National Museum of Australia

Home > Audio on demand > Collectorfest: a right royal celebration > transcript

Collectorfest: a right royal celebration

Guy Hansen and Professor Peter Spearritt, 13 February 2011

GUY HANSEN: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Collectorfest. I am Guy Hansen. I’m a senior curator in social history here at the National Museum of Australia. Today we are looking at royal memorabilia, so it’s a right royal affair today.

We are going to have a quick look at some of the collections from the National Museum of Australia. We also have one of Australia’s leading experts Professor Pete Spearritt from the University of Queensland, who is also a collector himself but also a broader expert in Australian history and the significance of monarchy for Australia. We are going to go on and discuss some items which members of the audience have brought along, some pieces from their own collections.

I should mention briefly that, when this event was advertised, we were hoping to have Cecil Ballard, one of the biggest royal collectors in Australia here today. Unfortunately, Cecil fell ill and Peter very kindly has stepped in to his shoes. So if you were expecting Cecil, I’m sorry - I will show you a picture of him in a couple of minutes. He would be very disappointed not to be here; he lives for events such as these.

Before we launch into the main part of the proceedings and actually start talking royal memorabilia, I am going to ask Leanne Dempsey to tell us a bit more about Collectorfest.

LEANNE DEMPSEY: Hi everybody, my name is Leanne. Some of you might have met me before, because I am the person behind the Collectorfest website, which is a website on our National Museum of Australia site. Collectorfest is a series of events that we hold at the National Museum of Australia celebrating the art of collection. We are one of Australia’s largest collecting organisations. Many of the staff who work for the Museum will also keen collectors. I enjoy collecting cocktail paraphernalia, for example, so we all understand the lure of a good collection here.

We started up the Collectorfest events to give collectors here in Canberra and surrounds an opportunity to meet each other, to socialise over a cup of tea and coffee, and to show each other the beautiful objects we have in our collection and the things that we love. But as a little extra something in between events, we thought it would be great to have a website established. If you are a person who has an Internet connection and enjoys a bit of socialising online, this is the front page of our Collectorfest website [image shown]. Anybody can register as a member of the website. It’s completely free. Once you are on board, we can have conversations about our collections. We have access to museum staff members such as conservators who are able to provide information about taking care of your collections and storing your collections.

Today I will be stalking around downstairs during the tea and coffee break with a camera person. I may very well tap you on your shoulder and ask you a few questions, if you give me permission to do so. We upload these little interviews and provide this kind of information on the website so that, if anybody wanted to be here and they weren’t able to make it, it’s an opportunity to see a little bit of what we do here.

I will show you one another page [image shown] This is a sample of the type of information we will be uploading onto the website. We had an Open Day at the National Museum of Australia last year. There is a little series of videos with me in my red T-shirt chatting with people about the Open Day. Underneath I am sure everybody recognises that glamorous woman sitting there. That is Mrs Margaret Fulton who was here for a previous event.

If you are interested in joining us, we would love to see you on the Collectorfest website. You may very well see your own face on there at some stage in future if you give us your permission. So enjoy today very much. [applause]

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much, Leanne. It’s a great website. I know a lot of people are fascinated by collecting, so it’s a great opportunity to socialise and to develop your interest in that area.

Let’s come to the subject of today which is royal memorabilia. The National Museum of Australia collects royal memorabilia and material associated with the monarchy in Australia. Why do we do that? Well, our interest is the history of Australia, and what’s more important than the constitutional groundwork of Australia and the fact that Australia is a constitutional monarchy. There are very good political history reasons why we should collect royal memorabilia, but there is also very good social and popular culture reasons why we should as well. When I think of this, I can’t go past the 1954 royal tour, which was a landmark event in Australia’s history, where a huge number of Australians witnessed that event and left an indelible impression. As you go through the history of the royals since then, many events associated with them have left a powerful mark on Australia’s historical imagination. As the National Museum of Australia with our role in preserving the nation’s memory and history, it’s appropriate that we do collect some royal memorabilia. I will show you a few bits and pieces in our collection. We can compare notes on our collections now.

I mentioned the 1954 royal tour, and this is one of my favourite photographs of that tour [image shown]. It seems to capture the moment of the young Queen in a Daimler driving past the adoring crowds.

But we do have earlier material as well. This is a Crossley which was used on the 1927 royal tour. Image of Crossley

We have recently acquired one of the Daimlers. There was a fleet of Daimlers used in 1954. We have acquired this Daimler and we are beginning a major restoration project of it.

Of course many of you will have memories of seeing the Queen in a Land Rover. There were quite a few Land Rovers that were used during different royal tours, and we have one that was used in the 1960s.

One of the things which many people have in their collections and many people will have seen is women’s magazines and particularly The Australian Women’s Weekly [image shown]. This is a particularly good example of the sorts of things people collect and is in our collections.

I mentioned Cecil who can’t be here in person. Cecil is every inch the royalist that he looks [image shown]. He’s absolutely devoted to Queen Elizabeth. He fell in love with Queen Elizabeth as a young man when he saw her in 1954 and has remained passionately in love ever since. I am not being entirely ironic: he really does adore Queen Elizabeth. He would have loved to be here today to tell you more about his collection, but unfortunately can’t.

