They've been called everything from patriots to hoarders to savvy investors. Avid collectors of royal memorabilia are an international tribe of people touched by the lives–and stuff–of the Queen Mum's family. And ever since Kate and Will announced their wedding plans, the tribe has mushroomed along with the amount of royal-themed souvenirs.
Between the replica engagement rings, the dolls, the tea towels, the stamps, and the scratch-off cards, collectors are expected to boost retail sales by $362 million. But who's spending all that cash?
“I’ve already reserved the Kate Middleton bridal doll and figurine from the Franklin Mint,” said 38-year-old Jennifer Love-Songer of St. Louis. “I’ve got two copies of Kate’s engagement ring: one for me and one for my sister.” Love-Songer, has never been to England, but she’s still managed to build a hefty collection, thanks to eBay and regular trips to GoodWill.
"I was a little girl when Di was married so I couldn't afford to buy any souvenirs, but for Will and Kate's wedding I can afford to collect," said Love-Songer, a veterinarian. "It makes me feel like a part of history." Since the engagement was announced in November, she's spent around $1,100 on merchandise. It's a passion she shares with her sister Susan, who also collects.
“We find that people buy royal souvenirs for reason alone, because they like them,” said Stephen Church of the UK Gift Company, an online commemorative plate purveyor. He's seen a marked uptick in American collectors since November. “It’s not a financial investment, it’s an emotional investment and it’s something to pass on to their family members. “
Margaret Tyler, a retired 66-year-old grandmother from England, has another plan for her collection. She has dreams of creating a "Will and Kate conservatory" in her home. She's already got a room dedicated to the memory of Lady Di, complete with stained glass window, rug, and ceiling painting in her likeness.
“Once I started buying I couldn’t stop,” Tyler admitted to The Telegraph. “People started giving me things, my children bought me things for Christmas and birthdays. My son lives in America and buys me things you can’t get over here, so I’ve got to this stage now.”
Among her prized possessions : a Prince William doll, Charles and Camilla’s wedding certificate, a lock of Di’s hair, a life-size cardboard cutout of the Queen Mum, and a framed brochure from Party Pieces—the Middleton family business. Amazingly, none of it was bought online, unless it was a gift from one of her sons.
"My children are not great royalists themselves, but they do look out for me," Tyler told the Harrow Times. "My eldest son Andrew – he's named after Prince Andrew – lives in America and he'll get a phone call from me and say: 'Hello, Mum, what do you want?' I'll say: 'Oh, I've just seen something on TV…' He got me a book signed by the Duchess of York once."
While she has no plans to sell off her collection, which has now become a tourist stop for royal gawkers, she has had her 10,000 plus items insured for around $70,000.
The only woman with a rival collection is Janet Williams, an Australian whose 20,000-strong and growing items landed her in the Guinness Book of World records. Her mom started her collection with a royal mug in 1954, during the royal monarchy's first trip down under. Now two cardboard cutouts of Charles and Camilla greet people in front of Williams' four-bedroom home turned museum. Her husband, Phillip, has learned to accept it. “The bloody collection has no end,” he told Aussie magazine Woman's Day.
When she had her first daughter, Williams, now 62, admits she became obsessed with Lady Di and by her second daughter, her Di-themed collections (from slippers to teacups) became a passion. Now she’s moved on to Kate and Will. "As soon as the mainstream souvenirs are out, I've ordered them." But the mannequins of the couple—dressed in their engagement outfits—are hardly mainstream. Now Williams is headed to London for the big wedding and she plans to bring back spoils. "From the fine china to paper printouts and magnets, I'll get it," she told press. "That's what a collection is; a bit of everything, not just the fancy things."
On the other side of the world, collector Caroline Davenport is angling for one item from the wedding: an invitation. According to one royal dealer, back in November collectors were offering up to $10,000 for an invite to any of the royal events—not for attendance but for commemoration. Davenport, a 13-year veteran of royal collecting, considers it a good investment. And dealers confirm the latest wedding news have driven rare royal item prices way up.
“I absolutely love it,” Davenport told the Globe and Mail. “Because they will hold their value or increase in value, the really, really, really rare stuff – I can justify my spending habit.” One of the rarest items in her collection is a letter Lady Di wrote to one of her bridesmaids on her honeymoon.
But the most coveted collectors item right now is the see-through dress Kate Middleton wore when she was still Will’s college crush. Last week, a wealthy young British tycoon named Nicky Roberts bought the piece at auction for over $125,000. Roberts, 34, bought the dress for his uncle, David Gainsborough-Roberts, one of the world’s largest collectors of sartorial memorabilia.
Gainsborough-Roberts told the BBC he plans to use the dress to raise money for charity, noting the mileage a famous item of clothing can have. “Miss Middleton is probably going to be the next Queen of England, so it is of historical importance,” he said, adding the dress is “probably more important than Queen Victoria’s bloomers, which I have.”
Photo: The sheer dress Middleton wore in college was purchased by a 34-year-old Brit last week for $125,000. (Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)