Chuting Stars

Today we feature a scarf made from American camouflage silk cut from a parachute. This type of fabric was used by troops dropped behind enemy lines during World War II. Unlike the regular white parachutes used by diversionary forces, these camouflage chutes provided better concealment once on the ground.

It became common practice among special forces to cut a piece from their first jump chute and wear it as a necktie or scarf. This tradition symbolized their service and the challenges they faced. When purchasing a piece of wartime chute fabric, collectors should look for irregular shapes and joins, as parachutes were made of long thin triangles with many seams, never using white thread.

Though some camouflage parachutes were used in the Korean War, their use dwindled by the 1950s. These scarves and pieces of fabric are more than just items; they are pieces of history, reflecting the bravery and resourcefulness of the troops who wore them.

Pinning Down History: New Zealand Wartime Badges

During the Second World War, New Zealand aircrew, often serving within the Royal Air Force (RAF), wore nationality badges to signify their origins. The photographs showcase several such badges produced by J.R. Gaunt and other UK makers. These badges served as a mark of identity for the New Zealanders in the RAF.

Among the collection is a unique souvenir card-mounted brooch, featuring sterling silver and inlaid mother-of-pearl. This brooch, designed in the style of earlier Gaunt badges, was a more commercial piece sold during the Commonwealth Flying Training Program, which took place in the relative safety of New Zealand. The training program was a significant effort to prepare aircrew while keeping them away from the direct dangers of the conflict in Europe.

These items are not just pieces of metal but carry stories of bravery and camaraderie, symbolizing the contributions of New Zealanders during a tumultuous period in history. Collectors and history enthusiasts alike can appreciate the craftsmanship and historical value these badges represent.

Strike Gold with Ancient Silver

Ancient coins are more than just currency; their beauty and historical significance often outlast their monetary value. Take, for instance, this silver tetradrachm from the reign of Ptolemy VIII (145-116 BC), King of Egypt and son of Cleopatra I. This coin, featuring the king’s profile on one side and an eagle on the reverse, has been transformed into a swivel brooch, showcasing its intricate designs as wearable art. Notably, the eagle side bears strike marks, evidence that the coin was tested for its silver content in antiquity. These marks, ironically, preserved the coin by deeming it of lower value, making it perfect for jewelry. This unique piece illustrates how historical artifacts can find new life and appreciation through their aesthetic appeal.

A Medal Sew Rare

Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild played a crucial role in WWI, providing essential garments and supplies to soldiers. Among their contributions was the Rose and Monogram War Service Medal, typically featuring a smaller Q.M.N.G. enamel hanger. This medal symbolizes the immense efforts of volunteers during the war.

While the standard Rose and Monogram War Service Medal is common, the dated war service bars are much rarer. These bars were awarded for specific periods of service. The Surgical Branch bar is the rarest, making it a prized possession for any collector.

Early postcards of a young Queen Mary add to the allure of these medals. Mary was famously known during WWI for the Christmas tin she arranged for every serviceman. These postcards offer a personal glimpse into the era and the woman behind these significant wartime contributions.

For collectors, the thrill of discovering history is unparalleled. Charing Cross Market offers a treasure trove of such items. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just starting, the market is a must-visit destination. You might walk away with a rare war service medal or a cherished postcard of Queen Mary herself.

Join us at Charing Cross Market and uncover the hidden stories of the past. Happy collecting!

Two postcards from 1901

Photographs in the early 1900s were often printed with a postcard reverse so they could easily be sent by mail. This one features a poignant portrait of an elderly woman, evidently named Belinda Woods, dressed in a practical and worn outfit, suitable for outdoor work. She stands against a backdrop of dense foliage, holding a wicker basket and a walking stick, presenting an image of resilience and a life of labor.

On the reverse of the postcard, a handwritten message addressed to Mr. M Shaw c/o Mr. Doyle’s East End, Oxford reads: “My dear nephew just a line to ask you if you have got your stockings yet? I not should like to know no more this time, from aunt.”

The other card, also from 1901, shows the Shire Hall & Institute in Worcester. Although cards like this have topographical value, they are much less likely to be one offs like the one of Belinda Woods.

Octopus Arms & Explosive Charges

In the world of military memorabilia, the discovery of unique items often leads to fascinating historical insights. Such is the case with a recent find: a pair of British-made cloth insignia, beautifully crafted with silk detailing on cotton felt, and dating back to the World War II era. The use of silk, a material that provides durability and vibrant color retention, is particularly suited for insignia that would be exposed to harsh conditions or needed to be easily recognizable. They feature a six-legged squid or octopus whose tentacles form the letters “SO” representing a small, specialized unit of Italian torpedo and mine divers, known as “sommozzatori.”