One of my favourite objects which we have recently acquired is the Dargie portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. You might think how have we got it because it’s hanging up in Parliament House? Well, actually two copies were made by Dargie at the time of painting. He made a second copy because he was concerned that the first copy might be destroyed as it was being air-freighted back to Australia. He was so concerned that he actually painted a second one. He took the first one he did, turned it upside down and copied it in order to try to make sure it was true a copy as possible. There is actually a third copy as well because not long after the painting was unveiled, the Queen requested a copy as well. Dargie did three of these wattle dress paintings. This image of Queen Elizabeth II is perhaps one of the most influential images. It was used on immigration certificates. Prints of this particular painting often appeared in council chambers and government offices. So it’s a very famous image. It’s great that we have one of the original paintings in our collection.

Another shot of our Daimler, which looks quite beautiful like that, but when we are finished doing some work on it will look even better.

I will introduce our expert for today, Peter. Peter is a highly respected historian in Australia. He’s currently in the University of Queensland but he has previously worked at Macquarie, ANU and Monash. As well as being an academic historian, he’s been a long-term collector. He has a range of collecting interests. Quite famously he collected a lot of memorabilia associated with the Harbour Bridge, and that research resulted in a book and exhibition which he worked on. He has also collected a lot of memorabilia associated with Queen Elizabeth II, again resulting in publications and exhibitions.

As a historian I think he’s a very important historian. He’s a historian I look up to, because he combines that interest in material culture, objects, with broader history and brings them together and there are not many historians who do that. That is exactly what we try to do here at the National Museum of Australia, so it’s a great privilege to have him here today. I have a selection of objects from Peter’s collection. There is quite a large collection, a couple of hundred objects of his, which are in the National Museum of Australia. I have a few examples which we can quickly talk about.

What do you want to tell me about this particular little handkerchief [object shown] here, Peter?

PETER SPEARRITT: My collection really started through my maternal grandmother who went to the Coronation. She was always very proud of having been to the Coronation and having gone to the garden party and so on. In her rosewood leadlight cabinet, she had a boxed set of the coronation coach with the metal horses and she still kept the box, which people often did.

GUY HANSEN: Here it is here [object shown].

PETER SPEARRITT: As a kid growing up, first, my maternal grandmother lived in Gympie and then in Buderim, I always used to think as a young child how fascinating this sort of souvenir was, I guess, of her going to the Coronation. At this point I need to ask you: is there anybody here who was alive in 1954 who didn’t see the Queen and the Duke in person?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I didn’t live in this country then.

PETER SPEARRITT: That’s all right. What about those of us who were alive in 1954 who did see them in person? Good. We are using this for statistical purposes.

A quick segue is that in the early 1980s I was starting to do some research on the 1954 royal tour which, as you will recall, was the first tour by a reigning monarch, other than the earlier object where people came out for the opening of Parliament House. Gallop poll evidence at the time shows that two-thirds of Australians saw the Queen and the Duke in the flesh on the 1954 tour. How many of you here saw them on the back of a railway carriage, for instance, in 1954? How many in a schoolyard? I want you to think about where you saw them.

Anyway, a higher proportion of Australians saw the Queen and the Duke in 1954 in the flesh than British people have ever seen them in the flesh because it was so unusual to have a reigning monarch visit. My colleague Ken Inglis sums this up very nicely in the phrase ‘Finally Australians could see the face on the money in their own streets.’ In a sense this became the start of a collection but only about 20 or 30 years after I first saw it.

GUY HANSEN: Let’s just take a step back from 1954 to this George VI souvenir [object shown].

PETER SPEARRITT: This was their Coronation souvenir. Of course, under different nomenclature they had been here for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 as the Duke and Duchess of York; is that right?

GUY HANSEN: In the actual Crossley which I was showing before.

PETER SPEARRITT: Yes. I guess those of you who have seen The King’s Speech or know your royal history will know that this Coronation occurred in somewhat vexed circumstances. I suppose the popular press in Australia always covered royal matters, but there’s no comparison between the amount of coverage generated by that coronation [of George VI in 1937] and the coronation in 1953. It’s partly because the monarchy not only in Britain but also in what were then called the Dominions will become a lot more relevant again through the course of World War II. So there was a wider interest in the monarchy in a wider variety of magazines and press coverage.

GUY HANSEN: What’s great about an object like this is that it’s not just a piece of ephemera, it actually is a window into big historical events.

PETER SPEARRITT: Absolutely.

GUY HANSEN: Let’s go forward: we will go past your Coronation and we will head into 1954 which we talked about. This is a good example of the sorts of memorabilia from 1954, isn’t it? [object shown]

PETER SPEARRITT: You have an absolute outpouring of material before and after. Probably some of you know there was a royal tour proposed in 1952, which didn’t happen because of the death of the King, by Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. The amount of memorabilia produced in 1954 is unending. I suppose the interesting question with a lot of this material is: when are the print runs so great that the material remains really quite common and when is it rare? But as Guy would know in curatorial circles, sometimes something that was very common once now becomes rare simply because stuff gets tossed out from deceased estates and so on. The question of whether particular items survive or not. These sorts of pictorial booklets can still be picked up quite cheaply because they did have big print runs.

GUY HANSEN: Here’s another example of the sorts of books you could buy [object shown].

