Next time you snaffle away a bit of cake in a soggy napkin at the end of a wedding, it might be worth looking after it.
As a piece of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s 40-year-old wedding cake sold for £1,850 at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire this week, we thought it worth delving deeper into the baked goods auction market.
But first to Charles and Diana's cake—or rather large slice of decorated icing with a marzipan base (what happened to the cake itself is a mystery)—to mark their marriage at St Paul's Cathedral in London on 29 July 1981.
The icing was given to Moyra Smith, an employee of the Queen Mother at Clarence House. On Wednesday, the morsel wrapped in clingfilm sold to a man called Gerry Layton, a luxury boat charterer from Leeds, who told the BBC that he will leave the cake to charity after his death (giving a whole new meaning to charity bake sale). But, Layton added: "I will have to think of a way to stop myself from trying to eat it though." Each to their own.
However, the auctioneers say in the catalogue description “we advise against eating it."
Interestingly, there was more interest in the icing this time than when it was last sold—along with a Charles and Diana thank you letter—at the same auctioneers by Moyra's family in 2008.
"Over the years we have sold about 20 pieces of Charles and Diana wedding cake that was given to the guests in little boxes lettered in silver and which understandably many guests kept," Chris Albury, an auctioneer and senior valuer at Dominic Winter, tells The Art Newspaper. Although these make about £200 today, in the heady days of the mid-1990s boom when the cakes started to come on the market, they would make £500 to £600, "before it settled down", Albury says.
Not all cakes are made equal though. "We even sold a piece of [Prince] Andrew and Sarah [Duchess of York] wedding cake for £250 in 2005 which I think would be unsaleable at any price now!", Albury says (referring to the recent allegations against Prince Andrew). He adds: "I was offered a piece for auction on Thursday and declined."
Albury, who personally has a savoury tooth, also sold a piece of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips's wedding cake for £155 in 1997 which he also thinks "would be tough to repeat now unless in a special sale."
Dominic Winter has never sold a piece of the current Queen's cake, but Albury thinks a slice would probably be worth £200-300 and in 2013, a boxed fruitcake from her wedding in 1947 went for £560. However, that was overshadowed by the £1,917 paid for a slice of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding cake in May 2011, shortly after they married.
Those looking to invest in cake would be well-advised to consider popular appeal. Albury sold a piece of Prince William's christening cake in 2003 for £300 and says "that may yet prove to be an okay investment if he becomes a much-loved king or has a colourful life and wins millions of adoring fans. A bit of a long shot I reckon and not worth the gamble!".
Also, this is no time for sponge cakes; they are far more likely to go mouldy. A much more solid (in every meaning of the word) investment would be a fruit cake wrapped within icing and marzipan, which naturally preserves well. At least two pieces of fruitcake from Queen Victoria's wedding in 1840 survive today; one particularly unappetising piece sold at Christie's for £1,500 in 2016. A pair of her split drawers also sold in the same auction, for £16,250. (And you thought the market for ageing Royal cake was odd...)
But a morsel from 1840 is nothing compared to what is thought to be the oldest bit of surviving cake. In the Alimentarium food museum in Switzerland, there is an ancient Egyptian milk and honey cake from the reign of Pepi II (2,251-2,157 BCE), preserved in a vacuum inside a copper mould. It was found inside the tomb of Pepi’Onkh in 1913.
It's not just the UK. In 2019, the artist Andres Serrano bought a miniature wedding cake given as a favour at former US president Donald Trump’s marriage to Melania Knauss in 2005 for $1,880 at auction in Boston. The 13-year-old, three-inch-high chocolate truffle cake was “inspired by” the Trumps' actual wedding cake—a $50,000, 200-pound Grand Marnier-soaked sponge affair, which was not even served in case Heidi Klum, P. Diddy, Simon Cowell, Hillary Clinton or any of the other guests should choke on its wire infrastructure.
But, the humble biscuit (if well-connected) can overshadow cake. In 2015, a Spillers and Bakers Pilot cracker sold to a Greek collector for £15,000 at Aldridges of Bath, UK, an auction record for a biscuit. The cracker was from a survival kit on one of the Titanic's lifeboats and was saved by James Fenwick, a passenger on the Carpathia which picked up survivors after the Titanic sank in 1912.