the royal cipher in gilt thread. Elizabeth II (1953) chairs are of similar design but feature legs in silvered oak with upholstery in Royal Blue. Both chairs are stamped with the royal monogram.
Chairs were for the use of peers and their consorts and were numbered, so, after a bit of research, it’s possible to discover who sat on them.
Stools were also made for the pages. Peers who carried regalia were expected to have their own pages in attendance- these were often their friends’ teenage sons who wore the peer’s own specific (and splendid) livery.
Specialist dealer, Stephanie Connell, who recently sold an Elizabeth II chair and a George VI stool at the Autumn Battersea Decorative Antiques Fair, says that demand for coronation furniture “is on the rise, as collectors appreciate their historical associations as well as their practicality. They also make talking points for bathrooms, studies and halls.”
Chairs were also manufactured for the coronations of Edward VII (1902) and George V (1911). Both are easy to miss, as the Edward VII chair is easily mistaken for a simple country side chair with rustic rush seat, and the George V chair resembles a mahogany dining room chair in reproduction Chippendale. Both chairs are stamped CORONATION FURNITURE.
Image: Luke Honey Ltd
More recently, Lord Snowdon designed a fascinating modernist chair for the Prince of Wales’s Investiture at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. These stylish chairs are made with a beech-wood frame, and the seat and back is constructed from preformed plywood, veneered in Olive Ash and stained “Vermillion Red”. The backs are embossed with the Prince of Wales’s feathers in gold leaf and the seats are upholstered in red Welsh cloth, using a stable dye that would not run onto the guests’ clothes in the likely event of a rain. The chairs were manufactured in Wales at the Remploy factory and sold flat-packed for the princely sum of £12, which included delivery “complete with instructions”: in a more egalitarian age, guests were encouraged to re-assemble the chairs for themselves.
Image: Luke Honey Ltd
Prices are on the up. If you buy from a specialist dealer, expect to pay in the region of £450 for a coronation stool, £900 or so for a good George VI or Elizabeth II chair and £850 for a Prince of Wales chair. As always, condition is key and will affect the value. Chairs associated with famous individuals can fetch considerably more: In 2010, a George VI chair, Elizabeth II chair and George VI stool fetched £6,875 at Christie’s. They came from Althorp, the seat of the Spencer family and ancestral home of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Luke Honey spent many years as an auction specialist (Phillips, Bonhams and Bloomsbury) and is now a leading dealer in decorative mantiques, exhibiting at the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair twice a year. He is a custodian of the Frederick Parker Chair Collection and sells coronation furniture on a regular basis.