Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 & 20 September 2013)

Date of Auction: 19th & 20th September 2013

Sold for £8,200

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

‘For many weeks we have all been greatly concerned for the welfare of the Sailors and Soldiers who are gallantly fighting our battles by sea and land. Our first consideration has been to meet their more pressing needs, and I have delayed making known a wish that has long been in my heart for fear of encroaching on other funds, the claims of which have been more urgent.

I want you all now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole nation to every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front. On Christmas-eve when, like the shepherds of old, they keep their watch, doubtless their thoughts will turn to home and to the loved ones left behind, and perhaps, too, they will recall the days when as children themselves they were wont to hang out their stockings wondering what the morrow had in store.

I am sure that we should all be the happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war. Could there be anything more likely to hearten them in their struggle than a present received straight from home on Christmas day?

Please, will you help me?’

The appeal letter from H.R.H. Princess Mary to the British Public, dated 15 October 1914, which led to the manufacture and distribution of her Christmas 1914 Gift Tin.

An excessively rare and evocative relic of the Great War, namely an officially sealed distribution box containing 81 Princess Mary Christmas 1914 Gift Tins, complete with bullet pencils

The cardboard box measuring 26cm. x 31cm. x 32cm., with lead seal stamped ‘M’ at sealing knot, the contents of which - 81 Princess Mary Christmas 1914 Gift Tins, complete with bullet pencils - have been verified by X-Ray scans which are included
(Lot) £6000-8000


At a meeting held in the Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly, London, on 14 October 1914, H.R.H. Princess Mary inaugurated a special fund to pay for the manufacture and distribution of her now well-known Christmas 1914 Gift Tin.

The General Committee established that day included the Prime Minister, Churchill, and Kitchener, together with a host of representatives from Parliament and the Commonwealth, a powerful body that ensured popular support, though famously many of the tins did not reach their intended recipients in time - indeed some of them were still being distributed as late as 1919, a delay compounded by the fact the issuance numbers were extended to all men and women in uniform on 25 December 1914, not just those at sea or at the front.

The brass embossed tin, designed by Messrs. Adshead & Ramsey, bore a bust of Princess Mary within a laurel wreath, with the legend ‘Imperium Britannicum’ flanked by a sword and scabbard above, ‘Christmas 1914’ below, and the monogram ‘M’ to the left and right. Around the edges of the lid were embossed the names of the Allied powers.

The contents differed according to the intended recipient - thus, instead of the usual pipe, tobacco and cigarettes, non-smokers received acid tablets, Indian troops spices or candy, and nurses chocolates. All contained a royal greetings card, and the majority the bullet pencil. And given the latter content in the above described tins, but no indication of anything else from the X-Rays, it is interesting to speculate as to whether they were intended for boy ratings, another variation to be found in the choice of constituents.

The statistics arising from Princess Mary’s initiative make fascinating reading - with a closing account of nearly £200,000, the Fund was able to cover the costs of some 2,600,000 gift tins, the whole distributed by War Office, Admiralty, India Office, Colonial Office and the High Commissions of the Colonies. And in terms of contents, some 710,000 pipes were purchased, together with 44,000lbs. of tobacco and over 13 million cigarettes. But the number of tinder lighters that were purchased fell below par owing to the fact ceric stones from Austria were required in the manufacturing process - and the Austrians did not feel inclined to replenish the supplies when they ran out!

See Howard Williamson’s
The Collector and Researchers Guide to the Great War for numerous illustrations of tins and contents, and much fascinating information; so, too, Diana Condell’s A Gift for Christmas: The Story of Princess Mary’s Gift Fund, 1914 (Imperial War Museum Review, No. 4, 1989).