Dome opens great white elephant sale

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As limited edition souvenirs go, a Dome refrigerator magnet comes some distance behind a slice of Wembley turf or a splinter of wood from Pete Townshend's guitar, but you can't argue with the price: just 15p.

As limited edition souvenirs go, a Dome refrigerator magnet comes some distance behind a slice of Wembley turf or a splinter of wood from Pete Townshend's guitar, but you can't argue with the price: just 15p.

With the Millennium Dome due to close in two months, organisers are concentrating on selling off what they optimistically describe as the building's "heirlooms". The familiar sign in Britain's High Streets - "everything must go" - has now appeared, at least in spirit, at the country's most expensive Millennium project.

Gold and silver Dome medals, crystal Champagne flutes and Dome teddy bears are among the items that are being offered to visitors at knock-down prices. Even cheaper souvenirs can be found at the Dome shop next to the south-east London attraction, where the coveted fridge magnet has been discounted from £1.

The New Millennium Experience Company, which runs the Dome, is refreshingly blunt about its motives. "Our objective is to finish the year with as little stock as possible," said an NMEC spokesman. "The collection is designed to best sum up what the Dome is all about."

In the best tradition of desperate advertisers everywhere, the NMEC, which runs the Dome, is using junk e-mail to target potential buyers. The company sent out 40,000 e-mails last week to people who had requested information over the last year about the ailing attraction, informing them that they were now "Millennium Club Members". It said that this entitled them to "purchase items from the Dome Heirloom Collection at very favourable prices". But as with much that concerns the Dome, all is not quite what it seems. The "limited edition" souvenirs are also available to anyone who logs on to the Dome's web site.

The NMEC denied that the sale and the e-mails were designed to off-load thousands of unwanted items. "It's a finely-tuned strategy with prices and offers changing every day," a spokeswoman said.

But it may be too soon to scoff at the project. After nine months of disappointing attendances, visitor numbers finally rose towards to capacity levels last week. The upturn is believed to be the result of a combination of the half-term holiday and the attraction's impending closure.

This surprising trend, coupled with the disaster that preceded it, means the notion that items may become future collectors' items is no longer as absurd as it might have been. Buyers would, however, be well advised to view the process as the longest of long-term investments.

Steve Bransgrove, a collector and trader from Somerset, said: "Because the Dome has been such a disaster and only ran for 12 months, I imagine that there will be one or two souvenirs that eventually become very collectable." He said that it would probably take 30 to 40 years before the goods would become sought-after and recommended that a Dome souvenir could be an astute investment for a child with spare pocket money.

The memorabilia which could be worth the most in the future "will be the less obvious things, possibly the things people throw away like programmes and tickets," Mr Bransgrove said.

However, Ton Keniston, the editor of Antiques & Art Independent, advised that Dome souvenirs must be kept in pristine condition to be worth something in the future. "I suggest that the goods are kept safely in their original box," he said. Souvenirs made by a craftsman have a better chance of becoming collectable, he said.

The much-maligned Dome may even have the last laugh by enticing people to turn relics of the huge folly into baby follies. Collecting the wrong items of Dome memorabilia "could be a bigger disaster than the Dome itself," Mr Keniston warned.

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