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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March 2005, 10:46 GMT
A trip down memento lane
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

It wouldn't be a royal wedding without a truck-load of souvenirs to mark the occasion. But choice is far more limited this time. So who's making it, who's buying it and will it be worth passing on to the grandchildren?

If there's one consolation Charles might be able to offer Camilla amid the muddle over the forthcoming royal wedding, it could be this: "They're not making mugs of us like they used to."

Historically, no royal wedding would ever come to pass without a simultaneous burst of activity in the giftware industry. Commemorative plates, jugs, gravy boats, tea towels, key rings, postcards and of course, mugs bearing the faces of the betrothed couple and the date of their nuptials, have become a familiar means of marking such occasions.

And, as memories of the big event fade, they become aide-memoires, instantly summoning recollections of processions, bunting and street parties.

But this time round things are very different - the low-key wedding of the Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker Bowles is matched by a distinctly thin crop of collectibles.

Rings
Engagement ring and Asda's commemorative copy (inset)
There are only 20-25 lines of official merchandise, according to Steven Jackson of the Commemorative Collectors Society. This compares to some 1,600 for Charles' previous wedding, 700 for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 and 600 for her Golden Jubilee three years ago.

Even Prince Edward's wedding to Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999 - a relatively modest affair by royal standards - prompted 120 lines of merchandise.

It's no secret that the public's desire for this marriage is lukewarm at best, but the short duration between engagement and wedding has not helped, say industry insiders.

Wedgwood, which has been commemorating royal weddings with its fine chinaware since the days of George III, looked "very, very seriously at it", says a spokesman. Eventually, though, it had to drop the idea.

"It normally takes six to eight months to produce something like this," says Wedgwood's Andrew Stanistreet - far more than the two-month window of opportunity on this occasion.

China
One of the few authorised collections, by Aynsley
Given the experience of another traditional Staffordshire pottery firm, you almost begin to understand why. Aynsley, based in the heart of the Potteries, faced an uphill struggle to get its Charles and Camilla collection out.

"First we had to apply for royal approval then we were quite far down the road when they announced the change of venue, so that meant a late alteration," says Aynsley's Gavin Williamson.

The public's tepid reaction to the engagement means it's been hard to predict demand for its four-piece collection - made of bone china with 22 carat gold detailing - which includes a twin-handle "loving mug" and a commemorative plate.

That said, "we've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of take up we've had in the early days".

Anti-wedding mugs

At entirely the other end of the scale is Joanna Leapman, who has found a thriving market for Charles and Camilla fridge magnets and badges, which she sells through eBay.

Masks
Some shops in Windsor are selling more off-beat items
Ms Leapman, of south London, who runs a cottage industry producing customised badges, has designs to reflect the public's pro- and anti- sentiment, selling for 1.75 a piece.

Alongside a couple of fairly orthodox designs, she also offers one with a picture of the Queen in front of Charles and Camilla, and the words "I'm not going either", and another featuring Diana, and reading "Remember Diana 1961 - 1997".

"Business is really picking up," says Ms Leapman, who has sold about 300 wedding badges so far. "It's mainly British people buying them but I have sent stuff abroad, to America and Canada. People are also buying for novelty value."

Tea towel pressure

Business has been less brisk at Wedding Creations, in Norfolk, which is offering commemorative pillows, embroidered with the words "Charles & Camilla 8th April 2005", also through eBay, at 20 each.

"We've sold six altogether but we're hoping trade will pick up," says a spokeswoman, adding that the company will also be sending a complimentary pillow to the royal couple as a wedding gift.

Pillow
Mark the day with an embroidered pillow, perhaps
Anyone looking for the heart of the Charles and Camilla trinket trade ought to head to Windsor, where the wedding will be staged.

Dhillons, a gift shop on the High Street, situated just two doors away from the Guildhall where the wedding ceremony will be, has been doing a roaring trade.

"The tea towels [4.99 each] are our best sellers," says Kirran Dhillon. "Maybe people are thinking of that quote, when Diana expressed doubts about getting married and someone said 'it's too late now, your face is on a tea towel'."

Dhillons is toeing a fairly conventional line with its merchandise - "we're all in favour of the wedding," says Kirran - although nearby shops are stocking more off-beat stuff.

Tea towel
Top seller at Dhillons in Windsor, for 4.99
But is there anything on the market for the serious collector?

"Yes, but very little," says Eric Knowles, of BBC's Antique Roadshow. "I've not seen anything that's inspiring or at all tasteful," he says.

But the relative rarity of good limited edition, quality collectibles - he cites Aynsley as an example - could inflate their value in years to come.

"The problem with the other stuff is that if they realise it's worth something, they'll knock out 6,000 more and ship them over."


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