Collectors are buying up everything from porcelain dolls to stamps, and there's no telling when the fad will die down

Some people think of it as the ultimate designer label. Nearly three months after her untimely death, the Princess of Wales has become an unexpected commodity. As people profit from our seemingly insatiable appetite for all things Di, even trinkets that bear her name have turned into treasures. Welcome to Diana Inc.

Long before that tragic August night in Paris, Diana was already a commodity — even British royalists preferred her to Charles. Back in 1982, Royal Doulton, an upscale English collectibles company, charged $395 for its limited-edition Lady Spencer figurine; it wasn’t long before the Diana figurine commanded $750, about the same price as her porcelain-hubby counterpart. Since then, the value of the dolls has reflected the disparate popularity levels of the couple. The dowdy Charles figure went for $1,000, while the pre-death Diana commanded $1,500 to $1,700 and up.

After Diana passed away, hundreds of people made calls — to check on their investments. ”They thought, finally, fortune was going to smile on them,” says Pat Rinas of the Collectors’ Information Bureau. ”After she died, everything just skyrocketed…. Value goes up with gore.” What are the figurines worth now? The latest estimates, which come out twice a year, will be available next month.

Now, as the mourning abates, Diana Inc. is heating up. In the terrestrial form of low-priced souvenirs (Diana Halloween masks and refrigerator magnets) and high-end collectibles (whiskey bottles inscribed with her wedding date, priced at $4,000), the Princess of Wales may live forever.

But Diana isn’t just a good investment; she also leaves behind a legacy of charity. The official Diana Fund, started by the princess’ family, now totals [pounds]12.5 million (approximately $21 million). Proceeds from ”Candle in the Wind 1997” — a check for [pounds]20 million (about $33 million) — are expected soon from Elton John. But can trustees of the fund really guarantee that every collectible sold in Diana’s name will go to a good cause?

Not necessarily. According to a fund spokeswoman, there’s no way to police every company that’s cashing in on Diana’s name. ”We can’t stop anyone from producing an item,” she says. ”We actually can’t do anything about it; it’s their right.” Apparently, it would take an army of attorneys to control the use of Diana’s likeness on each and every product. ”You’d have to bring an action in each country,” says Jeffrey M. Samuels, former U.S. assistant commissioner for trademarks.

Fortunately, some companies are practicing self-imposed restraint. QVC flatly refuses to sell Diana necro-memorabilia. Other companies, however, are finding that line a little more vague. One such firm is Unicover Corp., which now sells $5 and $50 memorial coins, as well as commemorative stamps issued by the Marshall Islands. In fact, Diana stamps are a hot collectible; experts call the demand unprecedented. ICS, for instance, sold more than 50,000 sheets’ worth of Diana stamps. Country of origin? The tiny republic of Togo. ”These stamps were issued well before she died,” says ICS co-owner Scott Tilson. ”This was not something that we put together two minutes after she died.”