This is the Inverted Jenny. Printed in May 1918, it feaures a Curtiss JN-4 which is performing a quite unintended aerobatic manoeuvre. Buying one would cost at least half a million pounds today. It owes its extraordinary value to two factors: the obvious printing error and the fact that only one hundred exist. The location of all but two had been known for many years but in May 2016, one of the missing ones turned up. It sold at auction for $1.5m. The final one (known simply as ‘number 66’) is still out there somewhere.
In fact it’s worth keeping an eye out for mistakes on any postage stamp though – even modern ones – just in case you have a rarity on your hands. A recent article catalogued 32 different errors including colours, watermarks, perforations (or the lack thereof), paper, offsets and unprinted areas where a foreign object becomes embedded on the stamp. And in case you thought modern technology would make such mistakes even rarer, you might be surprised to learn that our current Queen’s reign is something of a Golden Age for stamp errors….
A 13p ‘Sweet Briar’ stamp issued to celebrate the Royal National Rose Society in 1976. A small number were printed without the price and all but three were destroyed before they reached the point of sale. One was sold in 2010 for £85,000.
“Ephemera (n) items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity”. As any baseball card or pulp fiction collector will tell you, those expectations were sometimes very wrong indeed and the market for newspapers, advertisements, football programmes, tickets, mail order catalogues etc. is alive and well. Take this full season’s worth of home programmes from Chelsea’s 1972-1973 season for example. Let’s just say that you won’t get them for 5p each in 2019! The original prices of classic paperback fiction by Zane Grey, Ian Fleming or Edgar Wallace have also risen considerably.
John Barrett is one of the market’s veteran ephemera dealers and his stall is a fantastic snapshot of just how varied this field is. He has a particular love of press photography of the 1930’s and 40’s but keeps track of a wide range of printed material. So what should we be keeping hold of today as a potential windfall for our grandchildren? “Anything and everything” says John, “it’s almost impossible to predict. Although I should think that there will certainly be a strong market for women’s football programmes as the sport continues to grow”.
You heard it here first.
Hailed as ‘unsinkable’ before its maiden voyage on 11 April 1912, the Titanic retains an iron grip on the popular imagination. This is reflected in high prices for any contemporary postcards featuring the ship and, in particular, ones printed or posted before it sank. Most coveted of all is a card written on board and posted at the layover in Cork (then Queenstown) before it left on the ill-fated journey to New York. One such card written by a maid who wrote “I wish you were here, it is a lovely boat and it would do you good. Am just going on deck” fetched £8,500 at auction last year.
Inevitably, unwary buyers (particularly online) can be caught out by fakes but this is the real thing: a Rotary Photo card posted just six weeks after the sinking and is signed by someone we know only as ‘J.H.’. His wry comment “I thought you would like this card” highlights just how dramatic this event was for people at the time and there was a huge demand for Titanic postcards immediately after the sinking. Some studios even used images of Titanic’s sister ship Olympic to cash in on this.
Photographs of the real Titanic show that the lower deck promenade is enclosed along the length of the ship while only the front half of the upper ‘A’ deck (circled) is similarly enclosed.
Such was the value accorded to copper in early African civilisations that it came to be known as ‘red gold’. This was the prinicipal currency along the West African coast for hundreds of years and these ‘manilla’ or bracelets were worn by women to display their husband’s wealth. While some wore them on their wrist or ankle, a more ostentatious wife might wear a ‘King’ manilla (top right) as a necklace.
Other forms of exotic currency regularly traded at the market include katanga crosses, bochies (both also of copper), cowrie shells, silver Tok coins and base silver bar monies from Thailand in the shape of leeches, boats or a tiger’s tongue (with characteristic serrated texture).
Visiting the market from Torquay with his Dad last Saturday, 11 year old Zach is normally looking to add more decimal currency to his collection. On this occasion though, it was a Freemason’s Chronicle on one of the ephemera stalls which caught his eye. Some might wonder what appeal such an esoteric old volume might have for a young lad just starting secondary school but Zach’s answer spoke volumes about his maturity. “It’s not the actual monetary value. I just love the history of the item” – clearly a young man of taste and discernment! We look forward to seeing him again.