The ‘Nothing’ We Can Only Guess At

The art of letter writing may not be dead but it’s declined exponentially since the advent of email. So anyone’s efforts to communicate with others on paper are always of value. The letters of major literary and political figures are often collated and published for posterity but there will always be notes deemed too trivial to be worth our attention.

And here is a prime example just recently on sale at the market.

Field Marshall Sir Henry Evelyn Wood (1838-1919) was a distinguished British Army officer who won the Victoria Cross for rescuing a local merchant in India who had been ambushed by robbers and taken into the jungle to be hanged. He served in all the major hotspots in the British Empire, being made a Field Marshall in 1903.

Written on War Office stationery, the only date on this note is 5th May. It reads “My Dear Mr Chamberlain, I must, like Sir Charles Coldstream in ‘Used Up’ answer “There’s nothing in it”. Merci mille fois tout le même. [A thousand thanks all the same.] Yours Evelyn Wood”

‘Used Up’ was a comic play co-authored by Charles Dickens and Charles Matthews. The dramatic high water mark of the latter was his role as Sir Charles Coldstream in that very play. Although it is tempting to believe that this was in reply to an enquiry by future PM Neville Chamberlain, their chronology does not really overlap. It is far more likely that the intended recipient was Neville’s father, Joseph, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies from June 1895 to September 1903.

From a distance of over a hundred years, we have no way of knowing what the original question was. But it’s fun to guess. There’s “nothing” in what exactly…? Rumours of war with another country? A spat between the army top brass? Calls for independence in one of the colonies? Or something much more mundane like the War Office tea fund?

Collectopedia: Football Programmes

No fancy name for this one – it’s exactly what it says on the tin. What began in the 1880’s as a simple scorecard with players’ names and positions has evolved into the modern matchday programme. It is still a decent source of revenue for some clubs (and printing them was required by the English Football League until 2018) but has also become a famously niche area of sporting memorabilia.

The traditional matchday ritual of a pie, a pint and a programme is still a possibility at many grounds (if you allow for variations like Forest Green Rovers’ delicious vegan Q Pie!) but paper shortages in the forties and fifties limited the size of post-war programmes. Certainly they are a far cry from today’s glossy, advert laden magazines. And, as one might imagine, the rarer the programme the more likely it is to command a high price.

Manchester United’s First FA Cup Victory

Programmes which attract the strongest interest are still ones from the various FA or World Cup Finals. A record £35,250 was paid for the 1882 FA Cup final between Old Etonians and Blackburn Rovers. A programme from Manchester United’s first FA Cup victory in 1909 realised £16,000 the same year. Original price: one penny. But print run anomalies and the significance of the occasion (such as Manchester United’s first game after the Munich Air Disaster and featuring a blank team sheet) can make a huge difference to the price.

This Penny Won’t Drop

The rarest British coin of the 20th century will surprise many since that distinction belongs to a humble penny. Thanks to an excess of the coin still in circulation by 1932, the following year the Royal Mint didn’t produce any at all – or almost.

For some time there had been a tradition of placing a full set of coins of the realm under the foundation stones of important buildings as they were being built. To facilitate this, a very few were struck featuring Britannia on one side and King George V on the other. The year ‘1933’ was the only thing that would distinguish them from preceding or subsequent years. For a time this prompted attempts to create forgeries which would dupe unsuspecting buyers into believing they were buying one of perhaps just seven such coins in the world. When one of the ‘pattern’ coins (a prototype not used for production) recently came up for auction it sold for £72,000. The currency coins are believed to be worth much more but are now all in museums or private hands.

What’s In A Name?

Well, lots of money potentially. If that name is George Washington and it’s a matter of his signature on his personal copy of the US Constitution then some way north of $10 million. If it’s star of the silver screen Sophia Loren, who signed many thousands of autographs during and since her heyday in the sixties and seventies, then you’re probably talking at least £60. While the age of the autograph may have given way to that of the selfie, there are any number of notable figures from the past whose personal presence can still best be obtained in the form of a signature.

Autograph collecting has enjoyed a close association with the cult of celebrity and autograph hunters were once the bane of many a star’s life. Such was the commercial appeal of signatures from the great and the good that some hunters were able to make a handsome living from it. Many celebrities, such as basketball star Michael Jordan, flatly refused to sign autographs at all for years. John Lennon’s killer approached him in New York with a request for an autograph because he knew this would be a common enough request. On the flip side is the experience of sportsman Joe DiMaggio who was able to earn more from signing baseballs than he ever had on the field. Anyone badgering comedian Steve Martin could be out of luck though. He has been known to hand out business cards stating “This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny.”

