Certainly not the most valuable object by weight in the known universe

It’s second. Antimatter is first at well over £20 billion per gram. Yet at just 0.02675g, the Swedish Treskilling Yellow is well ahead of its nearest rival, the isotope Californium 252. Last sold (for an undisclosed amount but believed to be well over £3 million) in 2013, this stamp derives its exceptional value from the fact that there is only one known example in existence. It was recently on display at Stampex in Sweden where one of our dealers, Gabriel Cohen, saw it.

A brief printing error sometime in 1857 saw what should have been a blue-green three skilling stamp produced in yellow-orange. It was thought that all the misprinted stamps were destroyed but thirty years later a young collector found one on the cover of a letter in his grandmother’s attic. He sold it to a fellow collector for the equivalent of what would be a couple of pounds today. Its auction history ever since then has set several records.

Although the title for the most expensive stamp ever sold still belongs to the British Guiana 1c Magenta (sold for £7.5m in 2014), its greater weight gives the Swedish contender the edge for now. However, the fact that just one copy of either stamp exists makes this a needless comparison. In that sense, they are both quite priceless – unless you happen to have any bags of antimatter lying around of course.

Although the Treskilling Yellow certainly won’t be on sale at the Market tomorrow, who knows what else you might discover.

Three Point Turn

The postage stamp as a concept was just 13 years old when this innovative design emerged in 1853. Now commonly known as the Cape Triangular, this was the first adhesive stamp in Africa and the first three sided stamp anywhere in the world. This daring design was a source of pride for the colony’s governor but it arose out of a more mundane consideration. Some postal workers in rural areas were illiterate so this was an easy way to distinguish domestic mail from international post.

Today variations of these early triangular stamps are some of the most sought after and valuable in the world. A single ‘woodblock’ misprinted Cape Triangular would be worth well over £30,000. They certainly made a huge difference to the fortunes of one early collector who snapped a number of them up at a bargain price. His name was Stanley Gibbons.

Death from Above

Somebody once said that you can tell humanity is making progress because every new war that comes along they find a new way of killing you. The fléchette (Fr. ‘dart’) was one of the more original methods adopted by nascent air forces of all the main combatants in World War I.

Bucket loads of pointed steel darts were emptied over enemy troop concentrations to cause maximum death and injury. First used by the French, they were soon copied by the Germans who enjoyed inscribing them with the phrase “Copied from France, made in Germany”.  It was estimated that the tip of a single dart dropped from sufficient altitude would generate a force of 200kg. Small wonder that the stoutest metal helmets were no match for a direct hit, often piercing some poor unfortunate from head to foot.

The greater accuracy and power of conventional air-dropped explosives meant that they were soon obsolete but these were a much-feared weapon on account of their silent arrival giving soldiers no warning. An interesting footnote to their use can be seen in the postcard (below) of 1914 showing the devastation wrought by some fléchettes on the Germans. This may have bolstered contemporary stories about the Angel of Mons.

Postcard image courtesy of
https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/3-the-flechette.php

The legend, described by Arthur Machen in a newspaper story entitled ‘The Bowmen’ was supposedly based on accounts he’d heard from retreating British soldiers. One desperate Tommy is said to have called on the spirit of Saint George to help.  An army of phantom bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt then appeared and protected their rearguard with volleys of arrows fired at the enemy.  Of course, it’s all very fanciful propagandist nonsense but no less charming for all that.

Defiance in defeat

Made by Italian fascist prisoners of war for the Communist May Day celebration of 1947, few of these pressed tin badges survive. The front shows a torch above symbols of agriculture and industry but the silhouette of the reverse is very clearly a nod at the former dictator whose title of choice was “His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Leader of Fascism and Founder of the Empire”. The badges were freely sold until the authorities were told of the deception. They collected up as many as they could and destroyed them so this is quite a rare find – just another example of the market’s status as a go-to destination for collectables and antiques of all kinds.

