Collectopedia: Old Photographs

While modern digital images are produced, consumed, archived and deleted in uncountable numbers these days, this has increased the appeal of photographs from an era when capturing images on actual film (or even plates!) was highly regarded as an unparalleled scientific miracle. They are a fascinating window into a world gone by, documenting the lives, loves and preoccupations of our ancestors.

To the amateur collector, they can also offer the opportunity to make a small fortune – providing, of course, that you know what you’re looking for! Consider the example of Randy Guijarro who spent $2 on three old photographs. When he looked closely at one image of several cowboys playing croquet (above) he thought he recognised the face but it was what he was wearing that really caught his eye. “I defy you to find another cowboy wearing a cardigan” he said. Sure enough, experts have authenticated only the second known photograph of Billy the Kid. It’s worth is estimated at a cool $5 million. Paper money, indeed.

All sorts of old photographs are always available for sale at Charing Cross Market and this week is no exception. As an example, we have this memento from the Great War – nicely personalised thanks to the subject dedicating it to a former brother in arms. “To Larry, in memory of days spent together in France and Belgium. From J. R. Kennedy 5/4/1918”.

Peaky Blinder

A real rarity this week as we showcase a pre-1914 production khaki serge service cap, as worn by all non commissioned other rank soldiers. This one bears the badge of the Shropshire Light Infantry. A softer variant, the trench cap, came out during 1915-17 soon to be supplemented by the much more protective steel shrapnel or ‘Brodie’ helmet.

This fine example was found on a boat in the back garden of a house. It has suffered a degree of moth damage on top (pictured) but has otherwise survived the intervening one hundred plus years remarkably well – just one item among many available this Saturday at Charing Cross Collectors Market.

Collectopedia: Autographs

While collecting beer mats has the grand name of tegestology, the only name for last week’s hobby of toby jug collecting is, well, toby jug collecting. Today though, we have a fine example for those of you into philography, or autograph hunting.

Although modern autograph hunters are becoming a rare breed nowadays (the preferred method of recording a meeting with a celebrity being the ubiquitous ‘selfie’), the market for authentic signatures of those who are no longer with us remains strong. A uniquely personal record of our passage through the world, authenticating letters, contracts, marriages and treaties, our signature has always been considered important. Arguably, this is even more true today in an age where our identity has largely been digitised. Many younger people today have never, and will never, write a cheque for example.

And autographs don’t get much bigger than this. We know that Churchill, like his father before him, was a freemason and also dabbled in several other esoteric organisations, one of which was the Ancient Order of Druids. A photograph of 1908 shows him at one of their meetings quite prominently. However, this festival programme of 1920 describes him as the Order’s Chairman suggesting that he retained his interest in the Druids rather longer than had previously been thought. Either way, we think the signature of perhaps our Greatest Briton certainly epitomises the phrase, a ‘collector’s item’.

Collectopedia: Toby Jugs

It’s hard to visit any antiques fair these days without seeing at least one toby jug and Charing Cross Collectors Market is no exception. With their sometimes gaudy colours and exaggerated features, these ceramic characters are easy to pick out but few people know more about them than just their name.

First produced in the mid 18th century, their inspiration has never been explained definitively. However, the most likely possibilities are that the grotesque, often inebriated figure was inspired by the character Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or possibly the notorious drunkard Toby Fillpot celebrated in the drinking song ‘Little Brown Jug’. Either way, you will no doubt distinguish yourself as a minor authority on the subject if you only know that a Toby jug should show a person’s full body whereas one depicting just the face is a character jug. The latter have become popular souvenirs all over the world, featuring anyone from actors to politicians.

A character mug of Josef Stalin

Naturally, Toby jugs which predate the advent of mass production (c.1750-c.1850) are the most sought after and can fetch thousands. Yet they often escape the casual observer because they might appear quite plain to the untutored eye so it’s always worth inquiring about the provenance. And if you really do get the bug, there’s no doubt that they make for a striking display!

The A to Z of Collecting

On any given day you can find a huge range of rare, exotic and just plain fascinating collectibles at Charing Cross market, including (but most certainly not limited to!): Autograph books, Beermats, Coins, Diecast toys, Ecu coins, Fulham programmes, Georgian cutlery, Handwritten diaries, Iron cross medals, Javanese stamps, Katanga crosses, Letters beautifully written by people long dead, Military dispatches, Newspapers, Old postcards, Penny blacks, Qintar coins, Regimental badges, Silver sixpences, Traders (with centuries of knowledge between them!), Unfeasibly large and friendly market dog: Dougal (not for sale), Victoriana of all kinds, Wedgewood pottery, Xiangqi chess set, Yearbooks of the past and ‘Zeppelin’ stamps.  Who needs Amazon? 

