Within just two and a half hours of the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, more than $700 worth of royal collectibles were snapped up from the Falls Church Antique Annex. These were mugs, plates, ceramic dinner bells and the like, all adorned with likenesses of various British royals.
“Two or three people came in and bought it,” said Matthew Quinn, son of the shop’s owner, Paul Quinn, and the head of nearby Quinns Auction Galleries. “I don’t know if they were going to put it on eBay or wanted to get it before anybody else got it.”
We may not be able to own a diamond-encrusted tiara or a robe trimmed in ermine, but we can get an Elizabeth letter opener or a Prince Charles and Princess Diana egg cup. As for why we’d want to, Quinn has a few theories.
There’s a certain kitsch quotient for some collectors, but he thinks more people who collect royal souvenirs are drawn to the fairy tale connotations of princesses and princes, of queens and kings. The neighborhoods around Buckingham Palace are full of shops catering to royalty-besotted tourists.
“Americans have been going and buying over the last century,” Quinn said.
That stuff arrives in the United States in our luggage, like an invasive beetle. Eventually, much of it winds up at antique shops, thrift stores, garage sales and auction houses such as Quinns, where it always finds buyers.
“We imported from England for years,” Quinn said. “Every time we’d go over, we’d make more money with the royal collectibles packed in a suitcase than from a box full of English furniture.”
There’s something for almost any budget. The Falls Church Antique Annex on West Broad Street has royal mugs starting around $20. Or you can pay $675 for a stoneware mug made in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII.
“High-end pieces, like Royal Doulton, go from the middle hundreds to the low thousands,” Quinn said. “So many different makers make coronation stuff and jubilee stuff. The better makers command better prices and are less kitschy. The older stuff, it does have more value, in part because there’s less of it.”
The store has such oddball items as queen horse brasses, or buckle-like metal rings meant to hold the leather straps of a horse’s bridle, and a television tray adorned with a photo of Elizabeth and Prince Philip, perfect for eating off while watching “The Crown.”
“It’s amazing what they put stuff on,” said Quinn. Of course, we put our own version of royalty on souvenirs. A whole display case at Falls Church Antique Annex is full of American political memorabilia.
Queen Elizabeth II
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“A pen with Barack Obama’s picture on it doesn’t look altogether different from what we’re seeing there” in the United Kingdom, Quinn said. “But I don’t think we do it to the same degree.”
Aside from royal collectibles, and a few categories such as comic books and baseball cards, people aren’t collecting to the same degree they once did, Quinn said. The interest in, and value of, Hummel and Lladró figurines have plummeted. The same with collectible plates.
“We can’t sell china cabinets these days,” Quinn said. “Nobody wants to buy them.” China cabinets are big pieces of furniture designed to be crammed full of fussy things. They’re anathema to people raised in the age of minimalism and Marie Kondo.
Quinn, 47, is younger than the generation that prized china cabinets, a generation that devoted time and money to completing their sets of stamps, coins or Franklin Mint tchotchkes. He said he and his wife don’t collect any one type of thing in bulk, preferring to buy interesting single objects that speak to them. Young people prefer experiences over material items, he said.
“At my house, we’ll serve the bread with dinner in some awesome, funky bowl and drink a great old bottle of wine,” he said. “We’d rather spend money that way than line the top of the dining room wall with Bing & Grøndahl collectible plates.”
But a plate with a royal on it? People still seem to want it. And you can just imagine what is already hitting the shops in England and will eventually be worming its way into America: King Charles III, coming soon to a mug near you.