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Sharing Shakespeare Souvenirs: past and present

This post accompanies the display at Anne Hathaway's Cottage which is part of research being carried out by Tara Hamling and Cathryn Enis at the University of Birmingham.

Tara Hamling

A visit to the Shakespeare houses also offers the opportunity for some retail therapy. Looking around the gift shop extends the museum experience and plays an important part in shaping the sense of heritage that we take home and share with others. When browsing or shopping for souvenirs we participate in a long historical and cultural tradition, with a striking amount of continuity.

This blog shares a selection of crafted items from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust collections currently on display at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. They show how designers and visitors have responded to the vision of domestic life represented by the Cottage. Dating from the 19th century to the present day these decorated wares have a strong visual impact but they also link in interesting ways with domestic spaces and practices. Displayed in dining rooms and kitchens, or given as gifts, such objects serve as a way of capturing memory and sharing the qualities of this unique historic property with friends and family. In this way ‘souvenirs’ can be powerful expressions of identity, communicating an appreciation of literary and cultural history within the styling of our own homes. 

Prattware plate with turquoise rim, mid to late 19th century
SBT 1972-9/1 Prattware plate with turquoise rim, mid to late 19th century

The transfer-printed picturesque view on this 19th century plate produced in Staffordshire by F. & R. Pratt and Co. became the standard image of the Cottage and adorned a range of domestic items. This ornate plate formed part of a set with various historic sites. The Victorian celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer, addressing the ‘Modern Housewife’ in 1850 offers an insight into how such ceramics were used; he says dessert plates decorated with views of French chateaux provided guests at evening parties with “a subject for conversation to those who have visited them”.

Prattware potlid showing cottage and cattle, mid to late 19th century
SBT 1956-2/2.4 Prattware potlid showing cottage and cattle, mid to late 19th century

The standard image of the Cottage in its picturesque, rural setting was also used by F. & R. Pratt and Co. to decorate lids of pots used for a range of popular products, including bear’s grease, gentleman’s relish and cosmetics. Many potlids were subsequently framed to hang on the wall, as with this example, showing how these originally practical lids were valued for their visual and symbolic appeal.

Trinket box with cottage on lid, Mauchline ware, c.1900
SBT 1991-97 Trinket box with cottage on lid, Mauchline ware, c.1900

Here is another typical view of the Cottage, this time on a small trinket box. Wooden souvenirs with views of historic sites were produced in Mauchline, a town in Scotland, from the mid-19th century until the 1930s. Wooden objects more usually commemorate Shakespeare rather than his wife, but this little box evokes the romantic associations of the Cottage and might have held pins or jewellery.

Tealight holder by W. H. Goss, early 20th century
SBT 1998-22/2 Tealight holder by W. H. Goss, early 20th century

This miniature replica of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, one of a numbered series, was designed as an ornament that could take pride of place in the living room, possibly with a candle inside to create a warming glow. It was produced by W. H. Goss of Stoke-on-Trent, one of the most important souvenir and commemorative ware manufacturers from the late 19th century into the 1930s.

Small brass tray with cottage, 1930s
SBT 2003-14 Small brass tray with cottage, 1930s

This little metal tray was given to the Trust in 2003 by a donor whose grandfather purchased it when he visited the Cottage in the mid 1930s. Once in the home it could serve as a general purpose tray for small items such as pins or coins or as a coaster on a side or dining table.

Mercian China pottery jug with cottage, 1970s
SBT 1998-5/14 Mercian China pottery jug with cottage, 1970s

By the 1970s mass tourism and more international visitors fostered mass production of souvenirs, but this little pottery milk jug for domestic use has much in common with the earlier Victorian items. Made by the Mercian China Co. in Burton-on-Trent, it features the familiar, traditional image of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and an inscription in antique style to further evoke a sense of the distant past.

Souvenir tea-towel, 1980s, designed by Julia Killingbeck
SBT 1990-16/7 Souvenir tea-towel, 1980s, designed by Julia Killingbeck

Vividly decorated with image and text, tea-towels are one of the most common souvenirs recording historic sites and scenic sights. Associated with the kitchen, these textile items are highly practical and expressive though less durable than ceramic, wood and metal souvenirs. This colourful examplefrom the 1980s represents Anne and William’s marriage through the houses where they were born.

Bone china mug, 2017, designed by Alison Gardiner
Bone china mug, 2017, designed by Alison Gardiner

This fine china mug made in Stoke-on-Trent is decorated with a bright, modern design by Alison Gardiner, but the depiction of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in its rural setting is a familiar one, acknowledging and continuing the traditional forms and imagery of early souvenirs. Like tea-towels heritage mugs allow us to remember and recount our visits while carrying out homely practices such as drinking tea and washing up. The mug continues the long tradition of using ceramics to prompt memory and stimulate conversation.

Anne Hathaway toiletries: hand cream, 2017
Anne Hathaway toiletries: hand cream, 2017

Toiletries are a relatively recent staple of the museum gift shop, but again there is a sense of continuity; the Prattware pot lid in this display may have contained cosmetics, while the idea of domestic work by female hands is behind many souvenir items associated with dining. The floral scent of this modern hand cream evokes Anne’s rural cottage while the decorative seal of William Shakespeare adds the authority of her famous husband.   


Come to Anne Hathaway's Cottage to see the display from 29 August until 27 October. A collaboration between researchers at the University of Birmingham and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Share photos of your own Shakespeare souvenirs and tell us what makes them special using #shakespearesouvenirs 

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