Collecting: The Royal Wedding

Official commemorative plate from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

Royal weddings are not your everyday exchange of vows. Carriages, horse soldiers, church bells, castles, crowns, and spectators turn solemn into high drama and spectacle.

The most recent royal wedding was that of His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, sixth in line to the British throne, to Rachel Meghan Markle, a biracial American actress and divorcee, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle this past May 19th. This was a relatively intimate event with only 600 guests that didn’t include the usual assortment of heads of state with extravagant pomp and circumstance, but just enough for show. After the ceremony, the newlyweds were newly christened the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and provided a cottage at Windsor Castle.

Simple by comparison as the ceremony was, an extended part of any royal function is, of course, all the commemoratives of the occasion, both official and unofficial. Many, many commemoratives.

We’re mostly talking about the commemoratives of the English royal weddings here since they have made more of a business of such events than weddings of other monarchies of the world. Curiously, you can thank the Industrial Revolution for the presence of royal souvenirs at all.

In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and together they created the first royal commercial souvenirs through mass production. This Staffordshire wedding plate sold for $199 in 2011.

In 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and together they not only established a great dynasty, they also created the first royal commercial souvenirs through mass production. Plates, tea cups, saucers, paper dolls, figurines, invitations and even a piece of the wedding cake were all produced and sold to the public for the first time. Today, these collectibles can range at auction easily from $200 to $900, but because they are now historic items, they reflect higher auction values.

This 2011 Royal Wedding Stamp sold for $7.58 in 2014.

Since then, royal wedding (or any royal event) commemoratives, have become more commercialized, yet still are produced using the same mass production methods introduced nearly 180 years ago. Postage stamps, coffee mugs, plates, medals, vases, thimbles, toys, tea towels, official programs and so much more are still available for under $50 because the sheer numbers mass produced keeps the collectible values from getting much higher than their original costs. Still, it’s nice to have some souvenir of the event even if it is just a keychain.

If commemorating the occasion and hoping for a long term collectible as well, consider the official commemorative. The Royal Collection Trust, established in 1993, oversees all of the official memorabilia for every royal event. Prince Harry’s recent wedding commemoratives include plates, teacups, towels, even boxed candies available from a $13 tea towel to $262 (allowing for currency conversion) for a set of coffee cups and saucers, plus shipping. All of the royal christenings, engagements, births, coronations and anniversaries of the past also have their special moment as a commemorative.

This Charles and Diana wedding mug sold for $60 in 2011.

What separates the official items from the more pedestrian commercialized versions is that “…every piece of Royal Collection china is made entirely by hand by our skilled artisans,” according to an article in The Telegraph, dated May 18, 2018. “Official royal commemorative chinaware is hand-produced in the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent using methods of production which have remained unchanged for 250 years”, the article continues.  As a trust, all proceeds benefit the continued preservation of the overall Royal Collection.

This enameled pill box made to commemorate the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson sold for $79.40 in 2012.

And yet, when looking back over the types of commemoratives produced by the Royal Collection Trust over the years, it seems that the more limited the edition, the higher the auction values over time. Commemorating royal births, for example, Merrythought has produced cuddly plush bears such as the one for Prince George in 2013. While the original price isn’t known (a current one for the new Princess of Cambridge sells for about $168, plus shipping), one limited edition version sold online for $250 a year later. Today, one of the bears is selling on Amazon starting at about $940, plus shipping. Apart from the limited editions, the general merchandise items, while well-made, have an after market value not much more than the original purchase price, such as the Prince George pillbox that recently sold at auction for $40 compared with a current baby pillbox for 2018 selling for about the same (allowing for currency conversion) at the Royal Collection Trust. That’s still better than souvenirs in general.

So, if you just have an interest in royal weddings, there were over 100,000 items that have been recently auctioned, virtually all of them from the UK. You can see that collecting is not a daunting task for royal weddings in the UK, there is just too much of it in so many different forms.

Harry and Meghan wedding commemoratives for sale.

Overall, though, the royal wedding is expected to bring in $162 million dollars to the UK economy, according to the Centre for Retail Research, most of that on memorabilia alone. That’s apart from the nearly $800 million in tourism dollars that revolve around the Royals just last year alone, which makes royalty, and weddings, a big boost to business in general. Even so, supporting the Royal Household costs less than a dollar per person per year, about $60 million dollars a year, according to the same study which is a good ROI (return on investment) in business terms.

So, is collecting royal wedding souvenirs a good investment? It is for the UK. The answer for you, though, is the same as with any collectible; collect what you like first. But just in case, start with the official memorabilia. Unlike some royal weddings, they were made to last.

Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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