GOING home with a souvenir following a visit to Shakespeare’s Stratford is something tourists have been doing for centuries.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is marking English Tourism Week by showcasing souvenirs dating back to the 1700s – from items supposedly made from a mulberry tree planted by the bard himself at New Place, to rubber ducks and even an action figure.
And 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 playwright’s birthday, spawning plenty of souvenir items.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s (SBT) collection contains many of the Shakespeare’s souvenirs from the 18th century through to the present day.
The earliest souvenir items that were sold in Stratford 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.
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 Shakespearean actors of the day in the roles in which they were best known rich inspiration provided.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, York-based Rowntree and Co. Ltd produced a box of sweets in a metal tin featuring scenes from the plays.
Mugs remain among the most popular and commonly bought souvenirs, and the earliest in SBT’s collection is a cider mug which was made to commemorate the founding of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare Club in 1824.They have also been produced to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1964, and the Man of the Millennium from 2000.
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 famous line of Lady Macbeth – ‘Out, damned spot!’.
Then there have been countless postcards and greetings cards, paintings and prints, alongside wall plaques, fridge magnets, paintings, tea towels and more.
And in 2003 an American firm produced a William Shakespeare action figure complete with, to quote the packaging, ‘Weapon of Choice Quill pen (mightier than the sword)’.