Menu Close
Four figurines of a waving and smiling Queen Elizabeth II in different outfits

Royal family: why even a Charles and Diana divorce mug is important for the monarchy

Collectors of royal memorabilia may be celebrating the Platinum Jubbly instead of the Jubilee this year. The best of British humour has responded to a printing error on no less than 10,800 decorative cups, mugs and plates designed to mark the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. Social media memes abound, as do references to the Only Fools and Horses catchphrase, “lovely jubbly”.

Despite the flaw, the crockery is still anticipated to sell well as a limited edition misprint. This makes sense when we realise that collectors don’t just look for monetary investments – often the emotional value of a collection lies in its uniqueness. The Jubilee year will reinvigorate interest in the royal collectibles market, both for high-end investors, and lower-end purchasers seeking mementos of the occasion.

Royal memorabilia has a long lineage, dating back to the coronation of King Charles II in 1661. Handmade commemorative plates in English delft could be made to order by those who had the means. Due to their rarity, these now fetch over £60,000 at auction.

Pottery production boomed in the latter half of the 1700s, when the industrial revolution brought new printing techniques and facilitated mass production. Renowned chinaware brands Wedgewood and Royal Crown Derby were established at this time.

Although royal commemorative plates were more widely available during the coronation of King George III in 1760, the market expanded significantly during Queen Victoria’s reign.

A much more varied and imaginative range of memorabilia flourished during Victoria’s 63 years on the throne. Apart from many more crockery items, today you can still find commemorative paperweights, handkerchiefs, perfume bottles, framed photographs, etched glassware, biscuit tins and more. This period certainly fuelled the public’s desire to acquire royal event-related memorabilia, which remains a popular consumer practice.

Royal Collection Trust, which oversees commercial operations at the various royal palaces, reported record sales in 2019. The £21.7 million brought into the royal coffers in 2018-19 was a 20% increase on the year before, fuelled by events like Harry and Meghan’s wedding and the birth of Prince Louis. The trust has just launched it official commemorative chinaware range for the Platinum Jubilee, so we can expect this and its other celebratory items to boost these sales further.

Unofficial memorabilia

Besides official royal collections, there are many unofficial sources of royal memorabilia for both high and low-end collectors. Pottery manufacturers will tempt the former with gilded chinaware, while the many souvenir shops in London, Windsor and Edinburgh will cater for the latter.

A shop window display filled with bags, mugs and flags showing Harry and Meghan's portrait over the Union Jack.
Souvenirs sold during Harry and Meghan’s wedding brought in significant cash for vendors and the Royal Collection Trust. Frank 2012 / Shutterstock

These cheaper trinkets provide an affordable entry point for a mass market to engage with all things royal. They can also, through humour or mockery, influence public perceptions of the royals.

Unlike official sources of memorabilia, these often show a lack of respect for the royals, poking fun at specific family members. Examples include a Prince Charles and Diana divorce mug depicting their faces on either side of a black crack, and William and Catherine wedding toilet paper. Also for sale: solar-powered queens that wave in the sunlight, a mug with Charles’ ear as the handle and wooden nesting dolls representing Diana’s various romantic entanglements.

Satirical memorabilia reflect the broader anti-establishment ethos of British comedy, which often targets the royals. They blend the significance of the monarchy with popular culture, demonstrating how the royals are taken for granted as a part of British everyday life. As such, these items play an important role in the continuation of the monarchy and its public perception.

Highlighting the comic aspects of royalty, these souvenirs disrupt the normal deference accorded to the monarchy, making them more “like us”, if only briefly. The foibles of royal family members give us something to talk about and discuss with our families, colleagues and neighbours, while the monarchy still symbolises British heritage and tradition. Memorabilia represent both of these key aspects, and solidify the importance of the royals in British culture.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 185,500 academics and researchers from 4,982 institutions.

Register now