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Collecting the Royals: Kings, Queens and Pretenders to the Throne

by Tom Carrier (05/15/13).

Royal autographs are always a big hit. Here, a special-event card bears the signature of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who recently stepped down in favor of her son, King Willem-Alexander.

There seems to be a lot of abdicating going around. First, Pope Benedict XVI stepped down as Supreme Pontiff (a kind of monarchy), the first reigning Pope to do so in 600 years. Then Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who was on the throne for only 33 years, abdicated in favor of her eldest son, Prince of Orange Willem-Alexander, the first male to assume the throne in about 160 years. At age 47, it’s clear he will reign a long time.

That got me thinking about all the royal memorabilia that must be available for collectors, so I checked with WorthPoint’s Worthopedia to find out exactly what kind of collectibles have been associated personally with the royals of the past and present.

There is all manner of commemorative items available, including coronations, stamps, medals, coins, glassware and other memorabilia intended to celebrate the sovereigns themselves.

But we’ll concentrate here on memorabilia directly from sovereigns.

Before we do that, though, we need a clarification: When referring to monarchies, there are really two types: reigning and pretender. Queen Elizabeth II of England is a reigning monarch; she is still in office. Prince of Russia Nicholas Romanov is the pretender to the throne of Russia; he’ll assume the title of Czar if the monarchy is ever restored in Russia.
Currently throughout the world, there are about 45 reigning monarchies and about 130 pretenders to monarchies long-since abolished—and that’s not counting rival claims or alternate royal houses.
A 1971 imperial plate of Persia, now Iran, bearing the royal coat of arms for His Imperial Majesty Shah Mohammed Reza Phlavi—better known as the deposed Shah of Iran—sold for $447. 

A 1971 imperial plate of Persia, now Iran, bearing the royal coat of arms for His Imperial Majesty Shah Mohammed Reza Phlavi—better known as the deposed Shah of Iran—sold for $447.

Whatever the case, reigning or pretender, the memorabilia associated with each is wide-ranging and valuable, especially those associated with the pretenders to the throne, as they tend to associate with monarchies back to ancient times. Collecting the royals can be a long-lasting avocation of history and memorabilia.

One of the first items in the Worthopedia associated with the monarchy is an early bond associated with the former kingdom of Westphalia in Germany. Dated March 24, 1810, it was intended to raise money to support the small kingdom as a vassal state of France under the Emperor Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. The bond is still intact with its coupons, and it sold recently at auction for $15,000, probably more than the debt to be repaid.

The current pretender to the throne of Westphalia is Charles Napoleon, head of the House of Bonaparte, descendant of the late King of Westphalia, Jerome Bonaparte.

One of my favorite early pieces of royal memorabilia is the 17th-century gold and bronze statue of Narai Thong of Ayyutthaya Ki, King of Siam, now Thailand, which auctioned recently for $14,500. The current King of Thailand, Rama IX, is the longest reigning monarch at nearly 64 years. 

This gold coin struck for Emperor Macrinus of Rome in 218 AD sold on eBay for $92,500.

Autographs of current or former monarchs are always a highly collectible piece of history. One of the Worthopedia’s finest is a letter from Charles IX, whose reign of France began when he was 10 years old in 1560 with Catherine de Medici as his regent until 1574.

The letter, signed in 1570, when Charles was 20, was sold for $50,100. Autographs of current monarchs, usually with formal portraits are available at auction from $75 to $600, depending on whether they are actually signed, are just an official photo or are a special event greeting or even a gift card.

With these signed photographs, you can create a very distinguished photographic panorama of current and recent-past royal heads of state to highlight on your large grand piano. Just add a crystal candelabrum for effect. 

You can also reach far back and pursue a fine collection of monarchs from a few centuries or millennia in the past. You might consider a gold Aureus—a coin struck for Alexander, the 28th Roman Emperor in 223 AD, which sold at auction for $800,000. Or, for a more reasonable price, you can find metal coins of Roman emperor Theodosius struck during his reign of 378 to 395 AD, one of which auctioned recently for $32. 

The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, awarded by Queen Victoria, sold at auction for $2,100.

These early coins will have to substitute for the autographed photos we collect of sovereigns today. You’ll find that many coins of this era are still available from $25 to $300, as well as the more rare and highly collectible ones made from precious metals.

Comparably, a commemorative gold sovereign of Queen Elizabeth II dated 1976 seems more like a bargain at $250, or a silver 30-drachma coin of 1964 featuring the former king and queen of Greece, now a republic, which recently auctioned for $15. Pavlos, crown prince of Greece, is the designated heir to the former throne of Greece, among others.

Another way to feel the personal touch of a sovereign is the collection of awards and decorations. Many kings and queens of the past bestowed these medals to those most deserving and are as collectible today as memorabilia as they were as honors.

For example, Queen Victoria founded the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire in 1878, but it hasn’t been awarded since the independence of India from Great Britain in 1947. A boxed order created by Gerrard & Company was recently auctioned for $2,100. 

This Order of Kapi’olani, awarded by Queen Kapi’olani of Hawaii, sold at auction for $2,350.

There are two separate families that lay claim to the throne of Hawaii. Many other medals and decorations are available from $200 to $600 that are awarded directly by the sovereign. The Royal Order of Kapi’olani, awarded by the Queen Kapi’olani of Hawaii, is described as a grand cross of order consisting of a silver Maltese cross with a center red-enameled medallion displaying a gold double “K” monogram surrounded by a white enameled banner with the inscription “Kulia I Kanu,” or “strive to reach the summit” in the native tongue. The piece sold for $2,350 recently.

When collecting awards and medals, be sure your award is complete with original presentation box, award documents or other devices, such as the ribbon, sash, lapel pin or brooch.

Another option is royal memorabilia that commemorate a special event, such as a coronation or to honor the ruling or reigning house. Two such examples are a King William IV of England coronation mug from Staffordshire, dating to 1741 and selling at auction for nearly $1,100; or a commemorative-boxed imperial plate of Persia (now Iran) from 1971, created with the royal coat-of-arms made by Spode during the reign of His Imperial Majesty Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, which sold for $447.

Today, there are at least two pretenders to the throne of Persia or Iran, one of which is Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran, exiled after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. 

A Staffordshire coronation mug for King William IV of England, dating to 1741, sold at auction for nearly $1,100.

For other royal collectibles that are more easily available for the rest of us, the Worthopedia will highlight more than 266,000 separate items under the search for royalty. They include, but are not limited to, letters, rings, hats, clothing, postcards, coins, medals, books, images, ephemera, photos, glassware and stamps, most priced from $10 to $200.

A good read for those interested in a most unique bit of royal collectibles is a great article about collecting royal wedding cakes by Liz Holderman. I suggest you check it out.

Memorabilia from the royalty of today and yesterday allow us to experience the history, color, ceremony and dazzling ritual, but also the heartbreak, jealousies and rivalries that created and ended dynasties and entire countries.

If your interest is royalty, not to worry; you’ll find plenty of memorabilia available from current reigning royal houses and those whose stories begin with “once upon a time.”


Tom Carrier is a general Worthologist, with an expertise in a wide variety of subjects, including vexillology, or the study of flags.

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