Defiance in defeat

Made by Italian fascist prisoners of war for the Communist May Day celebration of 1947, few of these pressed tin badges survive. The front shows a torch above symbols of agriculture and industry but the silhouette of the reverse is very clearly a nod at the former dictator whose title of choice was “His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Leader of Fascism and Founder of the Empire”. The badges were freely sold until the authorities were told of the deception. They collected up as many as they could and destroyed them so this is quite a rare find – just another example of the market’s status as a go-to destination for collectables and antiques of all kinds.

Turning Heads

Queen Victoria was born 200 years ago today and at one point coins featuring her image were in circulation in roughly one quarter of the globe. It’s old hat to collectors of course but few layman realise that for almost 400 years the portraits of successive British monarchs have alternated between facing left and right. Edward VIII, no stickler for convention as later events proved, tried to buck the trend by having his done facing left like his immediate predecessor, George V. However, Edward’s abdication to facilitate his marriage to the American Wallis Simpson followed so quickly that no coins made it into circulation. Coins minted for the new king, George VI, showed him facing to the left (as if Edward had complied with tradition) so – technically, at least – order was restored.

Objet d’Art?

France’s most beautiful stamp? Some people think so. The intricate engraving of an Aéropostale plane above central Paris was printed on paper of a quality normally reserved for bank-notes. Its high face value was significant enough to see it secured with a red burelage overprint (the wavy lines) to deter forgery.

The plane is a Caudron Simon, a version of which Saint-Exupéry was flying when he crashed in the desert in 1935, the year before the stamp was printed. Few stamps reward such close inspection as this one and it is a credit to the artist, Achille Ouvré, that so many iconic buildings are identifiable in what amounts to a miniscule work of art.

“For Style and Value”

The slogan of a high street institution for generations in Britain, now consigned to a place in our cultural history books (and the ephemera stall at Charing Cross Market).

  • Outfitted British men from 1876
  • Wound up in 1998
  • Named after two brothers
  • Neon red storefront logo
  • Established in Birmingham

It is, of course, Foster Brothers. Well done if you’ve arrived here from one of our social media posts with the right answer.

This is a detail from a magazine advertisement from the 1930’s. Collectible ephemera of all kinds, including football programmes, postcards, magazines, books, journals and letters are regularly available at the market every Saturday.

DIY Dog Tag

It’s 1916. It’s your first tour on active service in the Royal Army Medical Corps and you’ve landed an exotic posting to what was then the Ottoman Empire. There’s so much to explore and experience. So why spend time having a silver coin engraved with your name and regiment? Although the pyramids show this is certainly a souvenir, the real reason Captain Lionel Graham bought this at a local bazaar that day has far more to do with the everyday reality for a soldier in wartime.   

The British Army had been issuing identification tags to its men since 1907 but these were now being made of vulcanised asbestos fibre.  Soldiers rightly believed that these would not last long underground or underwater.  Many, like Captain Graham, had their own made and it is highly likely that he wore this until his death, of a stroke, in Beirut during WWII.

By then a colonel, Graham had lived an exceptional life. A Cambridge graduate, he was an excellent sportsman – particularly at golf and tennis, winning several notable tournaments abroad. His friends knew him as ‘Nap’ and his obituary merited publication in the British Medical Journal.  One more forgotten hero? Well, aside from the survival of this very personal, very poignant item, if you’ve read this, absolutely not.