Turning Heads

Queen Victoria was born 200 years ago today and at one point coins featuring her image were in circulation in roughly one quarter of the globe. It’s old hat to collectors of course but few layman realise that for almost 400 years the portraits of successive British monarchs have alternated between facing left and right. Edward VIII, no stickler for convention as later events proved, tried to buck the trend by having his done facing left like his immediate predecessor, George V. However, Edward’s abdication to facilitate his marriage to the American Wallis Simpson followed so quickly that no coins made it into circulation. Coins minted for the new king, George VI, showed him facing to the left (as if Edward had complied with tradition) so – technically, at least – order was restored.

Objet d’Art?

France’s most beautiful stamp? Some people think so. The intricate engraving of an Aéropostale plane above central Paris was printed on paper of a quality normally reserved for bank-notes. Its high face value was significant enough to see it secured with a red burelage overprint (the wavy lines) to deter forgery.

The plane is a Caudron Simon, a version of which Saint-Exupéry was flying when he crashed in the desert in 1935, the year before the stamp was printed. Few stamps reward such close inspection as this one and it is a credit to the artist, Achille Ouvré, that so many iconic buildings are identifiable in what amounts to a miniscule work of art.

“For Style and Value”

The slogan of a high street institution for generations in Britain, now consigned to a place in our cultural history books (and the ephemera stall at Charing Cross Market).

  • Outfitted British men from 1876
  • Wound up in 1998
  • Named after two brothers
  • Neon red storefront logo
  • Established in Birmingham

It is, of course, Foster Brothers. Well done if you’ve arrived here from one of our social media posts with the right answer.

This is a detail from a magazine advertisement from the 1930’s. Collectible ephemera of all kinds, including football programmes, postcards, magazines, books, journals and letters are regularly available at the market every Saturday.

DIY Dog Tag

It’s 1916. It’s your first tour on active service in the Royal Army Medical Corps and you’ve landed an exotic posting to what was then the Ottoman Empire. There’s so much to explore and experience. So why spend time having a silver coin engraved with your name and regiment? Although the pyramids show this is certainly a souvenir, the real reason Captain Lionel Graham bought this at a local bazaar that day has far more to do with the everyday reality for a soldier in wartime.   

The British Army had been issuing identification tags to its men since 1907 but these were now being made of vulcanised asbestos fibre.  Soldiers rightly believed that these would not last long underground or underwater.  Many, like Captain Graham, had their own made and it is highly likely that he wore this until his death, of a stroke, in Beirut during WWII.

By then a colonel, Graham had lived an exceptional life. A Cambridge graduate, he was an excellent sportsman – particularly at golf and tennis, winning several notable tournaments abroad. His friends knew him as ‘Nap’ and his obituary merited publication in the British Medical Journal.  One more forgotten hero? Well, aside from the survival of this very personal, very poignant item, if you’ve read this, absolutely not.

WWI ‘Silks’ – Affordable Antiques

All collections begin with a single acquisition. That first purchase might only cost a few pounds but it will be remembered forever by its owner, much like the original recipient of this Great War ‘silk’. Hand made by French and Belgian women and sold to members of the British Army wanting to send a special postcard home, these were enormously popular. Many are in excellent condition on account of being treasured by anxious relatives. Some, no doubt, were the last such message they received.  

In recent years, considerable doubt has been cast on the somewhat sentimental idea that these heirlooms were in fact the product of a female cottage industry. Recent research seems to suggest that the high numbers produced must have involved machine looms
https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-digital-exhibition/index.php/silk-embroidered-postcards/item/91-who-made-them However, this does nothing to diminish the emotional value of what they must have meant to both sender and recipient over 100 years ago.

Designs usually involve patriotic or sentimental messages sewn around flags, flowers or regimental colours but most are very affordable and an easy way to begin a fascinating collection. Whether it’s stamps, coins, militaria, ephemera or other antiques, you’re sure to find something which will excite your interest at Charing Cross Collectors Market – every Saturday, 7am – 3pm.