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The Memento Market

momentos/TWP
A growth market: Princess Diana collectibles like these are expected to increase in value. (By Marie Poirier Marzi for The Washington Post)
By Annie Groer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 1997; Page D01

Amid the mourning for Princess Diana comes the merchandising.

A plethora of commemorative items is being rushed into production or dusted off for quick sale: Earrings and AIDS pins using beads from one of her evening gowns. A limited-edition porcelain rose bearing her name. Reissued biographies. Mugs, plates, coins, figurines, playing cards and Lord knows what else marking her engagement, marriage, motherhood and even her divorce are now going for double and triple last week's prices.

And there's no telling how many new T-shirts, teacups, posters, key rings and other bits of rogue kitsch will be made to commemorate the brief life and tragic death of the Princess of Wales, killed early Sunday in a Paris auto crash.

"I don't think if the Queen had died anyone would care quite this much," said Kimberly Fenton, co-owner of the Worcestershire Shop in Frederick, Md., who marked up the only two Di objects in her inventory of discount china.

"The little dish was about $7.50 and it's $20 now and the mug was $20 and now it's $40. These are things from 1981 and at this point they are all one of a kind," she said.

The Franklin Mint -- which paid $151,000 for Di's faux-pearl-studded "Elvis" jacket and gown at Christie's auction in June, and which has long sold copies of her jewelry -- is pondering a new Diana commemorative.

"Absolutely all profits would go to charity," said Mint Vice Chairman Lynda Rae Resnick of the "under $50" unnamed product. Resnick insisted that in this time of global grieving her firm wouldn't dream of actively hyping its current stock of Diana-ana ($195 for a pearl and white sapphire ring based on a royal tiara and set in sterling, $890 set in gold), but the Mint is filling orders for its "hundreds of collectors seeking anything there is. Our phones have been ringing off the hook."

Prices, however, won't rise because "we would never capitalize on this tragedy," Resnick said.

The Rockville-based International Gem and Jewelry Show Inc., which paid $34,500 for one of Di's evening gowns at the June auction, had been planning to cannibalize the dress's fake pearls and make earrings that would sell for $1,000 a pair.

On Tuesday, a man's bauble was added to the line, company spokesman Charlie Ross said: a crown-shaped pin topped by a pearl and mounted on a metal red ribbon, the talisman of the war on AIDS. Proceeds will go to AIDS and breast cancer research "because those are causes the princess was interested in," Ross said.

Why would someone drop $1,000 on a bead from Di's dress?

"What you have is something similar to the idea of `sympathetic magic,' which means when one has something that is touched by, owned by or cherished by a certain individual, then the object holding the power is transferred to you," said anthropologist Charlene James-Duguid, a longtime Washington antiques collector who, with her husband Jim, runs the Saturday antiques and collectible market at Capitol Hill's Hine Junior High School.

"That's why people paid so much for Andy Warhol's cookie jars, which in the collector's market may have been worth just a few hundred dollars but at auction brought in ungodly amounts," she said.

Moreover, people now want things that show Diana alone, "things that commemorate the good works. Most of what is now available shows her with Prince Charles in the fairy-tale-marriage mode that we now know was a sham," said Sheila Zubrod, author of "Flea: The Definitive Guide to Hunting, Gathering and Flaunting Superior Vintage Wares."

"What makes the creation of a new Diana collectible so unusual and painful is that she died because people wanted her image," Zubrod said.

Helen Boehm decided to honor the icon of British womanhood with a $325, limited-edition "Princess Diana English Rose" sculpture.

The CEO of the New Jersey-based Boehm Porcelain Studio said up to 3,000 of the fragile flowers will be produced. Some of the money -- "We don't know what percentage that is" -- will go to the Red Cross.

The porcelain will be "a very soft, beautiful pink and in the center of the 30 petals will be a lovely little crown, a coronet in gold, resting in the heart of the rose, representing the princess part. It isn't gimmicky," Boehm said.

Book publishers are rushing to reprint several big sellers to restock bookstore shelves denuded of Di titles on Sunday.

Simon and Schuster alone is reissuing 1.5 million books -- some hardbacks, some soft cover -- including 500,000 "commemorative" copies of "Diana: Her True Story," by Briton Andrew Morton. The 1992 edition blew the lid off her unhappy marriage and bouts of bulimia. The reprint, available next month, will contain a new introduction and more photos. The publisher is also reissuing 100,000 copies of "With Love From Diana" by Penny Thornton, the princess's personal astrologer.

Some fashion experts estimated that the 79 cocktail and evening dresses Diana put up for sale at Christie's in New York in late June have skyrocketed in value. The frocks, auction catalogues and preview tickets raised $5.8 million for British and American charities.

Christie's officials won't say how much the dresses -- which sold from $24,150 to $222,500 -- might be worth today. "It's not appropriate for us to discuss this at the moment," said a spokeswoman in London.

Still, Richmond homemaker Fontaine Minor, who paid $25,300 for a white chiffon gown, isn't remotely interested in unloading it. "She would never, ever, unless she didn't have bread to eat, sell that dress," said her daughter, Heather Brugh.

Other Di mementos may -- or may not -- come on the market, said Jenifer Shaw, who sells bric-a-brac at London's Portobello Road flea market. Her wedding invitation, first edition biographies and even "menu cards, matchbooks or programs" from functions she chaired or attended will all be coveted by collectors. Shaw predicted that sellers may wait to see how high prices go.

"Last week I saw masses of postcards of Diana but I haven't seen one since the accident. Either someone has bought them all up or they're being held for a while," Shaw says. "I suspect a lot of these things will be more valuable in the United States than here because she was so terribly popular in the U.S. and there is so much less royal stuff in your country."

Neither Wedgwood nor Royal Doulton -- the old-line British china makers who have produced numerous Windsor commemoratives -- has asked Buckingham Palace's lord chamberlain to approve a Princess Diana tribute. Spokeswomen for both firms say it is too early to gauge public demand.

Although reports from London say some dealers are jacking up prices and buyers are picking some shops clean, there are still merchants who, citing good taste, have chosen not to profit by Diana's death.

Joyce Fryer, manager of the Britannia Shop in Gray's Antique Market in central London, still wants 45 pounds (about $75) for a 1981 Charles and Diana engagement plate.

"I think you will probably see a glut of kitschy things of Diana alone that will be priced high but will not hold their value," said Washington's James-Duguid. "Things created to be collected rarely become as valuable as things not created as collectibles, which become rare and enter into the collectible world."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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