Possibly the most memorable words ever spoken by a bird, this phrase references the divisions of a Spanish dollar which many experts regard as the world’s first international currency. It was first minted in the Spanish Empire in 1497 but this example is a Mexico City coin of 1736, one of a number found in the Rooswijck shipwreck off Goodwin Sands. Long John Silver’s parrot, (named Captain Flint, take note: pub quiz buffs) is referring to the fact that it was worth 8 reals. The number 8 appears on the coin’s face and it was not unknown for it to be physically cut up into eight pieces (which was not then an offence). Because of its high silver content, the metal was relatively soft and dividing it like this allowed for change to be created. At 38mm across, it was also the largest of the Spanish silver coins.
Actual treasure from an actual shipwreck…Charing Cross Market: the home of collecting.
Created in 1931 by accident, the Pea-nut club was an organisation which had huge success in raising thousands of pounds for the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. This was the same hospital featured in last week’s blog post about the Guinea Pig Club and the pioneering plastic surgery carried out there by Archibald McIndoe.
The hospital had long needed a children’s ward and the money for this project was raised by the Pea-nut Club. A comic newspaper carried a parody article by Mrs Gordon Clemeston, offering a bag of peanuts to any child who gave twelve pennies to help fund the ward. When a young child arrived at a bank with the required pennnies demanding her bag of peanuts, Mrs Clemeston was quick to seize the opportunity. The offer was formalised and in seven years the enormous sum of £14,000 had been raised. While much attention was (deservedly) given to the injured airmen of the Guinea Pig Club, it is all too easy to forget the civilians, especially the children, injured during the Blitz and in domestic house fires which were then much more common than today.
The Pea-nut club lasted for many years beyond WWII and funded a range of gifts for children on the hospital’s Burns Ward. Some of the membership cards, letters and (rarest of all) birthday cards signed by ‘Aunt Agatha’, the pseudonym of Mrs Clemeston can be seen in the photos along with the highest level of membership, a gold peanut.
“It has been described as the most exclusive Club in the world, but the entrance fee is something most men would not care to pay and the conditions of membership are arduous in the extreme.” This is how the brilliant New Zealand surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, described the club informally set up in June 1941 by 39 of his patients. His experimental work in reconstructive plastic surgery paved the way for many modern techniques and McIndoe is rightly seen as a pioneer and a hero to those whose lives he changed.
The terrible burns suffered by WWII aircrew were on a scale few surgeons had ever dealt with before but McIndoe was determined to improve their survival rate and quality of life. You could only qualify as a Guinea Pig Club member if you were a serving airman and had undergone at least two surgical procedures. By the end of the war the Club had 649 members.
This was all achieved on Ward III at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. Patients were encouraged to lead as normal a life as possible and local residents were encouraged to welcome them into their homes as guests and treat them as they would anyone else. East Grinstead famously became ‘The Town That Didn’t Stare’ and played an important part in the servicemen’s rehabilitation.
One of our traders, Michaeal Burroughs of Anything Military, has sent us this fine example of a Guinea Pig Club badge with a 1939 star with Battle of Britain “gold” rosette. This will be on sale this Saturday alongside lots of other fabulous collectibles.
This unfortunate distinction belongs to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique’s SS Antilles. Built in 1952, the Antilles was painted white to distinguish her from her sister ship, the SS Flandres. Both were built to address the post-war shortage of dedicated cruise ships so their construction was a great source of pride to the CGT – hence the beautifully illustrated commemorative medal seen here. While the Flandres would see wide use under several different owners until 1994, the Antilles had a much shorter life.
On 8 January 1971, she struck a reef near the island of Mustique in the Caribbean while attempting to navigate a shallow and reef-filled bay on the northern side of the island. On hitting the rocks the impact ruptured a fuel tank and she caught fire. All of her passengers and crew evacuated the ship safely to the island of Mustique where they were later rescued by Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II.
The wreck is submerged but is – supposedly – barely visible on Google Earth (although I couldn’t find it!) and the mast is said to protrude above the water during low tide.