The uncertain future of royal merchandise

In the Buckingham Palace Shop, at the intersection of Buckingham Palace Road and Palace Street, the official royal gift shop, the windows have been blocked with thick velvety purple curtains since Queen Elizabeth II died in the early of the month. It evokes (perhaps unintentionally) a coffin, and that association is even clearer next door at Majestic Gifts, where an explicit mourning shrine is surrounded by a display of keychains, mugs, salt shakers and pepper shakers, posters, pens, teddy bears, dishes, wine glasses and bobblehead dolls. Much of it still celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, which ended in June. Queen Elizabeth merchandise is an endangered breed.

I asked the floor manager of Majestic Gifts, Nasir, a seemingly simple question after the accession of King Charles III: does this shop carry Charles products?

He squinted and turned his face like he was running a candy store and I had just asked for something that tasted like broccoli. “No,” he said determinedly. “There is nothing.” When I insisted, he said that over a month ago he had Charles mugs, but they weren’t selling.

Store after store across London, it’s the same story: royal wares almost exclusively dedicated to the late Queen, and a series of sideways glances when asked about the desirability of Charles’ wares.

It’s not a matter of being too early. Down the street from Majestic Gifts, at Cool Britannia, staff were already walking around in sweatshirts marking the Queen’s death with the phrase ‘Forever in our hearts… 1926-2022’. Merchants have the ability to produce Charles-themed memorabilia; it’s just that nobody wants it.

Around some of London’s biggest tourist areas – Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Notting Hill, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus – there’s a much higher chance of finding merchandise from TV star Mr Bean. British cult whose eponymous show ended in 1995, that of the new king. There’s even a better chance of finding Donald Trump merchandise in a UK souvenir shop in 2022 than there is from Carolean.

A 2021 poll found the Queen’s brand appeal to be “superior to Nike, Ferrari and Pepsi”. For good reason: A 2018 YouGov poll found that 31% of Britons had seen or met the late Queen in person, compared to 16% for then-Prince Charles, 5% for Prince William, 4% for the Prince Harry, 3% for Kate Middleton, and only one percent for Meghan Markle. In other words, the queen has been the British monarchy, and without it the international interest in the Windsors seems uncertain, as does the whole sale of royal merchandise.

According to the Center of Retail Research, the British public spent £282 million on souvenirs for this year’s Platinum Jubilee. Only the weddings of other senior royals – Charles and Diana in 1981, and William and Kate in 2011 – even come close to the Queen’s regular cargo hauls. William and Kate’s wedding, for example, saw £134million spent on merchandise, and many shops are still selling things like tea towels to commemorate the blessed event.

An analysis of Google search trends conducted by the Middletons.co.uk website determined that from May 2018 to March 2022, “top merchandise categories are plates, china, mugs, biscuit tins, tea towels and glassware”. For example, the best-selling Platinum Jubilee merchandise this summer was a set of Queen’s Monogram Engraved (EIIR) champagne glasses from the Royal Collection Trust, of which only 70 sets were made, priced at £120 a pop.

“The audience for all things royal – news, merchandise, fashion, anything – has been a woman’s world for women,” said Elizabeth Holmes, owner of a instagram who offers insight into the royal family and author of a New York Times bestseller on the subject, SAR: so many reflections on the royal style.

“The Queen is so present in daily life – her face is on the money! in London for the platinum jubilee.

“I don’t want to see Charles’ face on a teacup or a dish towel.” Charles was never able to match his mother in popularity; shortly before its Jubilee, 81% of Britons said they viewed it favorably. Meanwhile, 42 percent said in a separate April 2022 poll, Charles is expected to abdicate in favor of his son.

There are many possible reasons, all guesswork. Perhaps menswear and the current gender conversation is downright lacking in sophistication to take on any king being the monarch that queen was.

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“Charles has painted himself into a style corner by criticizing Diana so heavily for her fashion,” Holmes said.

Perhaps the spark of interest is missing, given Charles’s rise lacks the ingenuous charms of Elizabeth, who was 25 at the time (at 73, Charles is the oldest British monarch ever to have acceded to the throne). Maybe it’s just a harder and meaner fact that Charles is too unloved to carry the Queen’s torch, seeing as other men (like Barack Obama or all the Popes) have no trouble selling goods. Then, of course, Netflix The crown delayed Charles’ royal rehabilitation for decades, exposing a new generation to the Diana saga and reopening old wounds for those who already knew the story.

Lakhvir Kaur agreed that Charles lacked the “it” factor. Kaur has run a British souvenir shop for 10 years in Dover, the country’s main port city along the English Channel, home to World War II memorials, museums of Roman Britain, one of the castles the most distinguished in the country and the natural splendor of its famous white cliffs. His shop is still selling a £3 tea towel commemorating William and Kate’s wedding, but nothing bearing the face of King Charles.

“No one is going to buy anything to do with Charles,” she said. “I think that will be true even after his death. We will have to wait for the next king, King William.

In Canterbury, Margaret Davies, a self-proclaimed ‘royal madwoman’, bought several cushions in honor of the Queen’s corgis. “Look at me,” she said, pointing to her loot. “I’m an absolute lunatic when it comes to the royal family. But Charles’ reign is going to be a bit difficult for me. Of course, I want him to be a good king like his mother, a good monarch, but she is irreplaceable. She added: “And please don’t keep talking about Camilla as Queen.”

When Morning Brew inquired about Camilla products in gift shops, the responses ranged from laughter to, in one case, being asked to leave the shop.

Some royal wares find an audience only because they are wrong. A Wedgwood cup marking the coronation of Edward VIII in 1937 may cost £600 as the coronation never took place, as he abdicated the throne. Similarly, a coronation carriage made by toymaker Lesney for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 can fetch £1,000 despite initially selling for £1, as some editions include a king and queen, as they have originally created to mark the Silver Jubilee of King George VI. in 1952 (he died before the start of the Jubilee).

Edward VII’s 1902 coronation and Charles’ 2005 marriage to Camilla were both postponed – the former for appendicitis and the latter for the funeral of Pope John Paul II – and thus the goods with incorrect dates may be worth more.

“It’s not that memories tend to have monetary value,” said Ron Smith, a Plymouth man who runs commemorabilia.co.uk. “They have emotional value.” He noted that at 71, almost all of his life has been spent during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. “People have real feelings for her,” he said. “Whereas with Charles, they still find those feelings, so to speak. That may not happen.

In the queue to view the Queen’s coffin this week, mourners stretched for more than five miles along the River Thames. One was Vicky Hogg, a retired florist from Nashville who spent $2,200 on a spontaneous flight to London to pay her respects.

“I was surprised it wasn’t as commercial as it is in America,” she said of the queen’s intertwined mourning and the coming of the king. “In America, at the end of the Super Bowl, they already have the jerseys of the winners. Here, not so much.

Ironically, historians consider the first royal merchandise to be a 1661 coronation plaque for the former King Charles, Charles II, whose reign ended the English Civil War and its interregnum period. But Charles II ascended the throne at age 30 and quickly became known as the “Joyeux Monarque” for his sexual appetite and hedonism. It remains to be seen which nicknames Charles III will earn, or if any of them will be worthy of a cup of coffee.

Richard Morgan is a freelance writer in New York.