Friday, August 19, 2011

Royal Souvenirs and Collectibles

Royal Weddings, Births, Deaths, Coronations, Jubilees all inspire new souvenirs and collectibles. From books, to china, figurines, glassware, clothing, you name it. But what are souvenir items. They are, of course a way of making money, but at one point they were also used as a way of showing support for the monarchy. This is very evident in items relating to Jubilees; the earliest known English commemorative items date from the restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
The tradition of selling commemorative items to mark special royal occasions didn’t really catch on until Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Because very few of the people even knew what the Queen looked like, items adorning her likeness became very popular and started a tradition. Royal events past and present have been marked by coins, stamps and ceramics, glassware to name a few. With the arrival of new manufacturing methods in the last 250 years, commemorative items are now more affordable to the general public.
In the last few years there have even been some recent auctions of undergarments owned by Queen Victoria. In 2008, a pair of Queen Victoria's monogrammed cotton underwear dating from the 1890s, sold for £4,500 at an auction in Derby, attracting bids from Brazil, Russia, Hong Kong and New York. At the same auction, a chemise sold for £3,800, while one of Queen Victoria's nightdresses sold for £5,200 to an American collector. These items are considered valuable because they are so rare. One of the most valuable pieces of royal memorabilia is a Meissen teapot decorated with the coat of arms of Sophie of Hanover, the mother of King George I, which dates from 1713-14, is considered the earliest surviving date-able piece of Meissen porcelain, and has an estimated value of £200,000-£300,000. A few years back someone was trying to sell letters Prince Charles had written for 20 or $30,000 on eBay. Not including shipping.

Having royal items fetch these prices is the exception rather than the rule. The sheer volume of memorabilia means that so much of what is made has little to no resale value. So much so that you have to go back to Queen Victoria taking the throne in 1837 to find objects that have increased in value.

 In the case of William and Kate’s wedding the range of items has increased. After all it is big business, to the tune of £40m. The items are eclectic - some traditional are traditional, like china, others are unusual and imaginative, such as souvenir condoms. There’s also replica engagement rings, salt and pepper shakers, life sized cutouts, nail polish, beer, pies, coins, stamps, the list is endless.

The Royal family may have rejected approval for t-shirts, towels and aprons but this doesn’t stop people from producing items. Buckingham Palace has issued rules on what souvenir manufacturers can produce in terms of William and Kate wedding merchandise. Items must be permanent and significant – tea towels, t-shirts and aprons are out, whereas mugs, china plates and biscuit jars are in. While this may be the official rule, manufacturers still tried to get in on the act. The Royal Family doesn’t trademark itself, so anyone is free to produce merchandise bearing their names or likenesses, which means there is no real distinction between licensed and unlicensed merchandise – an important distinction in the world of collecting. Many of these items produced will be sold in the thousands, and thus not hold any long term value.

Not to say that modern items are completely worthless. Royal items designed by Eric Rav-il-ilous are collectible. One sold last year for close to £2,000. The ugly and the unusual also tend to sell better. Maybe it’s worth taking a look at that Royal Mint coin that looks nothing like William and Kate?

There are some things that might have a good chance of holding their value:

Official china – mugs, tankards, plates, pill boxes. For fine bone china, there are items from the Aynsley collection. Including a hand-painted highly sought after 4 piece set including an engagement plate, loving cup with two handles, tankard mug and coaster. Though they are currently affordable, they’re likely to go up in price as the supply dwindles.

Commemorative coins are another good investment when it comes to Royal wedding memorabilia. They will be embossed with the important dates and will increase in value over the years to come especially if they are made from silver or gold or are part of a limited edition run.

Stamps are a very popular item and because the various Commonwealth countries will produce their own, there will be a lot to choose from.

Some pointers for collecting:

  • Don’t buy anything that is not of a high quality. Protect your investment by buying from a reputable company.
  • Try and acquire an extensive and themed collection.
  • Ensure you store your collection well to keep it in mint condition. Keep anything boxed or packaged as is.
  • Look out for fine bone china pieces as they hold their value. High quality china as well as hand painted versions are the ones to collect – see the Aynsley collection above.
  • Cups and mugs with portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are likely to become collectors pieces.
  • Commemorative plates are another good option and will be available both before and long after the wedding to mark such events as anniversaries or the birth of their children. Those with portraits of the couple will be the most desirable.
  • Portraits are the key to the future popularity of an item.

Having said this, any increase in value is not likely to be seen for another 30-40 years, so just hope that your children and grandchildren will appreciate these items as much as you do having taken the time and care to collect them.

And even if they do not retain their value, one of the best quotes is on the British Royal Family website: it is the meaning and memories associated with the souvenirs which give them their value.

© Marilyn Braun 2011 Thank you for enjoying this article.

If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

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