PETER SPEARRITT: That’s a little brochure which would have been given to most school kids. From memory it’s about 20 pages long. Most school kids who took part in any aspect of the 1954 royal tour also got a little medallion. One of the most difficult situations I have ever faced on talkback radio was when a guy rang up saying he had one of these little medallions given to him as a school kid and he was assuming it was worth thousands of dollars. I had to tell him there are at least a couple of hundred thousand of them. I urged him to keep his, but they weren’t rare. He was a bit shocked at that.

GUY HANSEN: Of course the magazines went to town on Queen Elizabeth, didn’t they?

PETER SPEARRITT: Absolutely. [object shown] Those of you with long memories will recall Pix magazine which was first published in Australia in 1938. It was the first time we had a photo journalist magazine in Australia like Life, say, in the US. All Pix consisted of was lots of pictures and captions and not much prose. It was very popular in hairdressing salons and so on. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s the modern equivalent of Who Weekly and other shocking magazines that people here under 30 might actually read.

GUY HANSEN: It was a glossy before they were glossy.

PETER SPEARRITT: Yes, and they had a field day. Tea caddie [object shown] - you will appreciate from the Museum’s point of view there is an enormous difference in these sorts of objects between whether they are likely to survive in pretty good nick like this one. Ceramics are much more likely to survive any of these objects made of tin, and there were a lot, which are very subject to humidity and so on.

GUY HANSEN: In terms of the objects that you collect, I think some of the most interesting and moving in some ways are the scrapbooks of which there are many. This is one from your collection [object shown].

PETER SPEARRITT: A lot of this collection came about because we did an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in 1993 called Australians and the monarchy. I have a few copies of the catalogue to show you. We just started doing talkback radio and people would offer scrapbooks and so on for the exhibition. From an historian’s point of view, scrapbooks actually can be bloody irritating because if you are keeping any now, make sure you put the date of the item down and the name of the publication, because it’s a curse from an historian’s point of view. But as a display object in a museum and especially if you know what is called the provenance of the object, how old was the person when they put it together, scrapbooks are pretty evocative because you get a sense of especially of girls following through the Royal Family over 20 or 30 years of the scrapbook.

GUY HANSEN: And very famous image of Elizabeth as a young girl.

PETER SPEARRITT: Indeed, yes.

GUY HANSEN: We talked a little bit about ceramics. Another major set of items which is common in collections is ceramics with Charles and Di.

PETER SPEARRITT: Indeed. What obviously happens before any royal event is there’s a big buildup in a variety of items of memorabilia. The ceramics are the classic. The new item, which I hope isn’t in the National Museum of Australia’s collection which I picked up the other day, is I was in a Melbourne postcard shop and just happened to notice this LP record: it’s got Australia on it. I first of all was interested in it because I am interested in how cities promote themselves so it has Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Christchurch and Wellington. But imagine how excited I was when I started looking further down to discover ‘Souvenir record to commemorate the royal tour 1952’, so that was the tour that Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were supposed to come on when her father the King died so they couldn’t come. As a comment on terminology you wouldn’t use any more, this has been produced by the ‘Gay Gordons’ - no doubt an amusing group – ‘and the City of Empire Police Pipe Band’ and it’s conducted by Frederick Curzon. It’s typical. Actually these are still worth looking out for. There were a lot of souvenirs produced for the 1952 royal tour which never happened.

GUY HANSEN: And 1949 as well.

PETER SPEARRITT: And 1949 as well when the King was supposed to be coming out and I think he fell ill and couldn’t. Back to the earlier point I was trying to make, these sorts of things don’t tend to survive. It’s an LP record; it’s fragile; all you have to do is knock it; it’s very brittle. Whereas going back to about 1911, the ceramics are the long-term survivors of this. One of the interesting things I was mentioning to Guy when we were chatting about this before is the value of this sort of stuff waxes and wanes. Probably within a couple of years of the marriage, the market in Charles and Di’s souvenirs was quite ‘robust’ - that is how an antique dealer would describe it – and it’s not so robust now. It sort of seems that it’s a past era.

The other issue is: what’s the basic ceramic and design quality? The interesting thing about a lot of royal memorabilia is that it seems to me to go the full gamut from pretty classy to - you would have to describe that, I think, as a relatively cheesy image. So you’re not always getting high-profile ceramics. Another thing, for those of you who are still collecting material have to pay a lot of attention to now, is where are the ceramics made: are they made in the UK or are they made in China?

GUY HANSEN: Another thing is that a lot of interest in Lady Di focused on fashion, so there’s a lot of magazines and books which concentrate on those items as well.

PETER SPEARRITT: A lot of magazines and books. One of the difficulties that museums have, and we had when we did this exhibition with the Powerhouse Museum, is that we wanted to have a cover of the New Idea with Lady Di on it and we simply couldn’t afford what’s called ‘the permission charges’. Here’s a cover of the New Idea with Lady Di on the front. We couldn’t afford the permission charge the photographer wanted for his shot of Lady Di, so the solution was: that’s Adrian Young’s mum holding up the New Idea because that got us around the copyright issue. We made Adrian’s Mum a cup of tea, but she didn’t send us an invoice for $3,000.

GUY HANSEN: You heard it here first: tips on avoiding copyright fees. As a collector, you’re not just interested in material which celebrates the monarchy, are you, you are also interested in some of the material which has been produced by the Republican movement.

