The Ortega Odyssey: Spoons, Splashes, and Bravery at Sea

In the realm of collectibles, few items stir the heart and imagination quite like maritime memorabilia. And within this ocean of treasures, items linked to historic voyages are particularly coveted, valued not just for their rarity but for the stories they carry across time and tides.

Today, we have the privilege of peering into such a time capsule, thanks to letters penned by a certain Fred Cobb of Doncaster, England. These aren’t just any letters; they were written aboard the RMS Ortega during its maiden voyage in April to March—a pivotal moment before the world was engulfed in the turmoil of the First World War.

Fred’s letters to his parents capture the innocence and adventure of sea travel at the time. He recounts an amusing deck game, a quirky tradition where passengers hurled the ship’s spoons into the swimming pool, diving in after them. With a triumphant tally of 44 spoons, Fred emerged as the victor of this whimsical competition. Such lighthearted moments stand in stark contrast to the grave destiny that awaited the RMS Ortega.

The dealer who discovered these letters reminds us of the RMS Ortega’s dramatic history. As war erupted, the ship’s captain, Captain Kinnier, refused to yield to the threat of capture. Instead, he made a daring escape through shallow, uncharted waters—a move that would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross from King George V and other commendations from the French Government and the Admiralty. This tale of bravery on the high seas is the stuff of legends, the kind that adds immeasurable worth to these seemingly mundane letters.

These papers do not just recount a young man’s maritime adventures; they are silent witnesses to a captain’s valor, to a world on the brink of change, and to the spirit of an era that valued honor above safety. Captain Kinnier’s legacy, his awards, and the thrilling escape of the RMS Ortega through the Nelson Strait, only to be met by the Chilean warship Admiral Lynch, are narratives woven into the fabric of these letters.

As we unfold these yellowed pages, we’re not just reading words; we’re summoning spirits of the past. We’re reliving the gaiety of a bygone era of steamships and the valorous acts that defined it. These letters are more than paper; they’re portals to the past, and they are priceless.

While technical details from The Ships List provide a dry account of the RMS Ortega’s specifications and journey, it’s the personal anecdotes and the connection to historical events that truly captivate us. After all, it’s the human experiences, the stories of individuals like Fred and Captain Kinnier, that transform objects into treasures. In the vast ocean of collectibles, items like these are the rare pearls that remind us of the depths of human courage and the timeless allure of the sea.

Sentiments in Silk

Silk postcards from World War I are fascinating collectibles, offering a glimpse into communication from over a century ago. These postcards are not merely keepsakes but historical documents that provide insight into the war’s personal side.

For collectors, certain aspects elevate a card’s value. Cards that feature a soldier’s full name or service number are particularly sought after. They allow for personal histories to be unearthed, connecting us to individual stories from the past. However, it’s worth noting that many cards were sent within envelopes, obscuring these details.

Regiment-specific cards often fetch a higher price. Limited production means they’re rarer, thus more desirable to collectors. Similarly, cards with inserts—some even hand-painted—are especially valuable. These inserts enhance the uniqueness of each card.

The Army Service Corps card has an insert containing a poignant pencilled message dated 16/1/18. While it lacks the soldier’s full identity, preventing us from learning his fate, the message captures a moment in time—a snapshot of enduring human connection amidst conflict: “all the things in all the world cannot express how much you are loved by your loving husband Bert, 16/1/18”.

In contrast, standard flat cards without inserts, though still valuable, are more common and lack the personalized touch that can significantly increase a postcard’s worth.

Silk postcards are more than just collector’s items; they are artifacts that reflect the era’s communication methods and the personal experiences of soldiers and their families. Each card tells a part of a larger story, and for collectors, the chase is as much about the narrative as it is about the item.

All Stamps Deserve A Happy Ever After

The stamps pictured here are a type of philatelic issue often dubbed “wallpaper” by those in the stamp trade due to their high color, abundant limited editions, and the fact that they are seldom used for actual postal services. Commonly produced in large quantities with vibrant designs, they often feature popular themes like Disney characters and are aimed at the collector’s market rather than everyday mail.

Such issues are considered an excellent entry point for novice philatelists due to their aesthetic appeal and accessibility. Despite their name, which suggests a less prestigious standing among more serious collectors, they have the potential for appreciation over time.

For example, if purchased in the early 1970s for 15 pence today they might fetch about £1.50 today. This represents a tenfold increase, demonstrating that even “wallpaper” stamps can serve as a modest investment vehicle!

Collectors might view such stamps with mixed feelings due to their mass-produced nature and minimal postal use, but the return on investment over several decades shows that they can still hold financial value. Obviously, certain sets – like this one – may have a higher cultural value depending on the theme.

Frankly, my dear…

we most definitely do give a damn about postmarks. Very often the collector’s nemesis when they desecrate the intricate details of an especially rare stamp, the right frank mark can actually add value in some cases.

They’re especially interesting when they show how quickly the wheel of history can turn. Famously, the crazy price increases in Weimar Germany meant some stamps had to be overprinted, sometimes twice, before they got to the post office counter. Today’s featured example stem from an even more significant event: the Russian revolution. The communist regime have overprinted the old Tsarist stamps with a hammer and sickle within a star shape. Our other examples are from the Orange free state, when the republic was occupied by the British in 1900 and used the initials “V.R.I.”, denoting Victoria Regina Imperatrix – Latin for Victoria, Queen and Empress.