Princess Diana - Queen of collectors' hearts
Following the landmark sale of ten of Lady Diana Spencer’s dresses at Kerry Taylor Auctions last week, Wikicollecting takes a look at the enduring popularity of memorabilia connected with this inspiring and tragic Princess.
Diana Spencer became a member of the British Royal Family and Princess of Wales when she married Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son Charles, Prince of Wales, in July of 1981.
She was incredibly popular with the public, in great part due to her extensive charity work and down to earth nature. She quickly became a major media presence worldwide. Diana and Charles had two sons, Princes William and Harry – the heirs second and third in line to the British throne.
It was rumoured that Diana was thought of as a ‘loose cannon’ by the royal family. Her habitual refusal to comply with the rules of tradition in the royal household set her apart, perhaps endearing her to the public. Tony Blair christened her ‘the people’s princess’, and this is how she is often referred to.
As Diana’s marriage to Charles began to break down, the media attention surrounding the couple intensified, and turned to scrutiny and speculation. The royal couple officially separated in 1992, and divorced in 1996.
A year after the divorce, Diana was tragically killed in a car crash in Paris aged just 36. This lead to widespread public mourning, and numerous conspiracy theories.
Diana is considered one of the most important public figures of the 20th century. She is consistently voted amongst the most popular royals, sometimes outranking the queen. The market for memorabilia and collectibles relating to Diana is extensive, in accordance with her enduring popularity.
In addition, her early death had an inevitable ‘James Dean effect’ on the scarcity and desirability of her autograph and other collectibles.
Personal items owned by Diana consistently reach extremely high prices at auction, and her autograph appreciates each year. There are numerous options for collectors on a budget too, as Diana’s likeness and imprint can be found spanning numerous types of collectible items. The following is a list, by no means exhaustive, of examples of Diana memorabilia.
We mentioned the Kerry Taylor auction that inspired this feature. Diana’s wardrobe tells a poignant story about her life and royal career. Each dress was the centrepiece for an event, each the product of intense consideration and design in order to produce something appropriate.
Each garment has a story of its own: the dress she wore to a party with Liza Minnelli, after which she was chastised for her un-princess-like behaviour, the dress designed for the State visit to India when she sat alone by the Taj Mahal and sparked media speculation about her marriage, the dress in which she famously danced with John Travolta.
See our list of the top 10 Princess Diana dresses sold at auction for more information on these and her other dresses, and to marvel at the high prices they achieved.
Diana’s jewellery was similarly painstakingly chosen to present a certain image. The style of her engagement ring, a large sapphire surrounded by diamonds, has been vastly imitated, and is synonymous with her.
Many of her items of jewellery will never come to auction, but remain in the possession of the royal family. Yet one earring and necklace set, designed for Diana to wear to a British National Ballet performance of Swan Lake, and completed sadly just before she was killed, were sold for $700,000 in 2010.
Photographs and Autographs
It has been said that Diana was the world’s most photographed woman (alongside Grace Kelly). From official photographs, to press images, to photographs snapped by the public, these must number into the millions. This means that there are a wealth of photographs for collectors to obtain, and many remain very affordable – unless they are signed by the princess, or from a particularly famous photoshoot. Signed photographs can achieve several thousand at auction, while unsigned press or public photos can be picked up for next to nothing on eBay.
Autographs alone are less attractive to collectors than the eye appeal of a signed photo. They can be found for a few hundred pounds or dollars. If attached to a significant document, like a dinner menu, first day cover, or especially a signed personal letter, their value rises.
Due to the effect of her young death, there are simply fewer Diana autographs in the world than there would be of a similarly public figure who lived into old age. This makes the existing ones more precious and valuable.
Memorabilia from Charles and Diana’s wedding, such as souvenir plates and posters, continues to be popular.
After Diana’s death, the Diana Memorial Fund were given exclusive rights to her image. However, merchandise was and continues to be produced by the Franklin Mint and Princess Ring LLC, who are outside the litigation zone.
This merchandise includes mugs, toys, playing cards, jigsaw puzzles, postcards, badges, tins, china, and dolls. Even the clothes and jewellery from the dolls are sold on eBay as collectible items in their own right.
Other notable items of Diana memorabilia that spring to mind:
- Personal items that the princess owned have great significance for collectors. For example, her teenage record collection, many including a scribbled ‘Diana’, were recently offered at an auction (though withdrawn and sold privately to the Daily Mail newspaper, who then gifted them to her sons William and Harry).
- An engraved silver apple that marked Diana’s 1989 first solo visit to New York sold at auction last year. She presented these apples to staff who accompanied her.
- Diana was known for sending Christmas cards with humorous, sometimes cheeky greetings. These are an attractive personal form of autograph that collectors love to get hold of.
On a budget
We have mentioned that photographs of Diana were taken by most members of the public that came into contact with her at any point, so Diana photographs are widespread and affordable. Likewise, the numerous magazines and newspapers that she was featured in have the advantage of being currently very easy to obtain, and likely to become rarer and more sought after, as is the nature of ephemera.
Modern and vintage produced items of merchandise are also a good bet for a collector with less ready cash. These objects will only appreciate with time as they become rarer, as Diana’s name will never be forgotten.
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