In the months following the late queen’s funeral and the run-up to the coronation this month, both collectors and dealers have been showing heightened interest in ‘Coronation Furniture’: the chairs and stools used by (and sold to) the guests at the four 20th century coronations.
Prices – at least for the later George VI and Elizabeth II examples – are rising.
Edward VII’s coronation (1902) reflected Britain’s status as a great imperial power. Invitations ran to 8000 guests – so, for the first time, chairs and stools were manufactured specifically for the coronation.
The design of the Edward VII chairs (by Glenisters of High Wycombe) is in a practical Arts & Crafts style, loosely based on rustic chairs of the early 19th century, with rush seats and double stretchers.
Unlike the George V chair, the royal cypher (ER VII and crown) and ‘coronation’ stamps are visible on the back seat rail.
Stools, likewise, are in a simple rustic style. Surprisingly, chairs can still be acquired at auction for prices well below £100 (with a chair selling for £20 at Moore Allen & Innocent last November). As ever, provenance is key: a chair from the estate of the late Lady Lucan secured £980 at Holloway’s in 2018, against an estimate of £300-400.
In contrast, the chairs made for the coronation of George V (1911) are in a typically Edwardian ‘Chippendale’ style.
Sometimes described as ‘rare’, George V chairs appear to be scarce – at least when catalogued as ‘coronation chairs’. Although we can assume the manufacture of several thousand chairs (there were 6000 guests), it is possible that some are passing through auction unnoticed: sold as nondescript side-chairs in the Chippendale style, especially as the coronation stamps (found on the inside, or underside, of the seat rail) are easy to miss.
Still, there are bargains to be found (even when catalogued correctly by the auctioneers).
A chair sold for £48 at Aldridges of Bath in April 2022, for example.
The George V stools, again, are in a simple rustic style: a pair by Thomas Glenister & Co sold for £110 at Piers Motley in March.
As with the reign of Edward VIII, the origin of his supposed coronation chairs remains controversial, with the assumption that Edward Barnsley (the Cotswolds furniture maker) designed the chairs for a slimmed-down coronation set for May 1937.
Yet, so far, no evidence of Barnsley’s involvement has come to light. At the same time, chairs have surfaced with a George V stamp, proving a design pre-dating Edward VIII’s accession in January 1936. Secondly, chairs have turned up with Air Ministry and Elizabeth II coronation stamps, suggesting a more general Ministry of Works design – later used as extra seating for the 1953 coronation.
A set of six chairs (with the crucial GR V and ER stamps, catalogued accurately by Mallams, Oxford) fetched £2800 (estimate: £3000-5000) in December 2020.
Regal in feel
The chairs and stools for the coronation of George VI (1937) are in a Tudorbethan ‘Farthingale’ pattern, upholstered in blue velvet for the coronation of George VI (fading over time to sea green) and then reproduced in royal blue (with the queen’s embroidered cypher) for Elizabeth II (1953).
As George VI had only a few months to plan his coronation, this may be the original design for the cancelled Edward VIII ceremony.
Significantly, the George VI chair and stool are regal in feel – reflecting the monarchy’s need to rebrand itself for radio, cinema newsreel, and later the televisual age.
And prices are on the move: in November, a decent George VI coronation chair made a respectable £850 at Roseberys, against an estimate of £300-500, while an Elizabeth II chair and stool (from the estate of General Sir Frederick Pile, Bt) fetched £1700 at Dreweatts in 2021.
More recently, an Elizabeth II chair, with a provenance confirming its use by HRH The Duchess of Kent, achieved a healthy £2800 at JS Fine Art in September 2022.
Another sought-after piece is the ‘Red Chair’, created by Lord Snowdon for the Prince of Wales’ investiture at Carnarvon Castle in 1969, with the help of the Ministry of Works’ brutalist designer, John Pound, and stage designer Carl Toms.
Made by disabled people at the Remploy Factory in south Wales, the chair featured in a slick marketing brochure and was offered for sale (after the event) flat-packed, boxed- and ready to go.
Although the Ministry of Works commissioned 4600 chairs for the ceremony, examples in immaculate condition command a premium. In February, Canterbury Auction Galleries sold a chair for £360, with another chair taking a buoyant £1200 (estimate: £260-280) at Dreweatts in January.
At the same time, the relatively unknown Silver Jubilee Chair (1977) – a limited edition replica of the peer’s coronation chair – may prove to be a sound investment for canny buyers. Last November, a chair sold for £210 at Reeman Dansie.