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Royal wedding souvenirs swamp shops in UK

/ 05:43 AM April 18, 2011

LONDON—From fine china makers to the producers of knickknacks of dubious taste, souvenir makers have gone into overdrive ahead of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.

It’s as if the Olympic motto “faster, higher, stronger” has been adopted by the firms, except the records being smashed are for production—and irreverence.

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The Internet—embryonic at the time of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981—has clearly helped, boosting the number of collectors abroad as well as buyers of the most tongue-in-cheek souvenirs.

The machines turning out everything from the most exquisite ornaments to kitsch keepsakes have been working nonstop since November, when William and his bride-to-be announced their engagement.

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“It started on Day One,” said Julie Wing, sales director at Elgate, which is offering customers a range of souvenirs including a gold-trimmed ashtray emblazoned with pictures of the happy couple.

Official and unofficial articles— some made in the United Kingdom, many not—have swamped British shops and market stalls.

The lovebirds’ smiles adorn more than 3.5 million mugs along with multitudes of plates, key-ring bottle openers, cricket caps, T-shirts and even refrigerators.

“Kiss me Kate” beer cans, coats for dogs to wear on the wedding day and “royal” cat food have all been created.

Replicas of Kate’s wedding dress and the sapphire engagement ring are also available.

‘Knit the wedding’

Another must-have souvenir is a book of instructions on how to “knit the wedding” in woollen figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, complete with his bushy grey beard.

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Or how about the book of skillfully faked photos of the wedding showing Queen Elizabeth joining Elton John for a conga at the reception?

In total, souvenir sales will near £200 million ($325 million), the Center for Retail Research predicted.

“It’s massive,” said Andrew Cousins, whose family-run company, Peter Jones Ltd., has made £1 million of extra turnover.

Certain ornaments, such as porcelain models of the Westminster Abbey wedding venue, can be bought by monthly installments to cater for royal enthusiasts struggling in Britain’s austere economic times.

Made in the Far East

On the downside, “it’s a shame that a British royal event is commemorated with so many articles made in the Far East,” bemoaned Cousins.

However, a salesperson in the “Chinatown London Market” shop in downtown Soho promises that his goods are “not made in China—made in UK.” His versatile shop, which also serves as a massage parlor and bureau de change, is packed with objects bearing the couple’s faces: cheap porcelain, spoon collections and miniature plastic versions of the horse-drawn carriages.

The guidelines defining “official” souvenirs “by Royal appointment” were drawn up by the lord chamberlain for Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887. They prohibit the unofficial use of the royal coats of arms or currency and require products to be of “good taste and free of publicity.”

However, the future groom’s desire to appear modern has meant the use of the couple’s image on tea towels—previously deemed “vulgar” by Buckingham Palace—will be tolerated for this wedding.

The apparent relaxing of the guidelines on merchandising seem to have encouraged counterfeiters and hawkers to cash in.

Best sellers: ugly, unusual

Internet salesperson Hugh Pomfret, who offers boxes of “king size” royal wedding condoms which urge users to “lie back and think of England” said he was pleased with the “more playful, fun direction” the industry has taken.

Lydia Leith, who makes sick bags decorated with a drawing of the couple, said she was sure that “people who like and dislike the wedding like the joke.” Whatever the souvenir, it is rarely a wise investment.

“The ugly and the unusual sell better,” antiques expert Judith Miller said.

A mug caricaturing Charles can today be worth 50 times its purchase price, if it is intact—the two handles in the shape of oversize ears tend to break easily.

Another mug, made in China, is truly unique: it celebrates the wedding of Kate to William’s younger brother Prince Harry.

AFP

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