The intriguing design of these patches includes a chained sea mine and hammer above the creature, symbols typically associated with torpedo and mine workers in the Italian Navy. This detail was crucial in identifying the insignia’s purpose and origin. These elements are not merely decorative; they signify the skilled and dangerous work undertaken by these divers during the war, particularly against British naval forces.

Made during a period between 1943 and 1945, these patches likely served an educational purpose for the British forces. Following several successful attacks on British shipping by a small group of six Italian torpedo divers, there was an evident need to understand and possibly replicate the techniques and strategies employed by this formidable unit. The creation of these patches in Britain suggests a deep level of intrigue and respect for the specialized skills of the Italian divers.

These rare formation signs are not commonly seen and represent a unique chapter in the shared history of British and Italian military operations during WWII. They underscore the complexities of wartime strategy and the lengths to which nations went to study and learn from each other.

The Lost Lancer

A real curiosity this week: four pieces of lead, or grape shot, on an iron wire with a parchment label. Under UV light, we can just make out the details.

It seems to refer to a soldier named John Sheel, who was a member of the 1st Lancers regiment. The text indicates that he was taken as a prisoner of war at a place called “Thingvalla de Campagny” on December 2, 1870. This date and context likely refer to an event during the Franco-Prussian War, which included the Siege of Paris in 1870-1871. The term “Thingvalla” does not correspond to any known location in France, and it might be a misspelling or a historical name that is no longer in use.

The 20mph Edwardian Speed Demon

Travel back in time to the cobblestone-laced roads of Edwardian Britain, and you’ll uncover the charming tales of early motoring, replete with mustachioed gentlemen in goggles and duster coats. Amongst such anecdotes, a delightful piece of motoring history has recently surfaced, involving a certain Percival Alexander Douglas-Barry Esq. and his encounters with the law.

In the summer of 1909, Percival found himself on the wrong side of the burgeoning traffic laws. With his motor car clocking speeds over 20 miles an hour – quite the feat in those days – he caught the attention of the Cheshire Constabulary. Percival received a sternly worded yet handwritten note, advising him to put a brake on his enthusiasm and ease off the accelerator.

Fast forward to a chilly January in 1932, and our intrepid motorist once again found himself in a pickle. This time, the offense was a tad dimmer: failing to keep his vehicle’s lights burning bright enough to reveal the registration numbers, a requirement under the Road Transport Lighting Act of 1927. This transgression led to an official summons to court, a more serious affair but still handled with that personal touch only a handwritten document could convey.

These letters, penned by the officers of the law, offer a quaint peek into the early days of traffic regulation. They not only remind us of how far we’ve zoomed ahead in the realm of vehicular laws but also hark back to a time when even a speeding ticket had a personal touch.

Battle Scars Worn With Pride

The Wound Stripe is a British military award introduced in 1916 to honour soldiers wounded in battle during the Great War. These stripes, worn on the left sleeve of the uniform, became a symbol of bravery and endurance.

Initially, the stripes were made with gold Russian braid, but this proved impractical for soldiers as they required sewing onto the uniform and were difficult to keep clean. In response, an all-brass version was created for durability and ease of maintenance. Another variant included a zinc backing plate, which might have been a cost-saving measure or a response to material shortages during the war.

For collectors, the Wound Stripe offers a tangible link to World War I. It represents the personal sacrifices of individual soldiers, as reflected in the variations of the stripes’ materials and design.

Photographs from the era bring these stories to life, showing the individuals and the hospital staff who played vital roles in the war. Each stripe and photo is not just a collectible; it’s a piece of history, a remembrance of the trials faced and the resilience shown in life-threatening situations.

Postcards from the Palace

This week we feature a series of Victorian-era postcards and a singularly notable piece—an admission ticket to the Crystal Palace dating back to 1857.

This isn’t any ordinary ticket; it’s a modest cardboard rectangle that once granted entry to one of the most famed attractions of Victorian London. On Monday, August 3rd, 1857, for the price of 1s. 6d., visitors could immerse themselves in a spectacle of culture and engineering marvel, all in aid of charitable causes supporting widows, orphans, and those in distress. It’s more than memorabilia; it’s a snapshot of social history, of leisure, charity, and the grand exhibitions of the age.

Turning to the postcards, we’re greeted by the grandeur of the Crystal Palace itself. They show images of the palatial structure, showcasing its glass facade and the intricate ironwork that held the massive edifice aloft. Printed in Germany—a detail made necessary by law at the time—these cards offer a glimpse into the building before it succumbed to flames in 1936.

This array of postcards and the admission ticket together tell a story that’s emblematic of an era. They evoke a sense of nostalgia, not just for a building that was once a beacon of the industrial age, but also for the everyday moments of the people who visited and marvelled at its wonders.

Pieces of history jukst like these are waiting for you every Saturday at Charing Cross Collectors Market. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or new to the fascinating field of historical ephemera, stamps, coins, militaria or collectables of all kinds, there’s always something to pique your interest and transport you to the past.