PETER SPEARRITT: Indeed. We ran a conference in London in the early 1990s called ‘Australians and the monarchy’ and were thrilled when a couple of people from the palace attended, because one of the things that the palace keeps on having to work out is what’s the likely longevity of the monarchy in the various former dominions. It’s a diplomatic kind of approach to these things. So when we did the exhibition, we also looked at the rise of the Republican Movement and the kind of republican symbolism that you get. At one point we had our comeuppance on this issue because this particular exhibition called Australians and the monarchy, one of the places it went to was the Gold Museum at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. As this afternoon here, there was an exit survey and all of the Scandinavians who came to the exhibition said they enjoyed it but why did Australia have a monarchy? So we had actually failed in this exhibition to explain that to an audience who just didn’t take it for granted because they hadn’t grown up in either Britain or one of the former dominions. To the Scandinavians we hadn’t properly explained in the exhibition why the British monarch was also the Australian monarch. I guess the Republican Movement was at its height in the mid to late 1990s, and I suppose the interesting question now will be what’s likely to happen over the next 10 or 15 years.

GUY HANSEN: Thank you, Peter. What we might do now is we will talk to some of our guests here today who have brought in some objects for us to look at. I will now start off here with the book [object shown] that belongs to Anne. Is Anne here? Can you tell us a little bit about this book and its significance for you?

ANNE: This book actually belongs to my eldest son Tim. It was given to him by my two sisters who bought it into an antiquarian bookshop in Bath. They gave it to him for his eighteenth birthday so that’s about 25 years ago now. It’s quite fascinating to me. From the title you can see that Charles II himself was telling the story of his escape after the battle at Worcester where he was defeated by Cromwell’s troops. I read it again this morning. He told the story to Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys recorded it and gave the manuscript to the master of Magdalene College [Cambridge]. I am not quite sure why he did that, whether it was because he was previous student at Magdalene. Again, I don’t know how the manuscript then came to the man who edited this, a man called David Dalrymple who was a Scottish judge, I believe.

But it’s just such a fascinating story. When I re-read it, I wondered to myself why someone didn’t turn it into a movie. I could picture Russell Crowe doing this really well, although my friend here tells me there are better actors than Russell Crowe. But it really is a rollicking good yarn and I could quite see why Charles II was so attractive to the women. He was 6ft 2, adventurous and not averse to sitting up in a tree for a whole day and watching what was going on. It’s a wonderful story. Sadly it’s not mine; it belongs to my son. But you know how married sons tend to leave things at their old home – they say, ‘No room in their old house.’ That’s the story anyway. I don’t think I have anything to add to that. I do have one question actually: it’s dedicated to Thomas Hollis who was the chancellor of Cambridge University. Was he the Thomas Hollis who became Prime Minister of England at some stage, do you know?

GUY HANSEN: I have no idea.

PETER SPEARRITT: I am not sure, but you could easily answer that question on Google.

ANNE: It was a bit confusing - I tried but there were several of them.

GUY HANSEN: It’s a lovely edition of the book. I think your son is very lucky.

PETER SPEARRITT: Isn’t it terrific where it says, as you can all see on the title page, ‘drawn up by himself’ - a touch of Mr Darcy on the title page there.

GUY HANSEN: There’s the inscription you were talking about.

PETER SPEARRITT: From the point of view of a book collector, one of the great things about this edition is that it’s so obvious that it’s been done by hot metal printing because you can actually see the imprint. When you look at what’s called the title verso, the title page, you can see the way the metal type has hit the page. It’s a terrific object from that point of view because this sort of printing is hardly ever done any more. It’s fantastic.

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much, Anne, for bringing that along today.

ANNE: Pleasure.

GUY HANSEN: Next up we have the teapot, which we can see over there [object shown] but I will put it up on the screen so everybody can see it a bit better [image shown]. This belongs to Gillian. Gillian, are you here today? Thank you very much for bringing the teapot in. Can you tell us how you acquired this and what its significance for you is?

GILLIAN: I got it by accident. I thought it was bargeware so I was very intrigued by it. But then I saw photographs of real bargeware and it doesn’t resemble any pictures I have seen. I took a closer look at it after Anne asked me to bring something along and I see that the handle is in the form of an anchor and there are Prince of Wales feathers around the top. I thought well perhaps it’s not the coronation of our dear Queen but somewhat earlier.

GUY HANSEN: It does look a bit earlier to me. What do you think, Peter?

PETER SPEARRITT: I would have guessed about 1890s. But, as you say, there are no makers marks on it so we are not helped from that point of view.

GUY HANSEN: It looks handpainted. I would put it into the nineteenth century as well.

GILLIAN: I was thinking George V because of his association with the navy, and he was Prince of Wales for an awfully long time.

GUY HANSEN: It’s a lovely piece, but what makes pieces more valuable is more information and the history of ownership. It’s a very attractive piece, but I would have to say it’s a mystery to me as to exactly which royal it celebrates or whether you are just seeing the use of royal iconography as a decoration.

PETER SPEARRITT: What you would have to hope is that the various elements here somewhat might make it possible to date it more accurately. There probably will be a handful of experts around the world on this, but they are not always easy to find.

GUY HANSEN: Unfortunately they are not sitting on the stage today. It’s a beautiful object. Thank you very much for bringing that one along.

