Grim Allusions

Two classic French ‘metamorphosis’ postcards from around 1905-1910. Some artists delight in reminding us that, no matter how much fun we’re having, we’re all going to die. Hence the two ladies bidding each other ‘au revoir’ in a sunlit park are oblivious to the shadow of Death who may have other plans for either one (or both) of them. The other card is titled less ambiguously. ‘Tête de Mort’ hints that even the carefree happiness of the two children sledging is overshadowed by the inevitability of the grave.

This device is known as a memento mori – in Latin “remember you will die” and it was a common feature in a great deal of Western art. While the recipient of such cards might well appreciate the skill involved in creating the illusion, it seems pretty grim as gifts go. Most surviving examples are real photograph postcards though so they often fetch good prices. Just remember that you can’t take them with you…

Less Than Perfect Harmony: Man and Machine In Postcard History

Bad news has always sold well and disasters often feature on early postcards like this one from New York in 1905.  Ironically, it occurred on September 11th when a high-level train jumped the tracks killing eleven passengers and one passer by.  The driver was held responsible immediately went on the run being arrested two years later in San Francisco.

Accidents involving all kinds of transport are a particularly prevalent theme from postcards in the early part of the twentieth century. The lack of safety features and an arrogant belief in our superiority over mere machinery would provide no shortage of subjects.  Any number of picture postcards feature the aftermath of car, plane and shipwrecks, a bemused public gawking at a tangle of metal and scattered debris. Yet some of the more sought-after postcards actually show the ‘before’ picture of notable disasters. Cards featuring the Hindenburg or the Titanic in their pomp have particular appeal.

The Instagram of Yesteryear


Easy, effective, instant global communication is something we now take for granted thanks to email, WhatsApp and all the other platforms available to us. It was different just thirty years ago and it was unimagineable during the Great War. At a time of national crisis with hundreds of thousands of people displaced because of military commitments, the postal service played a vital role in keeping families in touch and maintaining morale among servicemen and women. Receiving a postcard nowadays is always welcome but its receipt was generally greeted with far more joy a hundred years ago.

This series of cards was sent by John Moorcroft to his wife in Epsom. The fronts show a variety of aircraft used by the RFC in whose service he was employed at Aldershot. On the back he writes to tell her of impending leave and the train he plans to take. Happily, he survived the war but for some families a simple postcard was the last message they ever had from a loved one.

Deltiology, as postcard collecting is known, is now the third most popular collecting hobby in the world (after stamps and money). 1989-1919 is regarded as the Golden Age when picture postcards were extremely popular but collections can be centred on any period, theme or location.

Whether you’re wondering if it’s for you or you’re a seasoned deltiologist, there’s sure to be something interesting to discover at Charing Cross Collectors Market this Saturday.

Earn Your Stripes this Saturday

militaria advertisement charing cross market

Whether it’s your first foray into collecting or you’re a seasoned militaria veteran, you’re sure to find something to spark your interest this weekend at Charing Cross Collectors Market. Browse to your heart’s content among the medals, uniforms, patches, de-activated ordnance, battle reports, insignia and other paraphenalia which has found its way down the decades to a stall in central London. Just holding items like these in your hands can summon up a sense of time and place which you may only have read about in the history books. And if militaria isn’t your thing, we have lots of other dealers who specialise in postcards, stamps, coins, ephemera and ethnography.

It’s not every day that you can see such a cornucopia of the unusual and unique. It’s just Saturdays. Between 7am and 3pm. At Charing Cross Market.

Trench Art Matchbox Covers

It may seem incredible to us now but only a hundred years ago smoking was widely regarded as benificial to health. Governments praised its effects on morale whilst also pointing to the soothing effects of lighting up after periods of action or enduring intense bombardments. There is no doubt that it encouraged mateyness – sharing a fag being an easy way to strike up friendships and official estimates of December 1914 state that over 96% of British soldiers were smokers. At a time before automatic lighters, that meant looking after your matches as much as your smokes – no easy job in a muddy trench for weeks at a time.

Many soldiers stored their matchboxes in brass or copper covers like those pictured so they wouldn’t be crushed in a pocket. Often, having lots of time on their hands, they would personalise or decorate them in some way. The most valuable show the chap’s name and service number as their war record can then be confirmed with the national archives.

The aluminium(?) cover in the photo is unusual in that it shows a German prisoner of war pushing a loaded wheelbarrow below the words “comm on Fritz”. It belonged to “R J Elliott of 322 Q Coy” – Q Company being the poison gas unit of the Royal Engineers. Typical examples sell for £15 – £20 but this one is more likely to fetch three times that.

A footnote to this item is the popular superstition that it is bad luck to light three cigarettes from one match. This is supposed to have originated during the Great War when an enemy sniper would be alerted to a target’s location as the first cigarette is lit, ready his rifle and adjust range for the second before taking aim and firing at the third. It’s a neat story and would seem to make a lot of sense. Yet no references to the bad luck associated with “three on a match” have been found before 1919 so there goes another myth!