Rowntree’s royal chocolate tins

Commemorative chocolate tins.
Commemorative chocolate tins.

Written by Jeannie Swales

Just two years apart, and yet a turbulent period of British royal history separates these two objects: chocolate tins given as commemorative gifts by the Corporation of Scarborough, the Borough Council of its day.

The first tin, of silver metal, marks the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935 – the pair had spent 25 years on the throne. It was presented to some lucky recipient by the Mayor of Scarborough, Cllr FC Whittaker. Francis Whittaker was a prominent member of the family which founded the Scarborough Evening News, now the Scarborough News, in 1882.

The second, gold, tin is a souvenir to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in May 1937. It was the gift of that year’s Mayor, Alderman JW Butler.

The reverse of both tins tells us that they were made by Rowntree & Co Ltd of York, Cocoa and Chocolate Makers – although the first tin bears the royal coat of arms, and Rowntree proudly proclaims itself as maker ‘to their majesties the King and Queen’; presumably the Royal Warrant had yet to be granted at the time of the coronation in May 1937.

King George V died in January 1936, and King George VI ascended the throne in December of the same year. In the intervening 10 months, of course, one of the biggest scandals ever to rock the British royal family took place – the abdication of King Edward VIII.

George VI’s older brother had ascended to the throne on January 20 on the death of his father. But he was already involved with a woman whose past history was scarlet enough to threaten the British constitution had she become queen.

Not only was the dashing Wallis Simpson an American, but she had already divorced two husbands, both of them still living. Even more scandalously, she was still married to her second, Ernest, when she became involved with the future king.

Unwilling to live without ‘the woman I love’ (known to some of the other royals, less flatteringly, as ‘that woman’), Edward rocked the monarchy and created constitutional history by abdicating. The couple spent the rest of their lives in informal exile in France.

Edward’s coronation had been planned for May 12, 1937 – instead, on the same date, his brother and sister-in-law donned the robes. It was the first coronation to be broadcast on the radio, and to be filmed.

These souvenir chocolate tins are part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For more information on the Collections, and how and where to see them, please call (01723) 384503 or visit