Snapshots of Royal Christmas Shopping

Mikael AlmProfessor of History, Project Manager

Volume F. 413 in the Gustavian Collection holds a collection of documents by Gustav III’s hand regarding various ceremonial and festive occasions, ranging from his coronation and royal weddings to tournaments and everyday court etiquette. Among these documents are three lists of Christmas presents for the royal family and courtiers: one from 1781, one from 1786, and one undated (a reference to “the new Opera House” suggests that it was written post-1782 when the Opera opened). It remains an enigma why Gustav III chose to preserve these three particular lists (he most likely wrote similar lists for every Christmas). Still, the lists offer insights into Gustavian court life and Christmas celebrations and—more specifically—into the Christmas preparations of Gustav III.

In 1781, the Queen and the Duchess both got jewelry, the latter, more specifically, “A Watch with pearls and Chain with pearls”. The King’s brothers—the Duke of Södermanland and the Duke of Östergötland—both got furniture: the former got a divan “for his large Cabinet” and a bureau for his bed chamber, the latter a writing bureau “with a Bronze Group”. His sister, Princess Sophia Albertina, got a “feather” (assumingly a fan) with “two rows of diamonds”. The higher courtiers, closest to the King, also got specified presents, such as “ A Brilliant ring”, “A ring with my portrait and jewels”, and “A pair of Cabinets with marble tops”.

F. 413. List, 1781 (first page).

Oddly, the Crown Prince, Gustav Adolf (3 years old at the time), is not included in the 1781 list, but the 1786 list can exemplify what the royal father would buy for his (by-then 8-year-old) royal heir. Among the seven items listed, there are framed engravings of “La Gallerie du Luxembourg”, “birds in birdcages”, “Books with prints”, and “A pair of pistols”.

F. 413. List, 1786 (the Crown Prince’s presents are found in the middle of the page (by “til Cron Printsen”).

In the 1781 list, the specified recipients and their presents are followed by a long list of items under the heading “The Lottery” (there is a similar, separate, list for 1786). These were the presents that the King bestowed upon his courtiers. They were distributed by way of a jolly lottery on Christmas Eve. One of the King’s chamberlains, Gustaf Johan Ehrensvärd, describes the scenes in his diary in 1779. The King “arranged the presents”, and the courtiers assembled around “a large table”, where the lots were drawn and the presents distributed. In all 30 items are listed, amounting to a value of 708 Dalers, which was a considerable sum, effectively staging the King’s benevolence and generosity (as a comparison, the court’s highest official, the Marshal of the Realm, earned 1,500 Dalers annually). Among the items are “a sewing box”, “a binocular”, “A tea Table”, “a Golden watch Chain”, “A Group of Porcelaine de Sevre”, “A Toilette Table in mahogany”, “A gilded pendule”, “A pair of Silver Candlesticks”, and “Two Crystal Girandoles”.

F. 413. List, 1781 (second page, written on the back side of the first page, above).

The third, undated list is more of a royal ahead-of-Christmas to-do list (combined with seemingly unrelated lists of names of female and male courtiers to act in one of the King’s many theatre plays). It ranges from rather laconic notes such as “Christmas Present for Duke Carl” and “ditto for Duke Fredrick”, to more thought-provoking and exciting comments such as “see what Shuter has in his shop” (the King is probably referring to Josef Schürer, one of Stockholm’s shopkeepers and supplier of luxurious and fashionable goods), notes on jewels to be valued, and “my wardrobe to see what fabrics I have there” (this would indicate an element of re-use of things already in his possession alongside the purchase of new items).

F. 413. List, undated (the notes regarding Christmas presents are in the left column).

Thus, time may have passed, and budgets might differ, but the chase for the right Christmas presents for each and all seems to remain the same.

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