Chief among the ubiquitous English country house furnishings we notice on tours led by Curt DiCamillo of the New England Historic Genealogical Society is the velvet- or velour-covered coronation chair. Not to be confused with the more famous St. Edward's Chair or King Edward's Chair - the ancient wooden chair used by the monarch at coronations - the chairs and stools we encounter at stately homes and castles in the United Kingdom accommodated guests at the Coronations of George VI in 1937 and Elizabeth II in 1953. They were later sold by the government to attendees. Naturally, there is a pecking order to these things: chairs were more desirable; stools were supposedly used for less important guests. Coronation chairs for George V also exist but, apparently, are different and, so far, have eluded this observer's eye.
Today, coronation chairs are highly prized by families of original guests and collectors alike. The George VI chairs are framed in limed oak and upholstered in dark green velvet; the Elizabeth II chairs are made in a silvered oak with a dark blue velvet upholstery. Both feature the royal cipher in gold thread and are stamped underneath with the sovereign's initials.
Some coronation chairs fetch high prices at auction. Various websites report that the stools used by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at the coronation of George VI sold for $2,500, while a major royal keepsake, Queen Mary's chair from 1937, auctioned from Princess Margaret's belongings, reached almost 40,000 Pounds.
When the chairs were originally sold they were offered first to the individuals who had been in the congregation at Westminster Abbey. Leftovers were later dispersed to others at auction. In 1953, it was announced in Parliament that the recently-used chairs and stools would be made available for purchase.
Here is an abstract of that announcement and discussion from the House of Lords:
The Earl of Munster: My Lords, my right honorable friend the Minister of Works wishes to inform guests who attended the Coronation Service in Westminster Abbey that the chairs and stools used by the congregation may now be purchased ... chairs will cost 7-10s-0d and stools 4-7s-6d each, including packing and delivery ... applications may also be made for the purchase of carpets and damask frontals ...etc., etc.
Lord Strabolgi: Before we go on ... I forget what we did last time; I know that I obtained two of those very beautiful chairs at the last Coronation: do we collect them ourselves or are they delivered, or what happens?
The Earl of Munster: If any noble Lord is lucky enough to obtain one or more chairs, the cost is 7-10s-0d, each will include package and delivery.
Lord Strabolgi: Delivery to his home?
The Earl of Munster: Yes.
Viscount Long: Does this apply to Peeresses as well?
The Earl of Munster: My Lords, any individual who was a guest at the Abbey can make application for a chair or a stool.
The next time you are in an English country house, keep your eyes peeled for these precious mementos of the 1937 and 1953 Coronations.