ELIZABETH II: THE MONARCH WHOSE IMAGE GRACED SEVEN DECADES OF MEMORABILIA
Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, at the age of 96. The world’s longest-serving female monarch, she reigned for 70 years and was the second-longest-serving monarch in history, surpassed only by King Louis XVI of France. Elizabeth II was the only British sovereign most of us have ever known. The head of state and queen to as many as 32 countries and states in North America, Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific, she was unquestionably the most recognizable woman in the world.
On her 21st birthday, then-Princess Elizabeth famously said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She would dutifully fulfill that pledge to the very end. Two days before her passing, Elizabeth was still attending to business and received Liz Truss, the prime minister she had just appointed, at Balmoral Castle.
At her three-hour long coronation on June 2, 1953, then-Princess Elizabeth – a mere 25 years old – became Queen Elizabeth II. It was the first time a coronation was televised in its entirety.
Today, programs, tickets and other ephemera from the coronation are highly prized by collectors. Even more so, collectors dream of owning one of the specially-made light blue velvet chairs used by the peers who formed the audience inside Westminster Abbey at that momentous occasion.
Perhaps the ultimate coronation-related prize is a diamond brooch The Queen commissioned from the first and most notably important Crown Jeweller of the United Kingdom, Garrard & Co Ltd, in the form of her own initials. She gave one to each of the six Maids of Honor who attended her coronation. One of the six brooches was auctioned by Noonans in June 2022 and realized a staggering £180,000 (approximately $205,200).
Also highly desirable to collectors are Cecil Beaton’s official photographic portraits commissioned for Elizabeth II’s coronation or taken during the early years of her reign. Beaton’s images remind us of just how young The Queen was when she assumed the weighty responsibilities of her position.
As time passed, Elizabeth’s subjects rejoiced in the milestones of her reign: the Silver, Golden, Diamond, Sapphire and Platinum Jubilees that marked the 25th (1977), the 50th (2002), the 60th (2012), the 65th (2017) and the 70th (2022) anniversaries, respectively, of the queen’s coronation, respectively. Each jubilee was a national event, with the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth nations participating with parades, ceremonies and celebrations At those times in particular, The Queen was eager to personally greet well-wishers during her spirited and friendly walkabouts.
While The Queen seemed approachable, it was always on her terms. “You don’t get matey with The Queen,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 memoir, A Journey: My Political Life. “Occasionally she can be matey with you, but don’t try to reciprocate or you get ‘The Look.’” Protocol and the dignity of office had their place after all for this hardworking queen.
Unlike most other heads of state, who routinely provide autographs to those who ask, Queen Elizabeth II rarely did, if ever. When greeting cordoned queues of admirers, she was never seen doing anything more than smiling, shaking hands and speaking one-on-one to those who came to see her. In her later years, she invariably wore cheerfully-colored clothing and hats (“The better for them to see me,” she is reported to have said).
There was never a pen in her hand; she limited her signature to matters of state, personal family photos or a letter to a special guest, even if was only signed “Elizabeth R,” for Elizabeth Regina (Latin for “Queen”). Such spare handwritings and signatures rarely appear at auction, especially those that predate her coronation. Handwritten letters, early photogravures or other memorabilia from her time as a young princess or during her active military service during World War II are particularly hard to find. She had yet to enter the immediate line of royal succession, thus the spotlight was not on her and few “collectibles” were retained.
Each public occasion involving The Queen, as well as those which were private, such as a birth or a wedding, were memorialized in gold, in works of art, in photos, in pottery and ceramics, and in issues of stamps and coins. Some were created in strictly limited numbers and would warrant pride of place in any collection of royal items.
“Value is also determined by quality and rarity, experts say. A china tea set commemorating one of the queen’s jubilees that was mass-produced won’t be worth much. But limited-edition items — where maybe only 100 were produced — will eventually sell for more,” wrote Jaclyn Peiser, a retail reporter for the Washington Post, in an article published soon after The Queen’s death. Of course, if advertisements label a commemorative as a limited edition, it’s important to determine just how “limited” its production run really was. The lower the number, the better.
Limited-edition commemoratives made from precious metals retain long-term value both for their intrinsic value and for their provenance. A 1-ounce silver coin issued in 2020 by Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand, featured royal portraits of Queen Elizabeth II through the years. It sold for a hammer price of $275, about 10 times its intrinsic value, thanks not only to its pleasing design but also for the remote place where it was issued.
Postage stamps issued early in the queen’s reign by far-flung areas of the British Empire should also hold their value in the decades to come, especially those from countries that no longer recognize the Monarch of the United Kingdom as its head of state.
Error stamps – those that are not complete or were produced incorrectly – are almost always more valuable. A marginal block of four 1963 3D Red Cross Centenary stamps that pictured the young Queen Elizabeth II but lacked the organization’s distinctive Red Cross symbol once sold for about £40,000 (about $45,000).
“We are expecting to see the value of rare stamps climb dramatically and possibly by 300-400% as philatelists clamber to add to their collections in the coming months,” said James Constantinou, founder of prestigepawnbrokers.co.uk in an interview with the London-based Mirror newspaper.
A platinum-trimmed fountain pen by Visconti in royal purple, made exclusively for the 60th Jubilee, is another example of an exclusive commemorative that should see its value only increase as time passes; in April 2021, one such pen sold for $550 plus the buyer’s premium.
Nothing says “icon” like being the subject of a multi-colored print by pop artist Andy Warhol. In his 1985 series titled “Reigning Queens,” Warhol based his image of Elizabeth II on a portrait created by Peter Grugeon in 1977 for the Silver Jubilee and created four prints “…fragmenting the image with various overlayed shapes and patches of colour,” according to a review in artlyst.com. One such print sold at Bonhams in June 2022 for about $255,000, a further confirmation of Queen Elizabeth II’s status as an icon of the art world.
Queen Elizabeth II successfully bridged Britain’s colonial past and the technological present to become “…the rock on which modern Britain was built,” as British Prime Minister Liz Truss said following the sovereign’s passing. Commemorative items graced with The Queen’s image are comforting reminders of a noble woman who embraced a life of duty, family and service to her country for seven decades, never once putting a foot wrong.