The Personal Archive of Louis Osman, Goldsmith and Architect

Date of Auction: 27th March 2018

Sold for £5,500

Estimate: £400 - £600

Louis Osman Archive: Material relating to the making of the Prince of Wales Investiture Crown, comprising a set of nine ink, watercolour and gift cards showing ideas of details for the crown, mounted on blue card board, three sheets of preliminary designs for the structure of the crown on tracing paper, further A4 sketches for various elements of the the crown and preliminary ideas for the whole, along with photographs, the model ‘head’ on which the crown was constructed, a small selection of photographic slides of the finished crown in its travelling case and a reel of 16mm film footage of the making of the crown (digital copy also included). £400-600


Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales on 1st July 1969. When preparations for the ceremony began, the regalia was inspected and it was decided a new crown would be appropriate; the Goldsmiths’ Company offered to present HM the Queen with the gift of a new crown and Louis Osman was privileged to be asked to design and make it.

Louis studied all he could about crowns, coronets and past investitures; he took advice from Sir Anthony Wagner, the Garter King of Arms, and had to balance various instructions, including the warrant of King Charles II which states that “
the Coronet of the Prince of Wales should be composed of Crosses and Flower de Lizes with one arch and in the midst a Ball and Cross”, while Prince Charles himself requested “a crown of our time”. It was agreed there should be four crosses pattées symbolising protection and four fleur- de-lys for purity around the circlet; a prince’s crown has one arch and Louis felt it was important that the circlet and arch be formed in one piece.

The Times, in July 1969 recorded:

“..the crown represented the Prince and Prince Paramount in the Principality of Wales. The orb and cross surmounting the single arch show the prince and the whole world as subject to the domination of the Cross. However the Medieval world has expanded, within an expanding universe, so the meridian and horizon bands that previously hugged the orb (or monde or pomum) are carried free. Delicately enamelled in sky-blue, the bands are almost invisible; however they carry vertically thirteen diamonds set to the pattern of the constellation of Scorpio (Prince Charles was born in November) and horizontally, on each side of the centre seven more - the seven deadly sins and the seven gifts of God under the dominion of the finial cross. The earliest form of orb was known as a pomum, and it is a nice thought that the cross above might be dominating original sin. Later the terrestrial monde became the acceptable derivation, and the green of the apple became the green of the earth. The monde is made in one piece and carries in the most delicate engraving by Malcolm Appleby, the special attributes of the Prince of Wales. There are the dragon, the Lion of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and of the royal supported and its unicorn counterpart - the latter is also an allusion to the Goldsmiths’ Company - and this triple bestiary is echoed by the three corn stooks of the Earldom of Chester; the Prince of Wales and the Black Prince’s feathers are entwined with the fifteen bezants of the Dukedom of Cornwall, and from the mouths of the
beasts issue the mottos: ‘Y ddraig goch ddry cychwyn (the red dragon give impetus’, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ and ‘Ich dien’.

Louis decided the best way to form a
Corona aurea integra or ‘crown of pure gold’, was using the unusual method of electro-forming, rather than the traditional methods of hammering or casting elements and then jointing. A piece of electro-formed goldwork of this size and scale had never been attempted before, but with the help of metallurgist Peter Gainsbury, BJS Electroplating Company and Engelhard Industries, and after a few false starts, they succeeded. The result is, in the words of Graham Hughes, a past director of Goldsmiths’ Company “deservedly the best known piece of new British gold of this century”.

Louis was known for his slightly relaxed attitude to punctuality and Graham Hughes records that prior to the delivery date, HM the Queen enquired of a mutual friend whether the crown would be on time: “Certainly ma’am” came the reply, “It will arrive at the very last moment, and will be a work of high genius, but the artist may be covered in straw and the floor of his van may be covered in cow pats”. The prognostication, to everyone’s relief and delight, proved accurate.

See: Louis Osman Gold Exhibition, Goldsmiths’ Hall, February 1971, cat no 1.
See: Osman, An exhibition at Canons Ashby, May 1974, cat no 1.
See: Treasures of the 20th century, Goldsmiths’ Company exhibition, cat no 274.