The Home of Collecting

Whether it’s your first foray into collecting or you’re already an enthusiast, you’re sure to find something to spark your interest this weekend at Charing Cross Collectors Market. Browse to your heart’s content among the stamps, coins, postcards, militaria, ephemera, ethnography and all kinds of other historic items which have found their way down the decades to a stall in central London. Just holding items like these in your hands can summon up a sense of time and place which you may only have read about in the history books.

It’s not every day that you can see such a cornucopia of the unusual and unique. It’s just Saturdays. Between 7am and 3pm. At Charing Cross Market.

When (Guinea) Pigs Fly

silver-guinea-pig-club-badge

A quick follow up to our post a couple of weeks ago covering the celebrated Guinea Pig Club, set up in 1941 to support badly injured British and allied airmen who had undergone extensive reconstructive plastic surgery. Our photo showed one of the later chrome badges which, while still quite uncommon, can be bought for anywhere between 40 to 65 pounds.

Pictured today though is one of the highly sought after original (silver) badges. The Imperial War Museum has one. And so does one of our traders, Michael Burroughs. He has confirmed that it will be on sale this Saturday. This particular example was given by its original recipient, a WWII airman, to a recovering modern day pilot, badly injured in a Puma helicopter.

Another classic case of an item with a fascinating story to tell, one of thousands available this Saturday and every Saturday at Charing Cross Market, the Home of Collecting.

silver-guinea-pig-club-pin

The Allure of Old Advertisements

Ah, Pheasant Margarine! Had we but been alive in 1917, who amongst us could have resisted the shilling a pound delights of its “dainty” packets bearing the red white and blue riband of the ‘Pheasant’ seal? Why buy butter when there is Pheasant to be had? Originally developed in 1869, the first plant-based spread was created by Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès for Napoleon III due to butter shortages. Pheasant margarine later went on to merge with the Lever Brothers to become Unilever.

Or how about Wingarnis health tonic, ‘The Wine of Life’? How could its “four-fold power as a Tonic, a Restorative, a Blood-maker and a Nerve Food” fail to invigorate you in every fibre of your being? Prepared by another household name, Colemans of Norwich, Wingarnis is especially formulated for the weak, the nervy, the anaemic or the run-down. The fact that this cure-all is “recommended by over 10,000 doctors” reminds us that it the Advertising Standards Agency would not be established for another 45 years….

Die Fliegerasse

Other than the Great War’s Baron von Richthofen, German ‘Flying Aces’ of the Second World War are much less well known. Yet a number of them had extremely distinguished careers, flying with a degree of skill and bravery which earned them Germany’s highest military medal: the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross (more commonly known just as the ‘Iron Cross’).

History buffs may know that Hitler himself was a recipient during WWI when he was just a corporal but these signatures are from WWII pilots who flew a range of planes that wouldn’t look out of place in an Airfix catalogue. All the classics are here from the plane which claimed more kills than any other in the whole of the war on either side, the Messerschmitt Me-109, to the most frequent shadow over London during the Blitz, the Heinkel He-111 heavy bomber.

In all, there are nine autographs from these pilots, none of whom are still alive today, making these eminently collectable. Indeed, the first signatory, Major Erwin Fischer, is one of only 882 recipients of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.

[squawk]…pieces of eight…

Possibly the most memorable words ever spoken by a bird, this phrase references the divisions of a Spanish dollar which many experts regard as the world’s first international currency. It was first minted in the Spanish Empire in 1497 but this example is a Mexico City coin of 1736, one of a number found in the Rooswijck shipwreck off Goodwin Sands. Long John Silver’s parrot, (named Captain Flint, take note: pub quiz buffs) is referring to the fact that it was worth 8 reals. The number 8 appears on the coin’s face and it was not unknown for it to be physically cut up into eight pieces (which was not then an offence). Because of its high silver content, the metal was relatively soft and dividing it like this allowed for change to be created. At 38mm across, it was also the largest of the Spanish silver coins.

Actual treasure from an actual shipwreck…Charing Cross Market: the home of collecting.