A plate inscribed with “Will 4 Kate 4 Eva” might not be granny’s idea of a suitably respectful royal wedding souvenir, but it has proved a surprisingly popular hit for one London design firm. After bemoaning the “very old-fashioned” flood of merchandise that appeared on the market after the wedding was announced, Dave Bell, creative partner of K.K. Outlet, gave his designers a simple brief: “Make royal wedding memorabilia for the Facebook generation.”
The results are pure cheek. Plates with “Thanks for the free day off” acknowledge the public holiday on April 29, while another inscribed with “It should have been me” captures the sentiment of many young women after a commoner bagged herself a prince. Initially, Bell expected to sell a couple hundred of the plates. Now, after thousands of pre-orders, he expects to move upwards of 10,000, at $25 each, including some at a special sale on the big day itself at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Ever since Queen Victoria’s reign, British manufacturers have been churning out royal commemorative products (everything from stamps to tea cozies) to mark royal weddings, jubilees and even deaths. Most sell in such numbers that their value never increases. The souvenirs are like Christmas cake; few admit to buying them, yet enormous quantities are consumed.
Still, with the world struggling economically, and a more cynical attitude toward the royal family, virtually everyone was caught off guard by the demand for souvenirs after Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement. “It has been manic since Nov. 16,” says a relieved Stephen Church, general manager of his family’s 153-year-old retail china firm in Northampton. “The big difference with this wedding is that it’s the first in the Internet era. Now everyone can join the party.” Online orders account for around 90 per cent of his commemorative sales, including replica engagement rings for $60 and Caithness glass paperweights for $315. Fully three-quarters are from overseas buyers, especially Americans, who “have a more rose-tinted view of royalty. They believe the fairy tale,”
Church politely says. He estimates his firm alone will bring in more than $1.5 million from the nuptials.
The No. 1 royal souvenir manufacturer on Church’s website, the U.K. Gift Company, is the Royal Collection. As a department of the royal household and a registered charity—all proceeds from sales go to preserving the Crown’s priceless works of art—its offerings, including a $40 pillbox, are as close as anyone will get to a truly authorized souvenir. Demand has been so strong there are delivery delays of up to three weeks.
The Royal Collection’s ornate silver, gold and grey colour scheme obediently follows the new rules issued by Buckingham Palace, designed to head off the avalanche of tacky souvenirs unleashed by British manufacturers for the wedding of William’s parents in 1981. This time, the Lord Chamberlain, who oversees—and fiercely protects—the royal trademarks, issued “definitive guidelines” for anyone wanting to use royal arms, emblems, and photographs of the couple on souvenirs. At the top of the list was “good taste”; clothing was strictly verboten. (After howls of protest, the palace unbent sufficiently to allow commemorative tea towels.)
Kitsch, in fact, is everywhere. Among the beautifully decorated trays, cups and $630 Welsh dragons on offer from Royal Crown Derby, one of the oldest and most respected British china makers, is a limited run of 250 William and Catherine bears, complete with a blue waistcoat for him and a gown hemmed with gold hearts for her. Yours for $280 a pair.
Now everyone wants in on the action. Even Canada Post, which initially didn’t want to produce anything, is reconsidering. Jim Phillips, its director of stamp services, says that “given the popularity of the wedding, we’re looking at ways to commemorate it.”
And while it’s true many wedding souvenirs will find themselves relegated to a shelf in granny’s living room, Dave Bell wants people to use his firm’s creations: “Eat baked beans for breakfast on them.”