STOKE-ON-TRENT: In his ceramics workshop, Simon Willis proudly displays the collection of tableware he produced for the 70th year of the reign of Elizabeth II, with a barely concealed dream of the monarch to add one of these items to his personal collection.
“We have no chance of seeing a queen or a king on the throne again for 70 years,” says the owner of Goviers, a commemorative pottery company based in Stoke-on-Trent, in central England, for over thirty years. “It’s not nothing!”
Elizabeth II ascended the throne on February 6, 1952, and the celebrations are scheduled for June. On this occasion, since July last year, Goviers has been selling a series of Platinum Jubilee cups and plates with very English floral motifs.
The work is painstaking, each motif is first printed in colored pieces, and then placed by hand on a cup or thin porcelain plate. With a brush, the ceramist gives the ware its final golden hue, which is then fired before it is ready for sale.
From the damp mug to the final touches of paint, it’s all made in Stoke-on-Trent. Conveniently located in the Midlands, with clay for making pottery and charcoal for firing, the city became the world’s center for pottery around 1800, flourishing for decades before plunging into decline between the closure of factories and the move to Asia.
“Very English tradition”
“Many factories have gone overseas because of the cost” of production and don’t have a special collection for the royal jubilee, says Simon Willis, 58. “I think the market is not big enough. »
Accidentally fascinated by ceramics after studying economics with a degree in automotive industry, he did not hesitate to create his anniversary series, knowing that his customers, 90% British, are collectors.
“They probably have plates at home to celebrate the queen’s wedding, her coronation, all these events …,” he emphasizes. “It’s a tradition, I think, very English.”
Selling at prices ranging from £45 for a small cup (€54) to £175 for a large plate, Goviers ware is really not meant to be used as a simple kitchen utensil, but to be displayed alongside other commemorative pottery.
“The British ceramics industry has always had a knack for celebrating events big and small,” says Simon Willis. “The great thing about ceramics is that what is produced today, if taken care of, will still be there when my son dies. Because we produce something that inherently lasts forever.”
Still very popular as she approaches her 96th birthday, souvenirs dedicated to the royal family or queen are consistently rejected and continue to be sold at every birth, wedding or royal celebration.
According to the UK Retail Centre, these souvenirs brought in almost £200 million (€240 million at current exchange rates) during the previous anniversary in 2012, when five million commemorative mugs and pottery were sold.
This year, four days of Platinum Anniversary celebrations are scheduled for early June, with a military parade, a big concert and thousands of popular dinners across the country. Despite Brexit and the pandemic, many tourists are expected.
Govier expects to sell only a few hundred cups and plates, but he hopes that his dishes will be remembered by people.
“It’s always something special to do something related to a royal event that will be celebrated all over the world,” explains Simon Willis, who dreams of the monarch having one of his ceramics.
“Obviously the Queen has a huge collection,” he says. But “it’s still very exciting to imagine that perhaps some of our works will fall into the hands of Her Majesty.”