Tucked away in a cabinet in the Brooklyn Museum in New York is one of the most bizarre pieces of royal wedding memorabilia around.
The tiny item is kept wrapped, out of sight, in a yellowed square of paper and displayed in a small silver-plated glass receptacle. It has not been exposed to the air for nearly 180 years.
Remarkably, curators at the museum believe that the curiosity, a small square of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, is still intact, currants and all. Although the cake is not likely to ever be sold, it could be worth tens of thousands of pounds, if the sale, 20 years ago, of a slice of the cake from Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s wedding is anything to go by. A bit of mouldy cake for £21,000? Collectors are strange beings. But when a royal wedding is looming, they come out to play in droves. With just a week to go until the marriage of Prince Harry and US actress Meghan Markle, we are, now – possibly, hopefully – experiencing peak wedding commercialisation. From condoms to crisps, beer to card games and sausages, there is nothing which cannot become commemorative, it seems.
The creators of the Crown Jewels Heritage Condoms – apparently “the world’s pre-eminent supplier of souvenir-grade heirloom prophylactics” – claim the contraceptives are “fit for a prince”. The only flaw is that they have not been licensed for “medical” use and the makers bizarrely advise that they should be kept for “generations to come” rather than used to actually prevent pregnancies or STIs. However, the £10 rubber johnnies do come in a box which plays an “exclusive” arrangement of God Save the Queen and The Star Spangled Banner. Pure class.
Even posh crisp brand Tyrrels is getting in on the act, with their “Ginger & Sparkle” parsnip crisps, which have edible glitter “for a celebratory feel”, while publisher Orion has commissioned someone to create a colouring book of – wait for it – line drawings of the happy couple re-enacting scenes from popular films, such as Titanic. Obviously.
A limited edition Top Trumps card game commissioned to mark the wedding features every member of the Royal Family, including the Queen’s corgis and the family’s latest arrival, Prince Louis, who will be less than a month old on the big day. Meanwhile, Yorkshire sausage maker Heck has created the “Majestic” banger, which, like Tyrrels, uses flavours to play on the “ginger” hue of Harry’s hair.
Over on eBay – and, no doubt, in every souvenir shop in London – there is the usual deluge of printed mugs, tea towels, teddies and tea spoons. Wedding watchers planning a party next Saturday afternoon can head online to snap up themed items from bunting to baseball caps and from Union Jack dresses to paper plates decorated with the happy couple’s faces.
Those of us north of the border might, thankfully, be spared the worst of the wedding mania, as a report out earlier this week from Mintel found that only a quarter of Scots say they feel even a hint of patriotism as a result of the royal wedding. The stats are not surprising, we have never been a nation of monarchists. In 2011, when William and Kate tied the knot, organisers had to cancel a street party in Scotland’s biggest city due to lack of demand. However, never ones to miss out on an opportunity for a party, Glasgwegians are, this time around, planning a rave to celebrate the nuptials.
Those who really want a proper, traditional slice of the royal action are advised to head to Balmoral Castle, which is opening its doors on the wedding day to offer visitors a commemorative cupcake.
Across the Atlantic, those enthusiastic royal watchers are, of course, going even more all out with every restaurant, hotel and shop seemingly getting in on the act. One hotel, the Windsor Court in New Orleans has a wedding package priced at an eye watering $51,918 – the numbers chosen to match the 5/19/18 date of the wedding, using the American convention. Geddit? The Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills in California is offering a $30,000 “royal treatment package”, while the Drake hotel in Chicago is to host a lunch with the same menu it served in 1996 when Princess Diana stayed there. Many Americans have announced plans to travel to Britain for the big day, with three times the number of people as usual hunting for a room in the Windsor area over the wedding weekend, according to hotel booking website Trivago. Locals have also tried to cash in on the event, with a night in a home overlooking the royal wedding route costing around £2,000 on AirBnB. Royals weddings are undoubtedly big business.
Yet, it seems, unless you are planning to preserve a piece of bona fide wedding cake for the next couple of centuries (hint: if you’ve not managed to bag an invite to the wedding itself, Iceland has an £8 version of the £50,000 elderflower and lemon showstopper set to be sliced by Harry and Meghan, which I’m certain could pass for the real thing) anything commemorative is not likely to have lasting value.
Experts have warned that the mass production of royal merchandise means that it is not likely to increase in value in the future. Widespread production of commemorative items began in Queen Victoria’s reign, meaning that while an 1837 mug marking her coronation would sell today for over £1,000 due to its rarity, the mass-produced Diamond Jubilee mugs from 1897 are worth just £20.
Auction site eBay is currently listing a bundle of memorabilia from Charles and Diana’s wedding. The stash, which includes two children’s books about the heir to the throne, pristine postcards, a tea towel and commemorative shopping bags, is on sale for the not-so-princely sum of £6. Perhaps keeping those condoms for future generations is not the smartest move.