Let’s have a look what else we have here. We have the souvenir magazine [object shown] which is Rhonda’s. Are you here, Rhonda? Can you tell us a little bit about how you came by this one?

RHONDA: My collection started in 1950 when my parents inherited my grandparents’ home and I discovered in the cellar hessian bags full of magazines dating from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. This one was amongst it and it started my collection.

PETER SPEARRITT: What do you collect?

RHONDA: I don’t any more but I still have the ones I did from when I was a teenager, just cutouts of periodicals.

PETER SPEARRITT: In the royal area primarily?

RHONDA: Absolutely yes, just of the Royal Family. This was given to me in 1952 at school for the royal visit that didn’t happen.

GUY HANSEN: So you were issued with this in anticipation of the royal visit?

RHONDA: Yes.

GUY HANSEN: And of course you had already had this long-term interest.

RHONDA: Yes.

GUY HANSEN: Did you focus on magazines and programs?

RHONDA: Yes. I think relatives must have given me lots of magazines and books for birthday presents etc. I have quite a large collection of Women’s Weekly cutouts and that sort of thing.

PETER SPEARRITT: It’s interesting how many collections actually do start by one bit of happenstance early on like your account of what was in the hessian bags. I think people often think that all collectors are nutters and that they haven’t got anything better to do than watch Antique Roadshow and that somehow they are going to become wealthy because they can pick out bargains. They don’t actually realise that the origins of a lot of collections often go back to childhood and might have nothing to do with the wider world of antique collecting in the first instance.

RHONDA: It’s quite fascinating looking at some of the Women’s Weeklys that I kept in their entirety. Our granddaughter, who has come along with us, said, ‘What’s a girdle?’ We have a full-page ad from Hickory of these girdles.

PETER SPEARRITT: Guy will probably remember this conversation before, but one of the great ironies of collecting long runs of popular periodicals is that libraries didn’t take them very seriously. There was a girly magazine produced in Sydney from the late 1930s called Man magazine which most people would primarily think of -

RHONDA: We weren’t allowed to look at that.

PETER SPEARRITT: But it actually had some quite good journalism in the late 1930s.

GUY HANSEN: He only read it for the articles.

PETER SPEARRITT: So a few years back I was at the Mornington Tyabb Antique Market with one of my sons who was then aged about 10 and this antique dealer in her late 70s had all these copies of Man magazine from the late 1950s so I bought them all. Remember this antique dealer is in her late 70s, and she could see I have my son with me. She said, ‘I didn’t think you’d be that kind of man.’ Then she put her hand over her mouth and said, ‘Oh, perhaps I shouldn’t have said that.’ The whole question was what did she think that kind of a man was.

RHONDA: She had obviously read them.

PETER SPEARRITT: She had them there. It was the kind of magazine you’d find in a men’s barber shop and you’d never have found in a female hair salon.

GUY HANSEN: Is this one of yours?

RHONDA: This is my scrapbook, yes. I think that my grandchildren would say, ‘Why didn’t you go out and buy a scrapbook’ but it wasn’t done in the early 1950s, we were still poor, I suppose. I just stuck pictures upon pictures and glued them all together with flour and water paste.

PETER SPEARRITT: From the historian’s point of view, the magazine covers are better, including the Weldon’s one, because we have the date and the source.

GUY HANSEN: And from the curator’s point of view I am perfectly happy, because the object speaks to your interest in the family. I think the object has a life of its own.

PETER SPEARRITT: Sure.

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much for bringing that along.

This belongs to Ros. I think I saw you earlier. Can you tell us a little bit about how you acquired this object?

ROSLYN RUSSELL: This is a coin that dates from the Jubilee of 1977 at which time I was actually a young mum unemployed and was able then, by means of being unemployed, to go to the exhibition in the train at Central station that was mounted for the Jubilee. I bought this souvenir coin at that particular event. The thing that stands out for me most in that exhibition, which was quite comprehensive even in a railway carriage, it was very smart in silver and blue was the shirt that had been worn by King Charles I for his beheading outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall. This was the most interesting if not the most gruesome artefact in the whole collection. That’s probably the only thing that really sticks in my mind at this distance in time.

PETER SPEARRITT: Who had put it together, Ros, do you know?

ROSLYN RUSSELL: It came out from England. You probably remember it, Peter. It toured in this train in country areas and sat in Central station for quite a long time so that Sydneysiders could see it and presumably went to the other capitals as well. I think it was authorised by the royal household and were things they thought the ex-dominions would be interested in seeing. It was quite an artefact. The other things I have completely forgotten, I have to say, but that stuck in my mind.

PETER SPEARRITT: You have since discovered with a bit of Google research that this is a coin of the realm that has no indication of its value on it?

ROSLYN RUSSELL: Yes, absolutely none. I thought it was a medal. It comes in a little plastic case with what looks like a German eagle on it for some inexplicable reason and has the Queen on horseback.

PETER SPEARRITT: What was its denomination if it had been printed on it?

ROSLYN RUSSELL: It was a crown, so 25 pence presumably. But there is nothing on it to say that you could actually spend it.

PETER SPEARRITT: I think you should now be empowered to go to Heathrow airport and see if you can pick up something with it or whether you will just be arrested because you are trying to pass off a medal as currency.

ROSLYN RUSSELL: I think the latter is more likely, Peter.

