As the nation prepares for the arrival of the royal baby, Charlotte Beugge considers the investment opportunities in regal memorabilia.
The Royal family has never been so popular with the public both here and abroad. Anniversaries, weddings and arrivals of new babies have put the House of Windsor (Xetra: 619070 - news) in its ascendancies.
Indeed, Britons are forecast to spend more than £243m on celebrating and commemorating the royal baby having spent more than £163m just on souvenirs from William and Kate's wedding.
But is it worth buying pieces to celebrate the new arrival and are items from earlier royal events worth anything?
There are two types of royal memorabilia. The first includes special china, coins and commemorative ornaments featuring images and emblems of the Royal family. The second type of collectables are more personal, embracing items such as letters, documents, clothes or more bizarre pieces, such as wedding cake.
Generally speaking, the older the monarch, the more valuable the memorabilia will be. It's not necessarily the obvious items such as coins and china that could be worth something. Indeed, the most mundane items you could have hidden away in a drawer might be worth a king's ransom. And it's not just Britons who want a piece of the royal action.
Adrian Roose, a director of Paul Fraser Collectibles, said: "There's a huge market for rare Royal memorabilia. Autographs, signed Christmas cards, items of clothing worn by the Royal family, even Queen Victoria's bloomers which sold for £9,375 in 2011: our US clients can't get enough of it: 60 per cent of our royal memorabilia business is in America."
Richard Westwood-Brookes, historical documents specialist at Mullock's Auctioneers, Shropshire, added: "Our American clients like anything linked to George III in the 1770s, before the war of independence. They also like items associated with Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson because it was the closest they've come so far to having an American queen. The French also like Edward and Mrs Simpson: to them, it's the romance that appeals."
In addition, he added that anything with a link to Bonnie Prince Charlie sells well, thanks to the increasing interest in Scottish nationalism.
Mr Roose added: "Henry VIII, the Queen, Diana, William and Kate are by far the most popular and valuable. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor autographs can be found for a few hundred pounds rising to £90,000 for one of the historically important Henry VIII signed documents we have in stock."
Jonty Hearnden of CashintheAttic.com, which offers online valuations, and who also stars in the BBC television show of the same name, said: "Far and away the most sought-after royal items are those that have been 'touched by royalty'. Recently, a lady in Bath happened upon a slice of the Queen's wedding cake tucked away in an old chest of drawers. She had it valued and took it to auction: it went on to sell for £360."
Christmas cards and even paper napkins with the all-important royal link can be surprisingly valuable. Mr Westwood-Brookes said that paper table napkins linked to early 20th-century royal events can sell for £50-£60 each. "They were mostly torn up and so only few remain, hence the value," he said. "If I were suggesting items to buy to commemorate the royal baby I'd say buy the most disposable item you can get, even if it's aesthetically unpleasant, such as tin trays, tea towels: the kind of thing that cost very little and as such is likely to be chucked away."
And Mr Hearnden added: "There are vast numbers of items of little to no worth out there. The Royal family is not trademarked: anyone can produce a souvenir and use images of the family, so items that will have significant value must be carefully chosen. First, you want the souvenir to be manufactured in the UK by a reputable factory such as Wedgewood. And look out for more unusual items: Britons have a great sense of humour and the more quirky knick-knacks have proven to be very desirable."
Mr Roose added that it is "very unlikely" that any mass-produced mementos of the royal baby will increase in value "but that's not the point for most purchasers. They buy it because they love it and not because they think a £10 plate could be worth £100 in five years. However, if you can get William to sign an autograph for you you'll be on to a winner."
China commemorating royal events is generally not doing well. Mr Hearnden explained that collecting such items started in the late 19th and early 20th century as the elderly Queen Victoria became very popular. This was followed by the accession of her son Edward VII and then the patriotism engendered by the First World War: all events marked by commemorative china. "People had cabinets of the stuff," he said. "But the owners of these items are dying now, meaning objects are coming onto the market in greater numbers and the prices are falling."
"Commemorative china royal pieces can sell for between £5-£10 or £30-£50 for better items. Today's thirtysomethings don't want to collect china commemorative plates. They want the quirky items."
Mr Westwood-Brookes agreed. "With china, buy it and enjoy it but don't assume it's an investment." He said that there are two exceptions on royal commemorative china. A mug commemorating the 1947 wedding of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh could be valuable because only one pottery produced the items and in the desperately poor post-war years, few could afford to buy one.
Even rarer are mugs that were commissioned by a local squire for the children of a primary school that the Queen visited not long after she ascended the throne but before she was crowned.
More recently, the dress that Kate wore at a fashion show that was said to have entranced William sold for £78,000. Mr Roose added: "We had a client who managed to get William to sign an autograph when he visited her Tesco store. It sold for more than £1,000. We've even sold pieces of Kate and William's wedding cake for £1,900 at our auction. Items touched/owned/signed by royals are the items to focus on." As yet, a Christmas card signed by William and Kate has not come to market but would command a decent sum if it did.
And cards aren't always valuable. Since the Seventies many of the Christmas cards sent out by the Queen and the Duke have been signed by machine and these cards have little to no value. One genuinely signed by the Queen and the Duke could make up to £500.
However, royal items can fall and rise in line with their popularity. Mr Westwood-Brookes said: "Just after Diana died in 1997 Christmas cards signed by her sold for £3,000 each: now you'd be lucky to get £300-£400. I wouldn't buy anything linked to Diana: Kate has replaced her." However, Diana's dresses can sell for over £100,000 particularly if they are linked to a particular event.
Further back in history, the fascination with Henry VIII continues. Anything signed by the much-married monarch could sell for tens of thousands. And the arrest warrant signed by Oliver Cromwell for Charles II sold for £34,000. More recently, anything from the short period when Edward VIII was king (January-December 1936) is valuable due to its rarity.
Post-abdication letters signed by Edward and Mrs Simpson can sell for £500-£700. A letter not even by the Duke of Windsor but by a worker on a ship the royal couple travelled on, sold for £6,000 thanks to the amazing insight it gave into their sometimes turbulent marriage.
= The Crown jewels: Royal treasures to look out for =
- Mugs commemorating the wedding of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947
- Letters signed by both Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
- Christmas cards signed by William and Kate
- Documents signed by early monarchs
- Disposable items which would have cost pennies when originally sold