LONDON – A William and Catherine monogram mug? A pair of hand-crafted swan paperweights? A dainty wedding bell, perhaps?
With the array of romantic memorabilia flooding the market, royal fans worldwide don't have to wait till next year to celebrate Prince William's wedding.
Almost as soon as the prince announced his engagement to long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton, souvenir shops and chinaware producers have been inundated with order requests for special edition mugs, plates and assorted collectibles.
In a generally bleak retail landscape, British businesses have high hopes the royal wedding can bring in some badly needed cash.
"We've taken masses of pre-sales orders, and people have actually placed orders on items that they can't even see pictures of because they're not available yet," said Stephen Church, whose family has been selling collectibles in England's Northampton for over 100 years.
Manufacturers have had special tableware designed months ago — it only took the official announcement of when (April 29) and where (Westminster Abbey) for the race to cash in to begin in earnest.
It's a retail fever that has gripped people from all corners of the world. There is strong interest from collectors in the U.S. and other countries with no royals, Church said. As for Britons — especially those living overseas — owning royal memorabilia could be a way to connect with their country and display patriotism.
"For the British, it's a feeling of security," he said. "It's part of life's routine that the royal family is there. Buying commemorative products is part of cherishing them."
Royal births, coronations and weddings have been marked with souvenir ceramics for centuries, and the commemorative china industry is nearly as steeped in tradition as the royal family itself. So skip novelty items like cell phone covers and mouse pads — serious collectors will be sticking to mugs and plates, Church said.
"People aren't looking for something different," he said. "With a royal event, it's all about tradition."
So what's on offer?
To share royal adulation with the love of your life, consider getting a specially commissioned royal "loving cup" — a mug with two handles.
Aynsley China, which has been making chinaware to mark royal events since Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, has one of these gems. They also have royal engagement-themed plates and coasters featuring portraits of William and Middleton. The designs have been ready for six months and will hit the shops just before Christmas, sales director John Wallis said.
Royal Doulton, another chinamaker, has a similar floral-edged plate that has a picture of the youthful couple gazing lovingly at each other.
Church predicts particularly strong demand for memorabilia from Halcyon Days, a prominent china company known for the hand-painted enamel boxes it makes to celebrate big royal occasions.
For memorabilia with a twist, Royal Crown Derby has a set of white and gold swan paperweights, called William and Catherine, with necks curved to represent a heart. Cygnet paperweights can come soon, too — the company is already lining up designs for the next range, in anticipation of royal babies.
"It won't be long before we start (product) modeling for children," sales director Simon Willis said.
Suitably for such a fairytale wedding, the company is also making a royal Welsh dragon — the mythical symbol of Wales, where William is based. The designers have been creative with the product line: there are also W&C monogram heart-shaped trays, wedding bells, a set of dwarfs wearing commemorative hats, and a paperweight featuring a hand-painted peacock and roses that will cost more than 3,000 pounds ($4,665) each.
Royal fans on a commoner's budget need not despair. Easy access to digital technology means that almost anyone can print a picture of William on a mug, and many cheaply made T-shirts, tea towels and thimbles are up for grabs on the auction site eBay.com.
Just don't count on them becoming cash in the attic a decade or two on: Hundreds of souvenir items like biscuit tins and stamps marking Prince Charles and Princess Diana's 1981 nuptials swamp the site, with few inviting much bidding interest.
The list of businesses taking advantage of the royal wedding craze goes on.
The supermarket chain Tesco is targeting women who want to copy Middleton's style on the cheap with a 16-pound ($25) version of her dark blue silk engagement dress, while QVC, an online and television shopping company, said sales of its 34-pound ($53) "diamonique" knockoff of Middleton's sapphire and diamond engagement ring rocketed 800 percent the day after the engagement.
All that merchandise can add up to as much as 18 million pounds ($28 million) of retail sales, said Neil Saunders, consulting director of retail researchers Verdict. And that's just the engagement — the wedding itself can bring in more than 26 million pounds ($40 million), Saunders said, on top of the hundreds of millions that tourists already spend every year on visiting palaces and buying monarchy-related souvenirs.
For Ron Smith, who runs an online business selling royal commemorative items, the meaning of collecting royal products has changed since the Victorian times when subjects collected those items to show their allegiance to the British crown. Smith said he has taken many inquiries about the upcoming royal wedding from non-Commonwealth locales such as Alaska and Japan, as well as from royalists in Canada.
"People these days don't buy it because they are loyal to the crown," he said, adding that many of his clients are middle-aged or older and simply started collecting things once they retired and found little else to do.