The Thrill of the Old

Whether it’s a bric a brac shop, a house clearance or a corner of the loft in your new house, it’s always worth a rummage to see what you might find.

In this case, it’s a stamp collection – a bit worse for wear thanks to the attention of some mice by the looks of it but once, clearly, a labour of love for someone keen on all matters philately. Whether recording the postage of Malta, former British colonies or obscure parts of distant continents the world over, the former owner took great care to record the date and perforation count of each one.

That person may no longer be here but their obsession is. We may only be the temporary curators of our collections but we’re an essential link in the chain between past and present.

Merrill’s Marauders

Continuing our theme of US military patches of units based in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theatre during WWII, today we have badges from one of the most famous special operations units of the time: the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) – otherwise known as Merrill’s Marauders.

These three US made examples all have the cut edge and flecked back. They’re nice and limp which adds to their authenticity and show no glow under UV light. It is very hard to find originals like these as the unit only existed for about a year between 1943-44. When they were reassigned into the 475th Infantry to make up the Marshall Task Force, some of them carried on wearing their old unit patches along with the new ‘MARS TASK FORCE’ ones, seen here.

These later patches were made in the Indian theatre and are very rare indeed. Alongside it is the chain stitched Ledo Road patch, worn by the unit who undertook the huge undertaking of constructing a road from Ledo in India to Burma. It was a then unparalleled feat of engineering snaking 271 miles through dense jungle.

The ‘CBI’ Patch

This week we’re featuring some rather splendid American ‘China Burma India’ theatre patch – otherwise known as the CBI.

It was never an intended formation sign or unit patch but came about because of the need of the US Military Police to identify armed forces personnel. With all nations wearing khaki, this was nigh on impossible.

In August 1942, Brigadier Frank Dorn came up with a patch featuring the sun of China and the Star of India incorporated into US colours. He had a few samples made in India and wore the first one on his left shoulder at a high level staff meeting. He had the other samples sent as production guides to Indian manufactuers. Before long it was standard issue for all US personnel based in China, Burma and India.

Easily the most desirable patches are the theatre made hand-sewn examples of silk, velvet and bullion wire.

The wartime US made examples are more common and should have  a cut edge, flecked reverse and be quite floppy. Nor should they glow under UV [black box]  light. This shows a nylon presence which was not used during the war and would therefore denote a fake.

Additionally, it was not uncommon for pilots, including illustrious ‘Flying Tigers’, to paint the detail on their leather jacket or to have equivalent patches made up of pieces of leather.

Chindit Patches

Founded and led by Brigadier Orde Wingate, the Chindits were a Long Range Penetration Force who undertook two notable missions behind enemy lines in Burma in 1943-44: Operations Longcloth and Thursday.

The name of the force derives from the  sugestion  of  Burma rifles Captain Aung Thin, DSO. His idea was  to use  the name  Chinthe, the guardian of the Burmese temples, along with Wingate’s research on the Chindwin River.

Wingate himself designed the patch: a large golden-orange Chinthe with a temple in the distance and a dash-dot-dot-dot at the base as Morse code for V (Victory). Sadly, he would never see the patch worn as he died in a transport plane crash on 24 March 1944.  

The first chindit patches were issued on the start of a month’s leave after training. A leaflet issued with the patch dated 26th april 1944 states “THIS IS YOUR BADGE, IT MEANS YOU ARE A MEMBER OF SPECIAL FORCE, YOU ARE PROUD OF SPECIAL FORCE. ALL RANKS SPECIAL FORCE ARE PROUD OF YOU”.

The Indian-made patch was hand made in many forms with silk or bright wire details and these were among the largest British formation signs ever made during the war, measuring up to 7-8.5cm across. Chindit shoulder titles were also made and sold in local Indian Bazaars. However, these were never  officially issued, being deemed irregular and not to be worn [ battalion orders india no 56 / 280 ]. Machine woven insignia appeared on the market for sale to veterans and anyone wishing to purchase them right up to today so the collector must be wary. The ones pictured here are, of course, the genuine article!

Open as usual this Saturday!

While a train might be as hard to get hold of as this vintage postcard of the Folkestone Express (departing from Charing Cross!), the serious business of collecting goes on.

Calling at all stops from Burgeoning Curiosity to Avid Enthusiast, the Charing Cross Collectors Fair surges ahead regardless with the most fascinating ‘rolling stock’ to be found anywhere in London… See you there!

In for a penny…

It might be the chance find of an old Victorian penny at home but once the numismatics bug bites, it never ends there. And just like old librarians, old coins are often more valuable than they appear at face value. As we’ve covered on this blog before, there’s always the chance that something worth far, far more than its face value crops up in your change – although with electronic money becoming the norm these days that’s becoming increasingly unlikely!

What you can be sure of is a ready source of advice, expertise and more coins(!) at the country’s only weekly collectors’ fair. Our dealers are always keen to help and have some real rarities among their stock. So why not come on down this Saturday – you never know what you might find!

The Royal Mail

Or should that be ‘male’? Along with the change to notes and coins, work is underway to mark the accession of King Charles III across our postal system.

Stamps with the Queen’s head can be used until the end of January 2023, but we’ll soon see his profile replace hers on new stamps. The question of what happens to the Royal Cipher on the 115,000 or so existing post boxes up and down the country is simple: nothing. In line with tradition, existing post boxes or those already in manufacture, will retain their original initials. Any new ones of course, will bear Charles cipher: CIIR, shown here.

However, the cipher will change soon on government buildings, military uniforms and police helmets – just as Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Passport Office and Prison Service will become His Majesty’s.

Pet Cemetery

A grim reminder of the horrors that war bring is this notice from 1940s London encouraging any pet owners being evacuated or mobilised for war work to euthanise their cats and dogs so they don’t starve in their absence.

It will seem horrific by modern standards but was no doubt regarded as a kindness almost a century ago. The cemetery at the address has an extensive plot for animals with some impressive statues and carvings.

With thanks to Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria for the photo and background information.

Majestic Memorabilia

This week we’re featuring some highly topical items sent to us recently by Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria.

Firstly an official pass for a motor vehicle to be in Westminster during the late Queen’s coronation in 1953. It’s impossible to see in the photos but the registration numbers of the vehicles has been pencilled in on the front: JK2204 and RV7074 for ‘Westminster Bank’.

And then there are a couple of much sought after ‘real photograph’ postcards. The one from 1939 shows the King riding in Windsor Great Park alongside the princesses. Princess Margaret has her horse on a training lead held by her father. The other portrait photograph of the Queen was taken by Dorothy Wilding at a time when this would have been really quite unusual!

The First Collectors Market of the Carolean Era

Of course, we’re open again this Saturday and with the recent passing of Her Late Majesty, the throne falls to the former Prince of Wales, Charles III. And so the second Elizabethan age becomes the second Carolean era (following that of Charles II – that of Charles I is often known as the Caroline Age).

The date is yet to be announced for Charles’ coronation but plans were laid for the ceremony – Operation Golden Orb – many years ago and reviewed on a regular basis. This will in all likelihood be a very religious affair consecrated at Westminster Abbey.

Naturally, stamp, coin and banknote collectors will be following announcements from the Royal Mail, the Royal Mint and the Bank of England closely as our currency changes to reflect our new constitutional reality. In line with tradition, on coins Charles’ profile will face the opposite direction (left) from his predecessor. On stamps, however, the monarch only ever faces left.