Probably The Best Collecting Hobby In The World

Collecting is a broad church. While most people immediately think of traditional fields like stamps and coins, there are many other areas of cultural history which hold their own unique fascination. One such is a sub-branch of ephemera with the grand title of tegestology. Even if you knew that ‘teges’ is Latin for ‘mat’ or ‘covering’, you’d be hard pressed to work out that this was the name for collecting beer mats.

Although we now only see their purpose as a decorative way of keeping tables clean, their original purpose (in eighteenth century Germany) was for placing over the tankard to prevent insects or debris falling in. Cheap printing methods soon allowed their value as a marketing tool to open up a whole new world of colour and creativity as brewers fashioned increasingly impressive ways of influencing people’s drinking habits.

As a general rule, older mats tend to be more valuable than those mass produced by the brewing giants of the last fifty years but condition and the size of the print run also play a part. The rise of micro-breweries in recent years also means that there is now a huge variety of mats in existence and this is one of the most accessible fields of collecting around. At Charing Cross Market the man to see is ephemera specialist, John Barrett, who usually has some older mats available to start you off.

The world’s biggest collector has amassed over 152,000 so you may have some way to go before being considered a leading tegestologist but the fieldwork is sure to be enjoyable.

StampEx Goes Ahead – Online

The biannual major stamp fair that is StampEx will be held online this Autumn. It’s a great way to take part in Britain’s biggest philately event without the expense or inconvenience of having to travel and you can drop in on any of the ten virtual talks which take place over the festival’s three days of events (1st to 3rd October). As their website puts it, “This is Stampex but not as you know it. Grab a cup of tea and get comfy as you connect with friends and enjoy a ‘day out’ from the comfort of your own home.”

Some of the world’s best philatelic collections will be displayed courtesy of The Museum of Philately and Karl Louis will be involved, asking you to send in stamps for him to review and advise on their provenance. Younger collectors are catered for in the Stamp Active section with lots of engaging activities for them to get involved with. There’s genuinely something for everyone so head over to https://stampex.vfairs.com/ to register. It’s free. You just sign up with your email address then login to attend.

Attendance (online this year) might be higher than ever.

Of course, our traders will be on hand as ever this Saturday and every Saturday at Charing Cross Collectors Market to advise and show off their finds so you can still get the excitement of face-to-face stamp collecting along with all the online action from Stampex over the following few days.

Why Coins Have Ridged Edges

Obvious to any amateur coin collector perhaps but in our blog we are always trying to demystify things for the complete beginner or anyone with an enquiring mind.

Until the seventeenth century the bulk of England’s coins were made by hammering a blank piece of metal (composed of just the right quantity of silver) on a die. This provided a reasonably consistent way of according value to the coin.

However, as these coins passed into circulation, there were two ways of profiting from them illegally. One was to ‘sweat’ them in a bag. A large number of coins would be repeatedly shaken until bits fell of them – small gains perhaps but obviously quite hard to detect.

A much more common method was to ‘clip’ the coin by shaving off a small amount of the metal to sell on later while still passing it on at face value. Repeated clipping resulted in some ridiculously small versions of the original coin and wreaked havoc in the marketplace. Even though debasing the currency in this way was punished severely, it remained widespread for hundreds of years.

This all changed when Sir Isaac Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint in 1696. In two years he oversaw a recall of all clipped or badly worn coins and they were replaced with a new design with milled edges, making them all but impossible to forge. Nowadays the milled edge remains only as a symbolic nod to his innovation since modern flat coins are made from base metal. Even so, the pound coin bears the added fluorish of an explanatory inscription around its edge: ‘Decus Et Tutamen’ (‘an ornament and a safeguard’).

It’s All Here…In The Heart of London

The UK’s only weekly stamp, coin, postcard, militaria and ephemera collectors’ market continues. Where else could you buy genuine military formation patches, rare stamps from all corners of the globe, a silver coin from the reign of Charles I, historic postcards, ancient African artifacts and any number of other unusual and exotic items all under one roof? In fact, we doubt whether 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 from which all mileposts took their distances. 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!

Century Old Art Mystery Solved by Postcard

The historical value of deltiology was in the limelight last month when a 130 year old mystery was definitively settled by a researcher at the Institut Van Gogh north of Paris. The precise location of Tree Roots, the great artist’s final work, on which he was working just hours before his (likely self-inflicted) death by gunshot, is now known – and it’s all thanks to a postcard.

Tree Roots by Van Gogh (1890)

A 94 year old French woman, who lives locally, had lent her collection of historical postcards to the Institute and it was only some time after one of their researchers had browsed through them the connection was made. What was just a hunch became a certainty when Wouter van der Veen went to the scene himself and confirmed it. The Auberge Ravoux Inn, where Van Gogh spent the final two months of his life in 1890 is just 500 feet away. A plaque commemorating the significance of the spot is now in place.

A very useful overlay version of the painting and card can be seen here.

The scene today ©arthénon.
Main image: postcard Rue Daubigny together with the painting. ©arthénon.