A Tulip Queen's Regalia

Diane Shewchuk, Curator

What little girl doesn’t dream of being a princess or queen? Some little girls grow up to be prom queens or county fair dairy princesses. Some are just happy to wear a crown from Burger King. Others feel like royalty on their wedding day. In the Capital Region, young women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five have had the opportunity to be a queen since 1949, when the city of Albany crowned the first Tulip Queen as part of its annual Tulip Festival. When the tradition started, you couldn’t just run into the Disney store to buy a tiara, scepter, and sash. Instead, the symbolic adornments and accessories were made by local designers. I’d like to share some of the trappings of royalty used during the first decade of the Tulip Queen’s existence.


The Crown

Let’s start at the top because you can’t have a queen without a crown.

When the Albany Artists Group began thinking about hosting a carnival/ball as part of Tulip Festival, it was decided to crown a King and Queen to reign over the celebration. At the group’s April meeting, member artist Hajo Christoph offered to design the crowns and came up with two distinctly different designs that complemented each other. In describing the King’s crown, it was said that Christoph researched historic crowns and “instead of the cross which tops the orthodox king’s crown” he “placed a brass tulip, which will shine like gold. From it six leaves will join the band and brass tulips march around the band.” As far as we know, the King’s crown does not survive, but Christoph's drawing of both crowns is in the Institute’s collection:

The Queen’s crown was handwrought from brass and copper and featured six identical tulips standing up from a circlet. At the time, Christoph said, “We decided to use no coloring, and no gems in the crowns, as they would only detract from the floral design.” In 1949, Kenneth Irish and Jeanne Coakley were the first royal couple to wear the crowns and the following year Arthur Russell and Dorothy Ward wore them. In 1951, the committee dispensed with the Tulip King “due to young men being called into service” and the Tulip Queen has reigned alone ever since.  

This newspaper clipping shows the Christoph-designed crown carefully perched on Judy Davenport, the 1951 Tulip Queen. Notice that the tulips are the same height.


In 1955, the original crown was altered by the craftsman who fabricated it in 1949. George Righthand added a wider band with rope twisted edges to the bottom of the crown making it fit better. He also made the shiny brass tulip in the center front taller than the others and had a fur lining put in.


In this photograph 1957 Tulip Queen Carol Thorsen wears the refashioned crown while visiting the children’s ward at an Albany hospital. Carol is also holding the official scepter. This crown is now in the Institute’s collection.


In 1959, the brass and copper crown was deemed too heavy. It weighed almost three pounds! The crown “presented a challenge to the balance and poise of past queens” and gave them headaches. Consequently retired jeweler Charles Heisler was asked to create a new one. Heisler chose to work in silver and the finished crown weighed only thirteen ounces.


1959 Tulip Queen Carol Smurl was the first to wear the new crown as seen in the photograph below. This crown, worse for wear is in the Institute’s collection. It is slightly bent out of shape, the tulip finial has been replaced, a few faux jewels are missing, and the tulips no longer retain their original orange-red enamel. 


The Royal Scepter

The Tulip Queen carried a scepter for special occasions as seen in the photograph of the 1957 Tulip Queen. The ceremonial staff was topped with an orange and shaded scarlet tulip that represented the Orange Wonder tulip that Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands sent to Albany.


The Tulip Queen’s Pendant

In 1952, the Tulip Queen was presented with an emblem of her office, designed by Elizabeth Booth, of H. W. Antemann jewelers, a business founded by her grandfather in the mid-nineteenth century. The pendant was created as a three inch oval of twisted gold wire set with amethysts and citrine quartz in pastel colors that framed a three-dimensional gold tulip. The following photograph shows the jewel. Copies and variations of this pendant were awarded to succeeding queens. The Institute’s collection does not include any Tulip Queen pendants and would love to add one to the collection someday. 1953 Tulip Queen Peggy Retter wore hers suspended from a ribbon as seen in this photograph.


“The Crimson Velvet Robe of State”

The simple red velvet garment worn by the Tulip Queen was called everything from a coronation robe to a cape to a mantle. There wasn’t one particular style specifically associated with the royal office. Some had real fur collars, others had silver trims, some were lined with white fabric, while others were lined with red fabric. They were both floor length and to the knee. With all of these variations, and without the ability to match up a cape to a photograph, it is almost impossible to assign a date to them. Who wouldn’t feel majestic with this on their shoulders? The Institute's collection includes these three Tulip Queen capes:


The Institute is fortunate to own artifacts and photographs that help tell the story of this Albany tradition. The news clippings used as images were pasted into one of five scrapbooks documenting the Tulip Festival and Tulip Queen assembled by Gerald Luciano in the 1950s that are now part of our collection.



Drawing of Crowns
Hans-Joachim (Hajo) Christoph (1903-1992)
1949, pen and ink on paper
Gift of Peter and Florence Christoph, 2008.14
Tulip Queen Crown
Designed by Hajo Christoph (1903-1992) and made by George Righthand (1885-1968)
1949 altered in 1955, brass and copper with rabbit fur and ermine
Gift of Katherine G. Herrick, 1985.2.1
Tulip Queen Crown
Designed and made by Charles Heisler (1890-1976)
1959, silver, faux jewels, plastic tulip with rabbit fur and ermine
Gift of the City of Albany, 2005.19.1A
Tulip Queen Scepter (detail)
Unknown maker
c.1949, mixed media
Gift of the City of Albany, 2005.19.1C

Left to right

Tulip Queen Cape with Rabbit Fur Collar
Unknown maker, c.1949
Gift of the City of Albany, 2005.19.1B
Tulip Queen Cape with Silver Rope Trim
Unknown maker, c.1950
Gift of Katherine G. Herrick, 1985.2.2
Tulip Queen Cape with Mandarin Collar
Unknown maker, c.1970
Gift of the City of Albany, 2005.19.3
May 8, 2020