As Hong Kong moves into the last month of British rule, the memorabilia men are jostling for pole position in your sentiments and your pockets. The rush, initially slow to hit the tracks, has gone into overdrive and hawkers are making a last-minute hit at the sales stands: the Hong Kong flag made by a company called Long Island, shot up in price last week from $700 to $1,180. The same six foot by four foot (1.82 metre by 1.21 metre) flag, made under government licence, is available from Pro Image Limited, for only $600. So although time is running out, it is still a good idea to shop around. Those who moved early on their memento buying would have saved themselves a lot of money with the purchase of 'Back to Motherland'. This crystal sculpture of a mother and child, produced by French crystal house Baccarat, now sells for $338,000. The emotional symbol of the attachment between Hong Kong and China could have been yours for $40,000 less if bought when it was launched in April. Promoters are urging punters to hurry while stocks last: only 30 pieces, by respected Chinese sculptor Pan Xirou, were made - and only four are left. Despite the glut of 1997 memorabilia now on the market - covering everything from inexpensive T-shirts to limited edition pieces that come with six-figure price tags - designers believe the industry is more about cliches than enduring aesthetic appeal. 'I don't see anything that I'd like to look back on after 20 years and say 'that was a good memento of 1997',' said David Shanks, director of advertising and communications company DSChze Hong Kong. 'I feel the merchandising of 1997 has been a bit disappointing, and that there is either high-priced souvenirs or low-value junk that do not seem well-thought through or well-designed.' Missing from the market, Mr Shanks believes, is anything in the middle-price bracket that is 'graphically intelligent, nicely crafted or memorable'. 'Even the standards of illustrations are disappointing. And a lot of it has been done before,' he said. Mr Shanks' lack of personal interest in the souvenir market is shared by other design experts. 'I wouldn't buy any of it,' said architect Mike Tonkin. 'I don't buy that stuff when I go on holiday. It means nothing to me.' And stylist Samantha Codling described the rash of 1997 memorabilia as 'throwaway stuff produced for publicity and not much else'. 'Next year these things will be useless,' said Douglas Young, a product designer and the brains behind G.O.D., a fully fledged lifestyle store. 'The whole idea of handover memorabilia is tacky. It's a quick way of cashing in as everybody knows that Hong Kong people have a lot of money.' Still, most Hong Kong consumers are all for a bit of nostalgia, and sales across the ranks remain strong. Limited edition pieces are favourites among investment seekers, and Hong Kong's handover to China has spawned a wide variety of true collectibles from swords to children's dolls. And it is not little girls who are parting with their pocket money to have their very own Chinese Empress Barbie: the Hong Kong 1997 Commemorative Edition. Most of the 5,000 production run will be bought by ex-Barbie fans and never removed from their presentation packs, according to the manufacturers, Mattel. With more than 1,000 exquisitely dressed mini-Manchus walking off the shelves during the first week of sales, Barbie looks like a lead contender in the souvenir stakes. Following the recent US$5,000 (HK$38,750) auction price reached for a 1959 first generation Barbie (originally priced at US$3), the $540 investment in the Chinese Empress version could soon be worth more than a memory. Low on menace and high on craftsmanship, the Hong Kong 97 Sword - by royal sword makers Wilkinson Sword - is probably the finest and most historic piece of artistry among commemorative offers. More than 120 hours of skilled handwork have gone into the Royal Naval Officer's design with gold plating, delicate engraving and a shark skin grip at the hilt. At $21,997 (or $81,997 for an even more refined version), it comes in a red velvet and oak display case. Those who have fallen in love with what the Association for the Celebration for the Reunification of Hong Kong with China calls its 'cute . . . cartoon style' Chinese White Dolphin will find the logo in many permutations. The association has endorsed six companies to use it on hand towels, colour-changing cups, steel flatware (available soon) and a silver-plated mascot, among others, but it says it has 'not confirmed yet' whether the royalties will be put towards protecting the species. Souvenir hunters in search of a mug and T-shirt are spoilt for choice. Quality? Variable. Cans of colonial air, designed - like the true legacy of Britain's ability to get up people's noses - have found 4,000 buyers since sales started in February. Self-styled as '100% Pure Pomposity', the air has been netted from the Peak and outside the Hong Kong Club. Then there is a scoop of colonial soil, jarred and capped with a flag that was the brainwave of a copywriter, but his bright idea clouded over when the jars steamed up with condensation. With soil comes rock, the famous 'barren rock' where Sir James Bremer formally took possession of Hong Kong in the name of Queen Victoria in 1841. However, rumour-mongering among competing memorabilia marketeers is that the paperweight-sized rock, embedded with a local coin, was made near Shenzhen. Also from China will come the official 1997 wine. Carrying the controversial pink dolphin logo, the Dynasty cabernet sauvignon, Dynasty chardonnay and the Imperial Court sparkling wine, will be available through Remy Fine Wines and Vino and Olio before July 1. As the countdown reaches fever pitch, many commemorative items are still slow to hit the market. 'My feeling is that people have only just woken up and, in typical Hong Kong fashion, are jumping in with two feet,' said Jon Resnick of Congo Snappers, the people behind the canned air project. There was certainly much scurrying at Hongkong Bank in Central recently as hundreds of coin collectors jostled at the ballot box for one of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority's 97,000 commemorative gold coins - only 67,000 of which are on offer in Hong Kong. And the Hong Kong Tourist Association will not have their handover souvenirs ready for sale until the middle of June, only two weeks prior to the event. It may be that any memento with a bauhinia flower or China's five star flag design will turn out to be the most valuable, following the provisional legislature's recent bill on national and regional flags and emblems 'restricting the occasions on which they may be displayed'. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council has told suppliers 'to monitor the situation' taking some designers back to the drawing board. One company, scotching the bauhinia from its next run of mugs, got in on the whole commemorative act early and now is reaping the benefit of its foresight. Pro Image, a two-man team backed by lawyers, has sold almost $1 million worth of merchandise to date, all designed by graphic artist Alan Pitchforth. The designs are for watches, mugs, caps, shot glasses, enamel cufflinks (15,000 pairs sold) and high-end goods such as framed and mounted stamps and silver dishes. But even this successful company has had trouble with corporate sales. One company which initially ordered designs for a can cooler subsequently changed its mind. The reason? Executives decided it was better 'not to associate' with the handover issue.