Collectopedia: Notaphily

While coin collecting, or numismatics, is the more common specialism of anyone with a penchant for currency, banknotes have their own equally dedicated, if not quite so wide, following.

The first banknotes made their appearance in China as far back as the seventh century. Although Marco Polo returned from his travels with some examples in the thirteenth century, the concept would not be widely adopted in Europe for a further four hundred years.

Just as with stamps, the variety is so great that the budding collector is best advised to find a theme in which they have a natural interest. Perhaps you have a penchant for animals, portraits or the banknotes of a particular country. More specialised still are the notaphiles on the lookout for certain serial numbers or notes featuring signatures.

As might be imagined, factors affecting the value of a note include its overall condition and, above all of course, its rarity. A case in point is the world’s most valuable banknote: the US 1890 Grand Watermelon $1,000 Bill. Only seven are known to exist in the world – and only three of them will ever be held in private hands. It is known as the Grand Watermelon because of the plump zeros on the reverse. Forget face value though. The last time one came up for auction in 2014, it went for a cool $3.3 million.

Another Royal Milestone

It was six years ago that Her Majesty became the longest serving British monarch, overtaking her illustrious great-great grandmother Victoria. Of course, since then she has been gloriously breaking her own personal best on a daily basis.

She will celebrate her next regal landmark in a month’s time. Although she wouldn’t be crowned until 2 June 1953, she became the British Head of State de facto on the death of her father, George VI. On 6 February this year, she will therefore have been our queen for a full seventy years.

At a time when any number of commercial brands are trumpeting about their own anniversaries (World Nutella Day anyone?), it is reassuring to know that we can still rely on the Royal Mint to focus on matters of substance.

And so we have this series of really stunning new coins to mark her Platinum Jubilee year. Available through the Royal Mint’s own website, they include what is, perhaps surprisingly, the first fifty pence coin celebrating a royal event. This year’s annual set also includes fitting tributes to Dame Vera Lynn, Alexander Graham Bell and this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

New Year, New Hobby…?

If you’ve ever wondered about what draws so many people into the magical world of collecting, why not come down and join us for the first Charing Cross Collectors Market of 2022 this New Years Day!

With knowledgeable traders to help you find your niche and tables full of bargains, you’re sure to find something which will spark your imagination. Whether it’s militaria, stamps, coins, banknotes, ephemera, antiques, postcards, autographs, football programmes…on any given day this is just a sample of the treasures for you to browse through. And you’ll always be sure of a warm welcome from Bridget, Jim and, of course, Dougal the Market Dog!

One Red Flag Not to be Missed

A slice of TV history will be at the Market this Saturday as Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria flies the red flag above his stall. It is no less than the film prop as seen in the iconic BBC series Peaky Blinders. Bearing the name of the Birmingham Bordesley Communist Party, it was used at a graveside scene towards the beginning of Season 2 Episode 1. An official script from the same episode will also be available and this is a great opportunity to own, or just be photographed with, a fantastic collectors item.

Remember These…?

Although there is every justification to regard the first British Christmas stamp as the ‘Letter Stamp’ issued to British forces stationed in Egypt in 1935, the first issue of what became an annual tradition owes its birth to Tony Benn. In 1966 Benn was Postmaster General and he included a set for Christmas as one of the special issues allowed by convention.

The Post Office decided that the design would best be sourced through an open competition for schoolchildren. On 1 December of that year Tasveer Shemza’s King of the Orient and James Berry’s Snowman were officially issued as Christmas stamps. Never very collectible because of the huge numbers which are printed, they remain a key part of the postal service’s revenue because of the numbers of Christmas cards which are still sent.

The Royal Mail’s Christmas Stamps 2021

The First Christmas Card

Although the discovery of a Rosicrucian greeting sent to James I in 1611 can technically be regarded as the first Christmas greeting message, Christmas cards in a form we would easily recognise have a more credible origin in 1843. Clearly not someone who liked to leave it to the last minute, Sir Henry Cole commissioned the printing of 2,050 in May of that year. They all sold for a shilling each and a festive tradition (and a new industry!) was born.

In fact, Cole’s new idea was rooted much more firmly in commerce than sentiment – he had played a significant part in the introduction of the Penny Post just three years earlier. The design by John Horsley was a typical Victorian trope: three generations of a family joyfully toasting the health of the recipient. While subsequent years would build on the idyll of large, happy – and often very wealthy – families celebrating together in front of an extravagantly fuelled fire, there were a number of very unusual, even dark, offshoots which would surprise us today.

Rectangular Window On The Past

A generation is growing up which may possibly never send or receive a single postcard. And yet, in 1910, 800 million were sent in Britain alone. Today this equates to every man, woman and child sending one every month for a year. And why should they? With texts, chat, photo messaging able to do so much more, so much faster and so much more cheaply, the humble postcard seems to be living on borrowed time.

And, in a way, this makes the lure of postcard collecting all the more appealing. They are a finite historical resource which will only become rarer with time – a window on a forgotten world of etiquette, Empire and seaside sauciness. London’s Postal Museum has mounted a wonderfully informative exhibition of postcard history which is well worth a visit, even an online one. Discover how Victorians communicated (relatively!) intimate messages just by the angle at which they affixed their stamps. Or how the army censored postcards home from the trenches to avoid damaging morale at home. The exhibition runs until January.

A Collector’s Cornucopia

The UK’s only weekly stamp, coin, postcard, militaria and ephemera collectors’ market is back this Saturday. Where else could you buy genuine military artefacts, some of the most sought after stamps and postcards from all corners of the globe, coins from the reign of Elizabeth I, historic signatures, ancient African ethnography and any number of other unusual and exotic items all under one roof? Every item has its own story to tell and our dealers are all specialists in their field. It’s unlikely that a more eclectic collectors market exists anywhere else in the world… It’s not for nothing that Charing Cross is traditionally regarded as the very centre of London. It’s certainly the home of collecting. So come along this Saturday from 7am to 2pm, browse to your heart’s content and see what our traders have for you this week!