GUY HANSEN: Thanks for bringing that in, Ros. Let’s see what we have next, I think we have some more ceramics. This is Sue’s. Hello Sue. Tell me about the mug - are mugs perhaps too common a word? What are we looking at?

SUE: Oh no. In 2004 my husband became the property manager of Australia House so we went to live in England for four years. I applied for a job with the Royal Collection who are the employment arm of the royal household. I won the job there for four years. I worked in security - they refer to them affectionately as ‘wardens’. You wear the Windsor uniform of Prince Charles and your job is to make sure that nobody touches things in Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, the Queen’s Gallery or the Royal Mews. At the end of every summer if you worked in Clarence House you were given a mug by the Prince of Wales of the Clarence House pattern. That is of the Queen Mother. For those of you who might have been into Clarence House, the morning room which Charles had done up after his grandmother died he still kept in the colours of his grandmother, pale blue and beige being her horse racing colours.

All the wardens that worked in Clarence House were given one of these mugs. I have four of which I am very proud. They are no longer given out because the pottery venue that used to make them of course in Stoke on Trent no longer exists. So when you go and work now, you are given a mug from the palace. With William being married, because I am going to the wedding, it is very interesting that the royal collection will put out very much quality pottery and you can buy that. You can buy it online; you can buy it in their three shops. If you are going to buy something like that, it’s very important that you have the stamp like mine has on the bottom ‘the royal collection’, which has the imprimatur of the employment arm of the Royal Family.

PETER SPEARRITT: As you can see, it’s a very fine bit of china. So it’s very interesting to compare to this object. From both a collector’s point of view and I guess a museum display point of view, the fact you have a personal story that goes with it is great and you have four over four years and I assume have kept all the boxes.

SUE: I have kept all the boxes; I am a true collector.

PETER SPEARRITT: Very good, because the boxes count too, as you know.

SUE: And the tissue paper because it has the royal crowns on it. Also for the Queen Mother, she put her imprimatur on what they call Chelsea pottery so that, when you go to Clarence House, in the morning room you have two recessed cupboards that are glass shelfing and that is where you can see Chelsea pottery. You can still buy that through the Royal Collection. It’s quite expensive of course, having the Queen Mother’s imprimatur on it, but it’s the most beautiful of pottery.

PETER SPEARRITT: It is intriguing that there has obviously been a very long and time-honoured tradition of fine pottery and porcelain in the UK. But of course what we are going to find with the coming wedding is that there will be two or three waves of production. You will have the fine pottery production and then you will have the mass market stuff from China as well obviously.

SUE: Yes.

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much for bringing that in, Sue. We have been talking about coins and their role so we have actually got somebody from the Mint here - Felicity. We have a range of images here of objects from the Mint. We have a Silver Jubilee 50 cents. Do you warrant to tell us about some of the coins which the Mint produces in relation to the royals?

FELICITY: Sure. We have quite a proud and long heritage of producing royal memorabilia, I suppose, and probably royal memorabilia that made it into the pockets of pretty much all Australians. Most of our collectibles are quite prolific. We were opened by the Royal Family. We had the Queen out in 2006 and some members of the Mint got to go along. One of my fondest memories of that is we sent one of the gentlemen from our proof room who was quite young and baby faced. The Queen was having a chat with him and said, ‘How long have you been working at the Mint?’ He said ‘16 years’. It was quite funny because usually she is quite reserved and very composed. She reeled back and said, ‘Goodness gracious, did you start when you were six?’ It was quite sweet because she broke with the protocol of saying, ‘lovely to meet you’ and walking along. That was quite nice. We have photos of that of this young man who works in the proof room. Everyone now calls him baby face.

GUY HANSEN: Speaking of people who age gracefully. The Queen herself in her portrayal on the coins - here is from 2000 - you can see the signs of ageing but they are not overly pronounced. Her visage on the coins is a graceful growing old, isn’t it?

FELICITY: We have only had to change the portrait four times. Maybe you even flick back through your own photo album and think about all the different images and looks you’ve had through the years, you’re right, she has aged particularly gracefully. This portrait was done by our Australian engraver, Vladimir Gottwald, and it came second as the effigy chosen to be the main effigy on all the circulating currency. There was a bit of a competition - not that there was prize money or anything – but Ian Rank-Broadley’s portrait was selected as the primary portrait. We used that and Britain uses that, but Canada uses their own, which is not that good. If you can, you should have a look at the Canadian coins, and they are really quite different. This one [object shown] was designed by Stuart Devlin, who is the Queen’s goldsmithing jeweller. Again, I don’t think it hits the mark in terms of portraiture, but he is chosen goldsmith.

PETER SPEARRITT: It looks like a French plot to me.

FELICITY: I don’t know if you have seen any of the recent coins that have come out for William and Kate, but the Royal Mint has very recently issued their engagement coin on an Alderney effigy and I wouldn’t recognise them unless I knew that’s who it was. It is available on the websites. But again Vladimir, who designed that first portrait you saw in 2000 of the Queen, has done the effigies for William and Kate and they are spot on.

GUY HANSEN: So you will have merchandise associated with the royal wedding?

FELICITY: We will. We announced an engagement coin coming out earlier this year. Because we have such a heritage of doing these types of collectibles, we will have certainly have something in this space, which I have seen the drawing boards. It has been signed off by Buckingham Palace last Thursday so it’s all official and ready to go. The Queen, the Prince and Kate, even though Kate didn’t give her word, I was told that Clarence House speaks for her now. I thought that was rather nice.

