Designed by P Vincze, 1969. Gilt Silver, Museum number 2000.149, Commissioned by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Purchased by Samuel Johnson Birthplace 6th November 1969
In 1769, the city of Stratford upon Avon held their first Shakespeare Jubilee in honour of Shakespeare’s 200th birthday. Shakespeare was actually born in 1564, not 1569, which meant the people of Stratford were celebrating his birthday five years late! This happened because the council needed to build a new town hall as the old one was crumbling. The builders gave them a quote their budget could afford and they went to work. Unfortunately it took longer than expected and meant that the construction became more expensive. The council could not afford this and so they tried to find new sources of money.
The funding slowly increased but they still needed decorations for the inside of the new town hall. In 1767, Wheler, an attorney on business in London, heard a lot about David Garrick’s love of Shakespeare and decided to flatter the man into giving something to the new town hall. After seeing what was on offer to him - flattery and the opportunity to honour Shakespeare - Garrick decided to send them a statue and painting of Shakespeare from his own personal collection. It was decided by the Council that Garrick should be awarded the first freedom of Stratford inside a mulberry-wood box made from Shakespeare’s tree which had been cut down by an irritated Reverend 11 years before. Garrick wondered about what he could do for the grand opening of the new town hall and decided that the city should hold a jubilee.
The Jubilee took place on 6th-8th September 1769 and Garrick planned for three days of spectacular fun. On the first day, Stratford struggled to cope with the influx of visitors. The festivities began with canon fire to wake up the visitors followed with a public breakfast in the town, then by Garrick being awarded a medal made of mulberry wood to signify his office as Steward of the Jubilee. The day ended with a ball in a specially constructed marquee on the banks of the river Avon. On the morning of the second day, the heavens opened. The rainfall flooded the streets and burst the banks of the river. The parade of Shakespeare’s characters was cancelled but Garrick still performed his Ode to Shakespeare. The firework display was a failure and the masked ball in the evening was almost called off. On the final day most of the visitors had attempted to leave and only a small group attended the horse race.
Despite initial negative response from the upper class towards this celebration, claiming it was ‘vulgar’ in nature, the Jubilee left its mark. Not only was the disaster turned into a satirical play (which was performed at Drury Lane 153 times!) but it helped catapult Stratford onto the map.
This twentieth century medallion is a commemoration of a commemoration. It is a gilt silver medal made to celebrate 200 years passing. On the obverse is Garrick in his role as Steward underneath theatre curtains with his Ode to Shakespeare written beneath. Comedy and Tragedy are at the bottom. On the reverse is Shakespeare flanked by a man and woman who are paying homage to him. It also states ‘200th Anniversary of the Stratford Jubilee’ in the centre with the dates ‘1769-1969’ at the bottom. Our numismatic collection holds seven medals; there are two other Garrick medallions under our care, both from the eighteenth century.
The Medal can be seen on display at Dr Johnson's House, Gough Square, London, until the end of January 2018