written by Alexander Bitar
In conjunction with King Charles III's coronation on May 6, the interest in British royal memorabilia has risen, and people are buying more than ever before. In this article, we'll highlight some of the most valuable and sought-after memorabilia connected to the British royal family.
In terms of collecting, there's one royal family that's universal – and that's the British royal family. There are a few exceptions, but those are individuals, not families. I'm, of course, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, and Grace Kelly. The latter is somewhat special since she's more famous for being a Hollywood star than the Princess of Monaco. To clarify my thought process; a signed portrait of Queen Elizabeth II or King Charles III is of much higher interest than a signed portrait of any other King or Queen.
Every year, there are many official royal souvenirs that are being sold. This included chinaware, jewellery, books, homeware, and so much more. Although many are sold as limited editions, they are still produced in a very high quantity. So if you're buying to invest, then maybe you shouldn't focus on official royal souvenirs but rather on handwritten and/or signed material and items that have been owned or used by various royals.
Yes, wedding cakes. Perhaps somewhat bizarre, but the tradition of giving out sealed and well-preserved, and beautifully presented cakes of British royal weddings goes back many years. To date, the record price is a slice of cake from King Edward VIII's wedding that sold for £30,000 in 1998. Looking at more modern cakes; a slice of cake from Prins Charles and Princess Diana's wedding sells in the £2,500 range, while a slice of cake from Queen Elizabeth II's wedding sells for approximately £750.
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There are many autographs by the current British monarch on the market. You can find a signed photograph or a signed letter in the £800 range. However, these were all signed by King Charles III whilst being the Prince of Wales. A signed photograph of him as a King is, however, of much higher value. I can't really put a price tag since nothing has yet to be offered publicly, but I would suggest a value of £10,000 plus.
Signed photographs by the late Queen Elizabeth II are often sold within the £4,000 to £8,000 range depending on the inscription, condition, and eye appeal of the item. In 2022, RR Auction sold a lively photograph of King George VI, The Queen Mother, and a 5-year-old Princess Elizabeth. Notably, all three signed the photograph! Making it one of the earliest signatures of Queen Elizabeth II. The item sold for £25,000.
Looking at older monarchs, you can find many signed portraits, but rather handwritten and/or signed letters and documents. Letters written by King Henry VIII normally sell for over £45,000. What's the most interesting detail here isn't necessarily if the letter is handwritten completely by the King, or if it's just signed, but rather the content of the letter. If it's an "everyday letter" with non-significant content, then the letter could just be worth around £17,500. But if the content is remarkable, then we're in the £45,000 range. And if it's truly significant and groundbreaking content, then the sky's the limit.
Princess Di is arguably the most famous and beloved royal from the 20th century. In 2023, Sotheby's sold a dress that was personally owned and worn by Princess Diana for more than £550,000! Notably, that very same dress was sold in 1997 for just £20,000 when Diana sold off 79 gowns to raise money for AIDS charities. Not a bad growth during a 26-year period.
That's just one of many incredible auction results. Or how about a 1985 black Ford Escort that Princess Diana used between 1985 and 1988 that went for a whopping £65,000 at auction in 2022! Before Diana married Prince Charles, she rode a bicycle that also found its way to the auction block. The selling price? Over £9,000.
With St. Edward's Crown as the centrepiece, the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are not only the – by far – most expensive British royal memorabilia there is, but that collection of items is also one of the world's most expensive artefacts. However, the Crown Jewels will never be offered for sale, and it's also pretty impossible to even guess the value, so let's keep them aside for now.
It's fair to say that the vast majority of all of the most valuable British royal memorabilia is still, to this day, owned by the family. But over the years, some significant items have left the family. In 2010, Sotheby's sold a Cartier bracelet for £4.5 million. The bracelet was given to Wallis Simpson by King Edward VIII after his abduction from the throne.
One remarkable item that was rumoured to be sold for charity is the unique Patek Philippe ref. 4975/1G. A truly amazing watch, adorned with multiple pearls and diamonds, that was given by Patek Philippe to Queen Elizabeth II. The watch was later loaned by Her Majesty to an exhibition in London where visitors could admire the watch. It's roughly valued at 25 million pounds. But again, we'll probably never see it being sold.
Alexander Bitar is an international dealer of high-end collectibles. Based in Stockholm with office in Beverly Hills, some of Bitar's specialties are entertainment memorabilia as well as autographs and manuscripts.