GUY HANSEN: Thank you very much for bringing these images and talking about coins. You are right, something that everybody likes to collect is the coins. Some wonderful images there and really fascinating stuff.

We are doing fine. I wanted to leave a little bit of time for questions from the audience and we do have about five minutes so that’s really good.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have a cup and saucer at home, amongst hundreds of objects – it’s only very ordinary blue and white – which has the royal visit in 1949, and the only thing I have on the saucer is a portrait of Princess Margaret Rose. What happened to the 1949 visit, I wonder?

PETER SPEARRITT: The King fell ill so the royal tour didn’t happen. So you have this 1949 tour where the King would have come but didn’t happen, and then the 1952 tour that didn’t happen which was going to be the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.

GUY HANSEN: The interesting thing about that 1949 tour is some people speculate as to what impact it would have had on Australian politics, because it is post war, Chifley is Prime Minister and the royal tour - would Chifley have been able to get some of the popularity of having the first monarch? Would it have changed Australian history if the royal tour had happened in 1949 rather than Menzies becoming forever associated? It’s quite interesting to think about that object of a tour that never happened. I like those objects of the tours that didn’t happen. It’s like these alternative histories, these counterfactuals, they’re really interesting objects.

QUESTION: It’s like the mug I have of King Edward VIII who didn’t take the throne. But I also have something which I would like to show you later which is a photo of my father with the Queen.

GUY HANSEN: Good. When we go down to the main hall, if people have brought some other things with them, there will be a bit of a chance for you to pull some things out and have a bit of a chat. I don’t want you to feel that you have completely missed out your opportunities. Any other questions?

QUESTION: Just to say that downstairs I have a number of items going from 1902 to present times and one of them is a 1949 plate. I am wondered if the National Museum of Australia would be interested in it. It’s a portrait of Elizabeth and George VI royal tour 1949. My mother got it in West Wyalong when it was sold for a couple of bob at a hardware shop. They mustn’t have been able to get rid of it but it is another item for 1949. I will show you when I get downstairs.

GUY HANSEN: What Peter and I have observed is that quite a lot of stuff about the 1949 tour does turn up.

PETER SPEARRITT: I think you’re right that it would have been sold off quite promptly because, as soon as it was known the tour wasn’t going to happen, what did you do with the stock?

QUESTION: I am interested in the international royal collections. Today’s presentation has been primarily on the royalty with association with Australia but obviously there is collector interest in New Zealand and UK itself. Have you got any feel for the worldwide collection of royal memorabilia and do Australian collectors collect royal memorabilia for royal visits to other countries? I am not a royal collector myself. I am just interested in the possible worldwide movement.

PETER SPEARRITT: I think most people tend to concentrate on a particular country with their royal collection. I have just been in the North Island of New Zealand and I would say there is more royal material in antique shops in New Zealand now than you would find in Australia, which is interesting. It’s still quite a good place to buy some of the Australian souvenirs. Sometimes people don’t understand the complexity of monarchical organisations in Australia. There’s a famous historian of the British aristocracy called David Cannadine who came to the conference we ran on the monarchy in London, and he couldn’t believe it when I explained that Australia wasn’t actually one monarchy, it was seven. Coming from UK and a central government - this guy is Cambridge educated and has been a professor for 30 years, he had no idea there were six state governors in Australia all also representing the Queen. Of course, you don’t get that in New Zealand because it has a central government as well. You have other oddities here where every state government has a position itself with the monarchy as well as the Federal Government.

Back to Guy’s interesting comment about what would have happened if the royal tour in 1949 had gone ahead, in 1954 there was a fantastic dispute between Menzies, the Protestant Prime Minister, and Joe Cahill, the Catholic Labor Premier of New South Wales, about who would greet the Queen first when she arrived in Sydney Harbour on the SS Gothic. So the solution was that Bob Menzies got to meet her on the water and Joe welcomed her on the land, because the land was New South Wales land and he was a New South Wales premier but Menzies could meet her on the water.

GUY HANSEN: And that spot is in Lady Macquarie’s Chair. There is actually a sandstone wall and an inscription which shows you actually where it happened. So if you are walking around the Botanical Gardens you can see that spot Peter is talking about.

Just on international collections, a collector like Cecil Ballard, who I showed you a picture of before, will collect any royal memorabilia from anywhere. So there are collectors who are fascinated by all aspects. But in the collections of the National Museum of Australia, we very much focus on the connection with Australia. The palace itself, as has already been explained to us, has significant collections of perhaps not so much memorabilia but material associated with the royals. We’re very interested in the costume and jewellery collection which Queen Elizabeth has. If we ever have the chance to do another exhibition, there would be some very significant dresses which she wore and were very famous in Australia. The wattle dress is one which I would love to find out where that is. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find that. It doesn’t seem to be in the royal collection. But there was also jewellery presented to the Queen on her visit and some quite famous Australian pieces were designed. It would be lovely to see them come back to Australia for display as well. It’s an interesting question.

SUE: I have a comment. For those of you who go to England and go during the summer opening of Buckingham Palace there is always a theme. For one of those years they did do Australian memorabilia of gifts that had been given by the Australian government to Her Majesty so they were shown. But I think that year they also incorporated New Zealand. I was quite impressed because they gave her a stereo made out of New Zealand timber. Goodness knows where they put it, but it’s there.

