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Museum makes a mint out of its millennium marque

THE ENTERPRISING Old Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum in Greenwich stand to earn millions from the millennium by selling a special 2000 marque to hundreds of companies, including champagne producers, drinks companies, jewellers and watchmakers.

Firms including Guinness, Champagne Mumm, Accurist and Parker Pens have already bought exclusive world rights to use the Greenwich Meridian 2000 marque, and more big-name companies are expected to follow, making the two institutions which sit on the meridian line about pounds 5m in licensing deals.

Since 1884, the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich has been the official home of time by international treaty. Every day, clocks around the world are set according to Greenwich time, and at midnight on 31 December, 1999, the zero degree meridian line at the Old Royal Observatory will mark the official start of the new millennium.

The museum, also based on the meridian line, says it is using this unique position to safeguard its financial future. The line runs straight through the site of the museum and bisects the observatory.

"It struck us as quite rare for a museum to have something of interest for business," said the museum's spokesman Michael Barrett. "We realised that as we approach the millennium the Prime Meridian is just that."

Marketing experts forecast the biggest branding exercise the world has seen. For as 1999 begins, hundreds - if not thousands - of businesses will start producing millennium-related products, trying to cash in on the once-in-a-thousand years opportunity.

But the position of the museum on the Prime Meridian has given its marque an air of authority. "We see it as a sort of endowment for the museum, and any way we can raise money is good," said Mr Barrett. "The ability to raise our own funding becomes more important as government funding for museums declines."

The marque has already been licensed for hundreds of products, including a special edition Parker Pen, a selection of wines, spirits and beer, a desktop countdown clock and more everyday items like baseball caps, T-shirts and diaries.

Ray Perry, marketing director of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says: "The potential is huge, given that this is a global event. Realistically, you are talking about a branding exercise that will be worth billions of pounds so most companies will want to add the word millennium to their product at some point."

But with this millennium-branded goods glut comes an opportunity for the shrewd investor to profit from some of the more unusual items that will be on sale.

One company, Millennium Collectables, has joined Royal Doulton to produce a series of eight figures representing classical advertising icons of the 20th century.

The series, limited to 2,000 per piece, includes Fox's Polar Bear, Robertson's Golly, the Milky Bar Kid and the Guinness Toucan, with prices averaging less than pounds 75 per figure.