Millions of tourists flock to Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare, every year.
2019 marks 250 years since the market town was really put on the map as a tourist destination by then prominent actor and theatre impresario David Garrick, who held what was the world's first celebration of Shakespeare in 1769. By the 1800s, annual celebrations were being held to mark the poet’s birthday, spawning plenty of souvenir items.
In English Tourism Week (30 March-7 April), the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust takes a look at some of those souvenirs, from the 1700s, right up to the present day, that are now held in its museum collections.
An independent charity, the Trust holds the world’s largest Shakespeare-related library, museum and archives that is open to the public, as well as an extensive local history archive of Stratford-upon-Avon and south Warwickshire that includes records dating back to the 12th century. The Trust also manages the Royal Shakespeare Company’s library and archive.
The charity’s Collections are Designated Outstanding by the Arts Council England and in 2018 the Shakespeare Documents held by the Trust — hand-written documents from Shakespeare’s lifetime that mention him by name — were among 90 that were included on the UNESCO International Memory of the World register.
Decorative ornaments and trinkets
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there was huge demand for decorative ornaments produced by the well-known potteries of Staffordshire, such as Pratt, Coalport, Minton and Wedgwood. Some featured famous Shakespearian actors of the day in the roles for which they were best known, while small trinket boxes — such as snuff boxes and money boxes, pictured — have also proved to be popular and collectable.
The earliest souvenir items that were sold in Stratford-upon-Avon are from the mid-1700s, when Thomas Sharp, a clockmaker in the town, made a roaring trade out of items of all shapes and sizes from the remains of a mulberry tree that, according to local legend, was planted by William Shakespeare himself in the grounds of his home, New Place.
Mugs remain among the most popular and commonly bought souvenir objects, and the earliest in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Collections is a cider mug which was made to commemorate the founding of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Club in 1824, left. They have also been produced to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964, centre, and the ‘Man of the Millennium’ from 2000, right.
Novelty items such as Bard bath ducks have been among the bestselling souvenirs for a number of years, including this one is from the 2003 'Celebriduck' range of Shakespeare with quill pen in right hand and scroll bearing 'To be, or not to be’ from Hamlet. Other famous people commemorated in the range were Queen Elizabeth I and Ozzy Osbourne.
Toys and games
In 2003 American firm Accoutrements of Seattle produced this William Shakespeare action figure which featured a removable quill pen and book. The text on the back of the packaging reads: 'Weapon of Choice — Quill pen (mightier than the sword)'.
Stationery items have been produced since at least the 1800s, but more recent objects include plastic quill pens and erasers with Shakespeare quotes, including this black eraser from 2004 featuring the words 'Out, damned spot!’, taken from Macbeth.
In the 1990s Wedgwood produced a jasperware pendant featuring a silhouette bust of the Bard, and a souvenir tray in the same style.
Postcards, greetings cards, wall plaques, fridge magnets, paintings, prints and tapestry panels with images relating to Shakespeare and his life and work have been produced over more than 200 years, including this Ivorex plaque depicting Anne Hathaway's Cottage, which was made by the B. Osbourne Company in England in 1916.
In the late 19th century/early 20th century, York-based Rowntree and Co. Ltd produced a box of sweets that were in this metal tin that featured scenes from Shakespeare plays.
Shakespeare’s works were first published in 1623 and the First Folio remains the source of many souvenirs. Among the current range on sale exclusively at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s shops are notebooks, fridge magnets, bags and this tea towel featuring the frontispiece of the Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.