Marked by History: A Personal Postcard from the RMS Lusitania

In 1913, a passenger aboard the RMS Lusitania sent a postcard home to his son in North Wales. It was a simple gesture, a snapshot of life aboard one of the world’s greatest ocean liners before its tragic sinking. The front of the postcard depicted the majestic vessel, with the sender’s cabin marked for his son to see.

Today, this postcard stands as a piece of history, not just for its connection to the Lusitania, but as a reflection of everyday life in the early 20th century. The value of such a postcard lies not in the low-value stamp affixed to its corner, but in the postmark and handwritten note on the back, which provide a direct link to the past.

For collectors, the allure of this postcard comes from its authenticity and the human story behind it. It’s a tangible reminder that history is made up of real people and their experiences, not just events. As an artifact, it serves as a humble yet meaningful representation of the era and the ill-fated ship itself.

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.

‘Banknote Issue’ Stamps

Another classic US example this week: a 12-cent black stamp featuring a portrait of Henry Clay, an American statesman who served in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This stamp is part of a series issued during the 19th century, specifically around the 1870s, which are known among collectors as the “Banknote Issues” due to their intricate, banknote-like engravings.

These stamps are highly valued for several reasons: their historical significance, the craftsmanship of the engraving, and their age. The Banknote Issues were printed by private banknote companies, which were contracted by the U.S. government before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over stamp production in 1894. The companies—National Bank Note Company, Continental Bank Note Company, and American Bank Note Company—printed these stamps, often with slight variations that make each issue unique and of particular interest to philatelists.

For the general stamp collector, owning a piece from the Banknote Issues is like holding a piece of history. Each stamp tells a story not just of postal history but also of the printing arts and American politics in the 19th century. Collectors seek out variations in color, perforation, and watermark, which can significantly affect a stamp’s value. Additionally, the condition of the stamp is paramount, with well-preserved examples demanding higher prices.

Other examples shown here include a 1/2-cent deep blue Benjamin Franklin issue, a classic late 19th to early 20th-century U.S. stamp, recognizable by its detailed engraving and color. To the top right is a 1-cent blue Benjamin Franklin, commonly used for postcards or additional postage, from the same era as its half-cent counterpart. On the bottom right, the 2-cent brown George Washington stamp reflects the workhorse of everyday mail during its time, facilitating standard letter postage while the bottom left stamp also presents a 2-cent brown George Washington issue, similar to its neighbor, and it stands as a testament to the era’s intricate print craftsmanship and widespread postal use.

The New Gold Rush

On a typical day at the market a full page of US postage stamps can be had for just a few pounds. And there’s no better time to get in on this trade since interest levels in American stamps is on the rise – along with prices. The recent sale of a red 2 cent example for £900 is just one reason why people are checking their collections!

Featured here are two 5-cent Jefferson stamps, specifically the issue known as the “Buffalo Bill” due to the cancellation mark often found on it that resembles the famous showman. They feature a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. These particular stamps are from the mid-to-late 19th century, likely between 1861 and 1881, a period that saw various designs for the 5-cent denomination.

The design of these stamps is intricate, with a central vignette featuring Jefferson’s profile surrounded by an elaborate frame that includes the text “U.S. Postage 5 Five Cents.” The left stamp has a lighter cancellation mark, allowing for a clearer view of the portrait, while the right stamp has a heavy, dark cancellation that obscures much of the design. Collectors often seek stamps with clear cancellations for their aesthetic and historical value, and the condition, as well as the type of cancellation mark, can significantly affect a stamp’s value. These stamps represent a time when postage was a vital part of communication, and each stamp has its own history of travel and use.

The Quest for Victorian Valor: The Rarity of Grouped Medals

In the intricate realm of war medal collecting, the Victorian era presents a unique challenge. Condition, unit, rank, and historical action are the keystones of value. The first checkpoint for a collector is the ‘coin-like’ definition, ensuring the sharpness of detail, followed by the verification of correct and precise naming on the medal.

As time marches on, complete collections of Victorian medals become rarer, a scarcity compounded by the practices of yesteryear’s collectors who often sought one of each type, leading to the fragmentation of original groups.

Today, a complete ‘grouping’—a soldier’s full entitlement of medals—holds a premium over individual pieces. The Queen’s South Africa Medal, awarded for service in the Boer War, exemplifies this with its three clasps, including the seldom-seen ‘Laing’s Nek’. Notably, it marks one of the rare instances where British Regimental colours were lost in battle—the first being at Isandlwana, another poignant moment in South Africa’s martial history.

For collectors, such a group represents more than metal and ribbon; it symbolizes the full narrative of a soldier’s service, making it a coveted and valuable addition to any collection.

The Croix de Guerre

Another iconic medal in our recent series, the French Croix de Guerre, is a distinguished medal of intricate design, first established in 1915. Cast in bronze, it features distinct reverse circular panels denoting the year—1914-15, 1914-16, 1914-17, 1914-18—akin to the British Mentioned in Dispatches. Recognizing various levels of military commendation, it’s adorned with stars or oak leaves:

  • A bronze star signifies a mention at the regiment or brigade level.
  • A silver star denotes division-level acknowledgment.
  • A silver-gilt star represents corps-level mentions.
  • The bronze palm is awarded for army-level mentions, with a silver palm equating to five bronze ones.
  • A silver-gilt palm is reserved for those mentioned by the Free French Forces during World War II.

Highlighted here are the second war examples with a 1939 back panel, initiated by Charles de Gaulle in 1944 featuring a gilt finish with a red and green ribbon, alongside the Vichy Government version, introduced in 1943, displaying a green and black ribbon. Notably, the Paris Mint is known for its superior craftsmanship. Authentic pieces comprise three main components: the cross, the affixed circular panel on both sides, and a securely soldered suspension ring.

Open this Saturday…

…and every Saturday! As the final market of 2023 arrives, we’ll be stepping into the new year with a smile as broad as this fellow. He’s obviously delighted to have ‘copped a Blighty’ in time to enjoy the festive season with his loved ones in 1916. The rakish civvy suit is rather at odds with his officer’s cap but we’ll let the artist off as Anne Rochester was better known for illustrating children’s books!