Posted by Chris on 09/06/2023
Father’s Day in the UK is a celebration of – you guessed it – fathers. And whilst many dads won’t be overly bothered if they don’t receive a gift from their children, it’s still a nice way to show one’s thanks to a person who has been so influential.
In this article, we’re exploring the origins of Father’s Day, before looking at some dad-friendly antique gift ideas just for you.
Unlike Mothering Sunday, which is a traditional Christian holiday in the UK, Father’s Day has much more recent, if morbid, roots.
You’ll be fascinated to learn that Father’s Day started in the US in 1908 – because of a horrific mining accident which took place in Monongah, West Virginia, the previous year. A gigantic explosion tore through the Fairmont Coal Company’s mines, completely destroying them, and causing the deaths of hundreds of men. Officially the death toll was set at 361.
Sadly, this was just one of many mining tragedies in the US in 1907, with over 3,000 fatalities recorded. But Monongah proved to be the tipping point, and legislation to improve safety and working conditions was brought in.
Following the deaths in Monongah, the local church held a memorial service to celebrate and remember the hundreds of fathers who had been lost. Attendees handed out red roses to honour a living father and white in memory of a father who had died. Red roses remain the official flower of Father’s Day.
It took 64 years for Father’s Day, as we know it, to be signed into law in the US. President Nixon designated the third Sunday in June for the occasion, and urged the public to observe the day with ‘appropriate ceremonies’ and ‘to offer public and private expressions …to the abiding love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers’.
In the UK, Father’s Day was only adopted after the conclusion of World War II – although unlike Mothering Sunday, there was no obvious date in the religious calendar in which to have it. But owing to the ‘Americanisation’ of mid-20th century British culture – and the opportunity for retailers to increase mid-year revenues – the Brits followed their US cousins and established it on the third Sunday of June.
France soon followed. On the third Sunday of June in 1949, cigarette lighter manufacturer Flaminaire jumped on the bandwagon with a highly successful slogan, ‘our fathers told us, for Father’s Day, they all want a Flaminaire’. Within three years, Father’s Day was made official in France too.
So it’s no surprise that it’s so highly regarded by retailers to this day: in 2021, £951 million was spent celebrating it in the UK.
Fathers are often hard to buy for – which is why many of us will spend weeks thinking of something, only to head out to the supermarket for a bottle of whiskey.
Read on for our special antique gift ideas for Father’s Day:
Instead of that bottle of spirits, there are some lovely, quirky alternatives at good prices. For £375 you could pick up this metal Edwardian table corkscrew; an unusual Edwardian cut glass punch set at £425; a 400 year old Dutch stein for just £120; or upping the price a little, this William IV (c.1830) sarcophagus shaped wine cooler in Spanish mahogany at £1,190.
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Antique books are one of our most fascinating categories. For instance, you could grab this Old Scottish Communion Plate for just £85; this 1665 copy of Lucan's Pharsalia, translated into English verse at £2,500; or this 1933 1st edition of Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul, at £320.
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Does your father wear a watch? Of course he does. They all do. So a vintage timepiece could be just the ticket.
For just £100, we like this Swiss-made 1940 Russian Aircraft Clock Desk Accessory. And whilst it’s not a watchmaker giant like Rolex, this Gentleman’s Wristwatch would have been expensive when it was new – but is now a steal at just £125.
However, if you were looking for a Rolex, here’s a genuinely rare example: a Speed-King RAF Officer’s Watch, one of the few presented during WWII to RAF Officers imprisoned at Stalag 3. Explore all Rolex watches
How about this stylish little Gubelin Silver 0.935 Eterna travelling clock in its original pouch, made in 1920 and with a price tag of £350.
Or for something special, with the price tag to match, you could get this real collector’s item, an antique Swiss-made Art Deco 18 Kt Yellow Gold Pocket Watch, 1928 – at £1,800.
> View all our antique and vintage watches
We’re a fan of this lovely print of Wyld’s New Plan for London, 1859, at £400. For something more affordable – and perfect for those with a Scottish connection – here’s a lovely antique 19th century fire screen featuring a map of the Shetland Isles.
> Explore all antique maps
It would be hard to believe that there isn’t a Dad out there who’s not into cars or motorbikes. From this vintage biker’s oiler at £145, a vintage TT motorcycle racer helmet for £175, and a National Traction Engine Club plaque at £75 – you could really up your Father’s Day game by getting him this 1963 650 BSA motorcycle and sidecar for £6,500 (this should give him a nice restoration project to get involved with, so that he doesn’t annoy your mother).
> View all antique cars and motorbike items
If he’s not into cars or bikes – perhaps your father enjoys something a little wetter? We have a nice range of antique marine and nautical antique pieces, including a mid-20th century French ship’s wheel with inlaid barometer at £1,400 – which could look superb on the wall of a study – or a rare set of coloured slides from the 1885 Arctic expedition in search of the North Passage. We also love this fine British Royal Naval issue quartz Chronometer in striking red.
> View all antique marine and nautical items
Finally – a solid choice here for any Father who wears nice shirts – antique cufflinks. We have some really superb pairs on offer, including these adorable 1970s vintage Elephant cuff links at £945, and 18ct gold cuff links at just £145.
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There’s a great selection of war and military items on our website: from this replica English Civil War ‘lobster pot’ helmet at £975, to a WWII British Army Officer’s Sam Browne Ammo Pouch for just £65. This unusual WWI British Army brass trench art bottle opener is also a lovely little novel item, for £65.
> View all antique arms and armour items