Nameless royal baby drives British mug-makers potty

Souvenir gifts celebrating the upcoming birth of the royal baby of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of the Cambridge, are seen on sale in a Souvenir outlet in central London on June 26, 2013. The souvenir mugs (not pictured) are ready to be transport
Souvenir gifts celebrating the upcoming birth of the royal baby of Prince William and Kate, Duchess of the Cambridge, are seen on sale in a Souvenir outlet in central London on June 26, 2013. The souvenir mugs (not pictured) are ready to be transported to eager customers throughout Britain and overseas from Japan to the United States. But with no name yet for the new royal baby, manufacturers are stuck. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - The souvenir mugs are ready to be transported to eager customers throughout Britain and overseas from Japan to the United States. But with no name yet for the new royal baby, manufacturers are stuck.

"The mugs are made but we can't put the decoration on them until we know the baby's name," said Ms Linda Salt, a spokeswoman for Burleigh, one of Britain's oldest potteries.

"We want to put the Prince of Cambridge's name on them. But like a lot of potteries at the moment, we're standing still until we can move to that next stage."

Prince William's wife Kate gave birth to their first child, the third in line to the throne, on Monday but the infant is still known only by his royal title.

The Royal Collection Trust is also waiting for the name before finishing off the official royal baby range of plates, cups and trinket boxes decorated in gold, white and blue.

Uncertainty over the name of the baby - and until the birth, uncertainty over its sex - has delayed the delivery of all but the most generic commemorative items.

And the manufacturers are not the only ones frustrated, as tourists scouring London's souvenir shops struggled to find something to mark the occasion.

"We've had high demand - maybe 100 people an hour. But we have nothing," said a shop assistant at Cool Britannia, a large souvenir shop in Picadilly Circus.

Even at the Buckingham Palace shop, the only baby-related items were a few Christmas decorations in the shape of a pram or a heart embroidered with a picture of a stork and bearing the words "Royal Baby 2013".

"We have not found anything. What we saw here was maybe done before the baby was born," Ms Sandra Evans, a 68-year-old tourist from Australia, told AFP.

Ever since Kate's pregnancy was announced in December, retailers have been busily producing all sorts of baby-related items, from tea towels to royal baby potties.

But for many royal collectors, it is all about the hand-finished mugs and plates which they can give pride of place on a mantlepiece or a wall.

"I will certainly order something like a piece of china. It's our future king who has been born," said Ms Karen Dawson, 48, from Aberdeen in Scotland, as she browsed the palace shop.

While many collectors are in Britain, half of the pre-orders for Burleigh's £15 (S$29) commemorative baby mug are from Japan. Industry experts say strong export sales are also expected to the United States and Commonwealth countries.

Ms Laura Cohen, chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, says home-grown potteries have the edge on cheaper, overseas manufacturers because they can get their products on the market much faster.

"Shipping times from Asian manufacturers can be six weeks or so. Some of the companies in the UK can do that within 24 hours," she told AFP.

It is hard to judge exactly how much the royal baby will be worth to Britain's faltering economy.

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) had predicted an extra £243 million in sales of party goods, toys, souvenirs and other royal-related items in July and August.

But some analysts note that this money may be diverted from other areas of spending, and a commentator in the Financial Times warned: "We shouldn't look to the prince for a recovery."

Ms Cohen said ceramic royal baby collectibles will be worth "several millions" of pounds, representing "a few per cent" of this year's sales for the British industry, which employs 5,000.

But there are other benefits beyond direct sales. "It's obviously very welcome publicity and they will get knock-on sales," she said.

At Burleigh in Stoke-on-Trent, home of the English pottery industry, workers are standing by for William and Kate to decide on a name - and praying it isn't too long to fit on their wares.

To help customers picture the finished product, the company has created a prototype with Arthur and Charles in gold writing - two traditional names that might just make the cut.

But the spokeswoman is keen that this not be misinterpreted, saying: "Please don't take that as thinking we have any inside knowledge whatsoever!"