Collectopedia: Old Photographs

While modern digital images are produced, consumed, archived and deleted in uncountable numbers these days, this has increased the appeal of photographs from an era when capturing images on actual film (or even plates!) was highly regarded as an unparalleled scientific miracle. They are a fascinating window into a world gone by, documenting the lives, loves and preoccupations of our ancestors.

To the amateur collector, they can also offer the opportunity to make a small fortune – providing, of course, that you know what you’re looking for! Consider the example of Randy Guijarro who spent $2 on three old photographs. When he looked closely at one image of several cowboys playing croquet (above) he thought he recognised the face but it was what he was wearing that really caught his eye. “I defy you to find another cowboy wearing a cardigan” he said. Sure enough, experts have authenticated only the second known photograph of Billy the Kid. It’s worth is estimated at a cool $5 million. Paper money, indeed.

All sorts of old photographs are always available for sale at Charing Cross Market and this week is no exception. As an example, we have this memento from the Great War – nicely personalised thanks to the subject dedicating it to a former brother in arms. “To Larry, in memory of days spent together in France and Belgium. From J. R. Kennedy 5/4/1918”.

Peaky Blinder

A real rarity this week as we showcase a pre-1914 production khaki serge service cap, as worn by all non commissioned other rank soldiers. This one bears the badge of the Shropshire Light Infantry. A softer variant, the trench cap, came out during 1915-17 soon to be supplemented by the much more protective steel shrapnel or ‘Brodie’ helmet.

This fine example was found on a boat in the back garden of a house. It has suffered a degree of moth damage on top (pictured) but has otherwise survived the intervening one hundred plus years remarkably well – just one item among many available this Saturday at Charing Cross Collectors Market.

Collectopedia: Autographs

While collecting beer mats has the grand name of tegestology, the only name for last week’s hobby of toby jug collecting is, well, toby jug collecting. Today though, we have a fine example for those of you into philography, or autograph hunting.

Although modern autograph hunters are becoming a rare breed nowadays (the preferred method of recording a meeting with a celebrity being the ubiquitous ‘selfie’), the market for authentic signatures of those who are no longer with us remains strong. A uniquely personal record of our passage through the world, authenticating letters, contracts, marriages and treaties, our signature has always been considered important. Arguably, this is even more true today in an age where our identity has largely been digitised. Many younger people today have never, and will never, write a cheque for example.

And autographs don’t get much bigger than this. We know that Churchill, like his father before him, was a freemason and also dabbled in several other esoteric organisations, one of which was the Ancient Order of Druids. A photograph of 1908 shows him at one of their meetings quite prominently. However, this festival programme of 1920 describes him as the Order’s Chairman suggesting that he retained his interest in the Druids rather longer than had previously been thought. Either way, we think the signature of perhaps our Greatest Briton certainly epitomises the phrase, a ‘collector’s item’.

Collectopedia: Toby Jugs

It’s hard to visit any antiques fair these days without seeing at least one toby jug and Charing Cross Collectors Market is no exception. With their sometimes gaudy colours and exaggerated features, these ceramic characters are easy to pick out but few people know more about them than just their name.

First produced in the mid 18th century, their inspiration has never been explained definitively. However, the most likely possibilities are that the grotesque, often inebriated figure was inspired by the character Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or possibly the notorious drunkard Toby Fillpot celebrated in the drinking song ‘Little Brown Jug’. Either way, you will no doubt distinguish yourself as a minor authority on the subject if you only know that a Toby jug should show a person’s full body whereas one depicting just the face is a character jug. The latter have become popular souvenirs all over the world, featuring anyone from actors to politicians.

A character mug of Josef Stalin

Naturally, Toby jugs which predate the advent of mass production (c.1750-c.1850) are the most sought after and can fetch thousands. Yet they often escape the casual observer because they might appear quite plain to the untutored eye so it’s always worth inquiring about the provenance. And if you really do get the bug, there’s no doubt that they make for a striking display!