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A guide to Royal Memorabilia


2022 marks the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne and to mark this historical Platinum Jubilee, the Royal Collection Trust has commissioned an official range of merchandise. Consisting mainly of decorative ceramic items including plates and tankards, the collection has been inspired by the purple Robe of Estate worn by the Queen at her coronation, with many of the pieces echoing the gold embroidered olive branches and wheat ears on the original robe, in their embellishment. But will these commemorative items gain in value over the years and what other Royal Memorabilia should collectors be looking for?

Royal Family Commemorative Items

Every event and milestone anniversary celebrated by the Royal Family, from births, coronations, engagements, weddings and jubilees, sees the production of vast amounts, and types, of merchandise. However, as there is no trademark on The Royal Family, anyone can produce anything depicting members of the Royal Family. This means that many of the lower priced items, such as tea towels are produced in such large numbers that they will not hold their value.

The earliest Royal Memorabilia

Unsurprisingly, memorabilia that dates from before mass production techniques will always command higher prices and some of the earliest pieces date back to 1661 and the coronation of King Charles II. Following years of puritanism under Oliver Cromwell, the coronation was one of great pomp and circumstance and generated items such as hand-crafted plates by English Delft. Any remaining are extremely rare but estimates value them in excess of £50,000. A century later, at the coronation of King George III, transfer printing on pottery had been invented making royal pieces of pottery more widely available; a plate from the 1760 coronation could fetch up to £7,000.

As Royal Memorabilia is such a vast area of collectables, it is always best to buy from the heart rather than for investment, particularly if you are a novice collector. Below are just some areas of commemorative ware that people collect.

Commemorative coins

The Royal Mint releases proof coins on the occasion of important Royal events which are sought after by collectors of Royal Memorabilia and numismatists (coin collectors) alike. Such coins are usually gold or silver which gives them value just for the precious metal and commemorative coins tend to appreciate in value over time. One such example of this is the 22-carat gold wedding coin commemorating Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage which rose from £1,750 in April 2011 to £3,000 in May 2012, because of the rise in the price of gold.

Commemorative ceramics

Often limited runs of ceramic ware are produced by renowned manufacturers such as Royal Doulton and Wedgwood and it is the limited-edition pieces that are more likely to appreciate in value as there are fewer on the market. Of course, pieces made for the Royal Family itself are of tremendous value, although not strictly commemorative. For example, a dinner service commissioned for the coronation of William IV famously took so long to finish that the King had died before it was delivered. Consequently, pieces remaining from the dinner service command high prices.

Commemorative mugs

This remains one of the more popular areas of commemorative memorabilia for collectors, both novice and experienced. Although this area would seem to fly in the face of everything we have said about mass produced items, mugs often make the best investment, either for being early examples, fragile designs, or quirky, one-off pieces. Two-handled loving cups hold and increase their value as they break easily and therefore become rarer over time, but it is not just early examples that command healthy prices – The Royal Collection issued a commemorative loving cup on the occasion of the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 which realised £700 in 2018. Then there are the mugs that people think will be valuable but that aren’t. A prime example of this is the coronation mug for King Edward VIII who abdicated before his coronation. These realise a few pounds but those that have the abdication date over-printed can fetch more. If a piece is humorous,  it will be valued more highly too. A mug featuring the Spitting Image version of Prince Charles has increased in value from its original ticket price of £2 in the early 1980s to £200 in 2012. The reason? The mug features exaggerated pottery ears which were easily broken or knocked off, instantly devaluing it.

Royal wedding memorabilia

An unusual area for collectors of royal wedding memorabilia is cake! Following a royal wedding, the often large and elaborate wedding cakes are distributed to people who have been involved in the wedding at some level. A slice of cake from the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip in 1947 was given to a guard of honour who bequeathed it to the Princess Alice Hospice. It found its way into a filing cabinet where it lay until being sold at auction in 2012 for £1,100. When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 there were several cakes – the official 5-tier cake displayed at the reception and a further 22 which were given to royal staff. A slice from the official cake realised £17,000 17 years after the wedding, while a slice from one of the staff cakes fetched £1,200 in 2008. Following Prince William’s wedding, Buckingham Palace held a garden party at which each of the 650 guests received a slice of wedding fruit cake. Just one year later, one slice of the garden party cake, together with an official order of service from Westminster Abbey realised £1,917 at auction.

Personal items belonging to members of the Royal Family

Items representing possibly the biggest investment potential for the collector are personal items that were used or handled by Royalty. Famously, a pair of Queen Victoria’s undergarments sold for almost £10,000 in 2011 and Lady Diana’s bicycle fetched a similar price in 2018. While these may be out of reach to the novice collector, there are items which are not, such as autographs. Although members of the Royal Family do not sign autographs, they do send Christmas cards which they sign personally. These can be found at reasonable prices, with handwritten letters going for more.

Manufacturing errors and unexpected events

Manufacturing errors and unexpected historical events will add value to items of Royal Memorabilia. While coronation mugs for Edward VIII are not particularly valuable, abdication mugs are; these are coronation mugs which were overwritten or altered. An unexpected bout of appendicitis delayed the coronation of Edward VII and was too late for many pottery manufacturers to change the dates on their products. Any pieces therefore that bear the revised date of August 1902 are worth considerably more than those with the original date. More recently, when Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles, their original date was postponed because of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. While items with the correct date are not considered an investment, they are worth more than those with the original date.

As King George VI approached his silver jubilee of 1952, a commemorative toy coach was made by Lesney Products, featuring a king and queen. Sadly the king died before reaching his milestone jubilee and the figure of the king was hastily removed and the coach re-marketed for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. However, some original sets containing both figures still remain and these are highly collectable and valuable representing an incredible return on their original ticket price of £1!

What makes Royal Memorabilia valuable?

As with most areas of collectables, factors to consider include age, condition and rarity. The collectors’ market will also impact value; ceramic memorabilia, for example, may be in less demand than commemorative coins depending on who is buying.  The bottom line however, is that no particular type of merchandise is worth more or less than another. Experts will only agree that mass produced, contemporary items are likely not to appreciate and it is preferable to buy the best you can afford in terms of quality and condition.

Novice collectors should always collect pieces to enjoy rather than as an investment, while the experienced collector should look for rare objects, particularly old pieces or very personal items whether that is a mug, a piece of cake or a coin.  

Reputable antique centres such as Hemswell have expert dealers who specialise in Royal and Commemorative memorabilia, who are happy to share their experiences with clients and customers. Their items can be relied upon for authenticity, allowing you to buy with confidence and, once you’ve browsed our four buildings, you can stop for a refreshment break in one of our restaurants before completing your tour.

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