Die Fliegerasse

Other than the Great War’s Baron von Richthofen, German ‘Flying Aces’ of the Second World War are much less well known. Yet a number of them had extremely distinguished careers, flying with a degree of skill and bravery which earned them Germany’s highest military medal: the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross (more commonly known just as the ‘Iron Cross’).

History buffs may know that Hitler himself was a recipient during WWI when he was just a corporal but these signatures are from WWII pilots who flew a range of planes that wouldn’t look out of place in an Airfix catalogue. All the classics are here from the plane which claimed more kills than any other in the whole of the war on either side, the Messerschmitt Me-109, to the most frequent shadow over London during the Blitz, the Heinkel He-111 heavy bomber.

In all, there are nine autographs from these pilots, none of whom are still alive today, making these eminently collectable. Indeed, the first signatory, Major Erwin Fischer, is one of only 882 recipients of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.

[squawk]…pieces of eight…

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.

The Peanut Club

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.

The Guinea Pig Club

“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.

The Largest Wreck in the Caribbean

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.

Collectopedia: Cartophily

Although card collecting could mean a passion for baseball, football, Pokémon or even Magic: The Gathering cards, for a significant period of time, it really meant the cards from cigarette packets. What began in the United States in 1875 (featuring boxers, actresses or Indian chiefs) was soon copied in the UK. The cards’ original purpose was to stiffen the packet and provide some measure of protection to the cigarettes inside but manufacturers soon saw them as a valuable piece of, firstly, advertising real estate and, later, a way to add novelty to their product. As such, the earliest examples are mainly advertisements but it was the advent of John Player’s ‘Castles and Abbeys’ series in 1893 that showed just how collectable they could be.

In 1895, Wills produced their first set ‘Ships and Sailors’, followed by ‘Cricketers’ in 1896. In 1906, Ogden’s produced a set of association football cards depicting footballers in their club colours, in one of the first full-colour sets. As ever, when it comes to an individual card’s value, the primary factor is its condition. Any card which has been stuck down or mounted will be worth a fraction of what it would have been in mint condition. A leading player in this still very vibrant market is the London Cigarette Card Company. A quick browse through their listings give an idea of just how valuable these cards can be with many priced into the hundreds of pounds.

And while you would be right in thinking that it was legislation that put an end to the practice of adding collectables to an already addictive product, you’d probably be mistaken on the reason. It was Britain’s wartime government in 1940 which banned cigarette cards because there were severe shortages of board and paper. Post-war rationing and the high price of raw materials meant they never returned although there are still occasional runs in the US. And it is to the US that we must look for the world record price for a single card: some way north of three million dollars.

In Memory of Alan Haylock (1943-2020) and Pearl McNamara (1949-2020)

Our delight at being able to reopen last week was tempered by the sad news that two of the Market’s best loved characters had passed away over the Christmas period. This photo, taken last September, was passed to us by his son, also called Alan.

Although neither Alan nor his wife, Pearl, were stallholders, they were among the longest standing attendees at the market. Alan in particular was almost always waiting for Bridget to open up at 6:30am every Saturday! There cannot be any Market regulars who weren’t saddened by the news of their passing and we, in common with their sons, Paul and Alan, will miss them greatly. Rest in Peace.

OPEN!

Finally! We’re open again this Saturday (from 7am for the early birds!). It will be so lovely to see you all again! But please remember that we have special precautions in place for everyone’s safety: a one way system (enter by Villiers Street next to Costa Coffee), masks must be worn and we are maintaining a one metre social distancing rule. Please bear in mind that while you may have had one or even both of your vaccinations, these measures are designed to limit the spread of the virus and are there to protect everyone.

Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has sent us a couple of very unusual items which will be on sale tomorrow: a belt buckle and pendant of the beautifully named Army of the Lily. This formed part of the ceremonial uniform of the Knights of Pythias, an American secret order founded in 1864 and which, even in 2003, still had 50,000 members and over 2,000 lodges worldwide. Famous Pythians include FDR, Nelson Rockefeller and Louis Armstrong.

The UR showed that this belt clasp belonged to someone of ‘Uniformed Rank’ while the skull and cross bones symbol on the pendant was appropriate enough for an order which laid particular importance on the use of ceremonial swords. Worth noting on the reverse of the pendant is the all seeing eye so beloved of any would-be secret society.

Churchill’s Regiment

Originally formed as far back as 1794, the Oxfordshire Yeomanry (later the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars) have a particularly distinguished history and enjoy the distinction of having Winston Churchill as an officer from 1902 to shortly before the outbreak of the Great War. The future PM retained a special fondness for his old regiment and made sure they were the first territorial unit to see action in 1914. Later after D-day, they were again the first territorials sent to France on the personal instructions from the Prime Minister. In the plans for Churchill’s funeral (codenamend ‘Operation Hope Not’) members of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry were given the unprecedented distinction of having prominent position immediately ahead of his coffin at the state funeral, in preference to many senior and more prestigious regiments.

The badge seen here is large (6.8 x 11cm) so it is most likely from a vehicle or gun carriage. This may well be from one of the Regiment’s anti-tank units during the Second World War. Two were stationed at Banbury (551st and 552nd)and two others at Oxford (249th and 250th). The 249th Battery served in NW Europe and were the first British unit to arrive in Belsen on 15 April 1945. The 251st saw action at Singapore where, after being left with no option but to surrender to the Japanese, they were force marched 400 miles to brutal POW camps and years of forced labour.