GUY HANSEN: That’s very interesting.

QUESTION: Has there ever been a minor royal that has featured in this memorabilia by some mishap or some popularity? We have the Queen or Kings. Has there ever been a minor royal figure?

GUY HANSEN: Yes, the royal collections which we hold are populated. The thing about ceramics is you will find there are the editions of ceramics that relate to Charles, Di and the Queen. The Franklin Mint and various other companies produce a huge range of materials going down several layers of the Royal Family so they do appear in various ways. As their celebrity perhaps declines you don’t see as much, but in the celebrity style magazines the minor royals are followed quite closely as well. If they manage to embarrass the House of Windsor they will get their photograph in quite prominently as well.

PETER SPEARRITT: To make the obvious point, the Prince of Wales, when he was the Prince of Wales and hasn’t met Mrs Simpson, he visits Australia in 1920, so that produces a lot of material. Given one of my other interests, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the few major events in Australian history which wasn’t presided over by a member of the British Royal Family whereas the opening of the new Parliament House here was. Most of the states’ centenaries and sesquicentenaries saw a member of the British Royal Family coming out: Victoria in 1934, New South Wales in 1938, and so on.

QUESTION: Is that because of Jack Lang’s ego?

PETER SPEARRITT: I think it was a combination of Jack Lang and the fact that the new guard were demanding that the Harbour Bridge be opened by a member of the Royal Family, so Jack Lang decided it wouldn’t be.

GUY HANSEN: We have two more questions and then we will finish up and get a cup of tea after that.

QUESTION: Sue and I have a reasonably comprehensive collection and one of the challenges we looked at to was to see how far back we could go. We discovered that in the early Victorian era there wasn’t too much about. We do have a very ugly vase and a few other things. But I was talking to a dealer one time and he was a coin dealer as well and he said, ‘If you are interested in going back as far as you can, then look at coins.’ At one stage we picked up a silver sixpence from the Elizabeth I era - 1532, I think it is. That was part of a hoard because you can still see quite clearly her image on that coin. It’s interesting to see just how far you can go. Before things were being mass produced obviously there were some lovely pieces around but they were fairly rare and obviously quite expensive.

PETER SPEARRITT: Another comment I would make on that from the point of view of the collectors is that certain collectibles always retain their value because they appeal to multiple markets. So the coins you are talking about are going to have a numismatic market as well as a royal market, if you see what I mean. It’s quite interesting when you look at anybody’s collection as to what’s cost a lot and what hasn’t. It’s often when there are multiple people interested in it that it gets really expensive and with the early ceramics as well of course.

QUESTION: I have a hanky with 1953 on it, the coat of arms, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I know materials probably are very much harder to preserve. China can break but I wondered how to keep this so that it could last much longer through conservation, maybe you could tell me how you would go with materials.

PETER SPEARRITT: Two different sorts of comments and Guy might want to comment on the conservator’s point of view. People would often lightly frame something like that but if you are framing it you have to be very carefully how to place it in the frame so that it’s not being pinned in such a way that the textiles might drag a bit. What is interesting is that one of my friends in Brisbane has Australia’s largest historical teatowel collection and he simply keeps them folded up, as they always were, in a room with a dehumidifier and they are fine. Often with textiles simply with something like a hanky keeping it the way it was originally folded, but it is important that it’s not going to get mouldy so humidity is your biggest enemy.

GUY HANSEN: In terms of maintaining it, the best thing to do is keep it in a dark, dry, place.

QUESTION: It’s in a desk.

GUY HANSEN: You can put it in acid free tissue paper. If you want it to be flat, you can put it between two pieces of archival cardboard. It depends how far you want to go. Peter is right: if you just keep it clean and dry and don’t put it in the sunlight - Sunlight is the enemy. Hanging it is a problem because gravity begins to take effect. They are very straightforward, commonsense things. They are not dissimilar to what we do in our own storage areas.

PETER SPEARRITT: The rarest items always tend to be paper-based things. There are a lot of little paper flags made for the 1954 royal tour. It is very hard to find one of them that is not badly wounded. It’s fairly hard to find one of these, which I was going to give to Guy, which is a cardboard periscope produced for the 1954 royal tour so that, if you were a bit shorter, you could hold up looking at this end and see the Queen from that end. They were quite common. Literally 100,000 of them at least were made and sold for what was called the royal progress so that you could be sure you could see the royals.

GUY HANSEN: I love the arcane link to Gallipoli as well. That’s fantastic. The National Museum would be delighted to add that to the collection. I am assuming you were giving it to us.

PETER SPEARRITT: Yes.

GUY HANSEN: That’s been a fantastic session. I have really enjoyed hearing your stories about your objects. It’s a great privilege to hear Peter and bring his expertise to the table. It’s not over yet. We have a cup of tea in the main hall with an opportunity for you to talk more about your interest in collecting and what you have in your own collections. I should just say a few thank yous. Thank you to Leanne and Heidi who do a lot of the hard work in setting Collectorfest up, the sound guys who are sitting up in a booth up therea and do a great job, and thanks to you guys for coming. It was very much appreciated. Thank you very much. [applause]

Date published: 16 May 2011