What’s it Worth? Collecting Royal Wedding Cake

Note: This article was originally published in 2013 and is one of our favorites! Enjoy!

Samples of William’s and Kate’s brandy-infused wedding cake were given to members of the Submariners. This one sold for $7,500 (plus buyer’s premium) on November 9, 2012.

When I saw that Julien’s Auctions sold pieces of royal wedding cake at their two-day “Icons and Idols: Hollywood” auction that ended on November 10, 2012, I was immediately curious.   How does one get a piece of royal wedding cake?  It is wrapped in a napkin, tucked in a purse and surreptitiously snuck out of a reception?   Aren’t most people who attend royal weddings above all that?  And how would you keep it from ruining?

Unfortunately, the doily on Di’s 31-year-old cake has browned with age.

So I looked it up.  A piece of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s cake sold for $7,500 (far above the pre-sale estimate of $600 to $800) and a piece of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s cake sold for $1,375.  Alas, the circumstances weren’t quite as tabloid as I had hoped.   The items were not cellophane-wrapped lumps that had been hidden in a freezer by a disloyal cousin hoping for quick cash.  Instead, they were expertly-sliced bits of cake wrapped in tissue, set on doilies and housed in small presentation boxes with silver trim.  William’s and Kate’s had been given to members of The Submariners, to whom William is Commander in Chief.  Charles’ and Diana’s box had the date of their ceremony and an enclosure card with their best wishes.   Presumably, there was minimal frosting involved.   But still, how does a piece of cake that is 31 years old survive without getting buggy?  I did notice that the doily on Di’s cake was browned with age.  And the description of that lot stated that the “cake is not suitable for consumption,” just in case one might be tempted to eat their collectible.

William and Kate gave pieces of their cake to the staff that worked on the day of their wedding. The cake was housed in a commemorative tin and many examples hit the market in the few months right after their ceremony. This one sold for $647.

After a little research, I learned that souvenir boxes of cake are traditionally given as gifts after every royal wedding.   (Denser cakes, like fruit cakes, are often used for this purpose).  A piece of rum-soaked cake from the 1986 wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson sold for $250 last year.  Their gift box was much plainer than Charles’ and Diana’s, but maybe the rum kept the 26-year-old contents preserved.  Everyone who worked at the 2011 wedding of William and Kate received a stamped commemorative tin with a piece of cake inside (wrapped in wax paper).  These tins are fairly easy to find and sold in an astonishing range of $400 to $900 during the few months following the ceremony.   (Apparently, the help, tossing sentiment aside, knew how to exploit their bonuses.)   A similar tin was presented to the staff after Charles’ and Camilla’s 2005 wedding, but these tins are not as common and sell for much less.

Samples of Charles’ and Diana’s 1981 wedding cake were housed in a presentation box that included the date of the ceremony. This one sold for $1,375 (plus buyer’s premium) on November 9, 2012.

I also ran across another box from Charles’ and Diana’s 1981 wedding.  This one only sold for $255, but the cake looked dark and rancid, the protective doily was missing and the enclosed card was spotted and greasy.  I was intrigued.  Was it possible to find a royal wedding cake sample from Queen Elizabeth’s wedding?  Or even Queen Victoria’s?  What would a slice of cake from 1840 look like today?  And what would it be worth?

Queen Victoria mailed out souvenir boxes of her 1840 wedding cake. This one has survived, 172 years later.

After some digging, I learned that Queen Victoria’s staff mailed out thousands of souvenir boxes with pieces of her wedding cake inside.  And, amazingly enough, one survived with crumbs intact.  It has not been offered for sale, but it was displayed for the first time in April 2007 at an exhibit at Windsor Castle.  The curator of the exhibit remarked at the time that the cake “seems mummified rather than actually decayed.”  Yum.

Lynda Bird Johnson gave out keepsake boxes of cake at her White House wedding to Charles Robb in 1967. This empty example, from the estate of Darrell Royal, sold for $90 (plus buyer’s premium) in November 2012.

Finally, I wondered if I could find the oldest wedding cake box that actually sold as a collectible.  While searching for “royal wedding cake boxes” I stumbled across a little heart-shaped box from Lynda Bird Johnson’s White House wedding to Charles Robb in 1967.  It was from the private collection of Darrell Royal (1924-2012), who was the football coach at the University of Texas and attended the wedding with his wife, Edith.  This memento sold for $90 on November 11, 2012, with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for Alzheimer’s research.   Although it had once held a morsel of cake, it was sold empty, which seemed much more aesthetic and appealing to me.  One assumes that Edith Royal would never have kept old food lying around for 45 years.  And I’m glad she didn’t.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist and accredited appraiser who specializes in books and collectibles.

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