Object of the Month: December 2017

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift tin, 1914, at Cornwall's Regimental Museum

Princess Mary’s 1914 Christmas Gift

It’s that time of year when we are all busy writing our Christmas list to send to Santa – maybe you’re asking for a new phone, a games console, or just a pair of nice warm socks, but how would you like an ounce of tobacco or a packet of acid tablets?  In 1914, many would have received a small brass tin containing such items at Christmas from the Princess Mary Gift Fund.

Princess Mary, the 17 year old daughter of King George V, had been planning to buy a Christmas gift for “every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front” from her own personal allowance, but was instead persuaded to put her name to a public fund that would raise the necessary money through donations.

Princess Mary - Christmas Gift 1914 - Cornwall's Regimental Museum

The young Princess Royal took a great personal interest in the work of the fund and issued a heartfelt appeal, which was met with great success.  The total eventually reached £162, 591 12s 5d, more than enough to send gifts to the troops on the front lines, and the scope of the project was expanded to include the wounded, nurses, and the widows or parents of those who had been killed.

The ongoing First World War meant obtaining enough brass to make the embossed tins was difficult, and even as late as January 1919, after the war was over, it was reported that not all those eligible had received their gift yet.  By the time the Fund was closed in 1920, more than two and a half million boxes had been provided.

The brass tins were packed with different gifts depending on the intended recipients – smokers could look forward to a pipe, an ounce of tobacco, a packet of 20 cigarettes and a tinder lighter.  Non-smokers received a packet of acid tablets and a khaki writing case with paper and pencil.  Indian troops were given sweets and spices, and nurses were sent chocolate. Servicemen not on the front received a pencil, the brass case resembling a bullet.  Every box contained a picture of the Princess and a card.

The gift on display in the WW1 gallery at Bodmin Keep appears to be a smoker’s tin, and contains a card that reads –

“With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year”.

Princess Mary's Christmas Gift, on display at Cornwall's Regimental Museum
Princess Mary’s Christmas Gift, on display at Bodmin Keep


Visitors can see the tin on display in the museum, which is open throughout the year.  Please do check for seasonal changes to the opening hours before planning your visit.


See our Object of the Month for November 2017 here: The Lucknow Silver