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!

50 Years of Postcard Collecting

As a child growing up in Derby, Rod Jewell was a keen philatelist until the day he realised that the General Post Office had begun producing stamps specifically for collectors like him. Unwilling to fulfil the role of a consumer, at the age of 22 he turned to postcard collecting instead. Over half a century later, his passion now fills a whole room of his house and it is likely that the 30,000 postcards he owns are worth upwards of half a million pounds.

Although Rod initially specialised in local images of Derby and its environs, his passion has encompassed other unusual niches such as Great War propaganda cards and a very rare same day delivery postcard which was carried by hot air balloon from Manchester at the beginning of the century. A similar card can be seen below.

A Souvenir from Burma

What on first glance appears to be an ordinary brass bell of the sort which might be found above an old fashioned grocers door is actually a campaign souvenir given to some of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers fortunate enough to return home from the Third Burma War in 1885. While the regiment lost some of its men in battle, many more died from disease.

The choice of a bell came about because during the campaign, the First Battalion had brought three large bronze bells back to Britain: two from the Buddhist temple known as the Incomparable Pagoda in Mandalay and one found in India. One of the Temple bells ended up in Wrexham on a brick pillar outside Woolworths before finding a more decorous home in the Burma Garden of Bodhyfryd Memorial Hall.

Of course, the detail which identifies this as one of the souvenir bells in question and authenticating its age of 136 years is the RWf stamp on the inside. This particular one retains its lead clapper but the traces of glue on the inside of the bell show that it was at some point set to ‘silent’! And if you’d like to see it close up, Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has confirmed that the bell will be on display and on sale this Saturday at the market.

Shades of the Wild West

What’s twice as rare as an imperial yeomanry Stetson from the Boer War, I hear you ask? Why, two of them of course.

Photos of this marvellously preserved pair of hats were sent to us by Michael Burroughs of Anything Military and he has confirmed that they will be on sale at the Market this Saturday. Both sport the correct three inch red lined purple silk pugari with the king’s crown button and black ostrich feather. Inside the leather band is marked “3X Beaver Quality STETSON. John B. Stetson Company, USA, Made In Australia”.

The classic Stetson ‘open road’ style was developed as a refinement to the original ‘Boss of the Plains’ hat which had a broader brim and rounded dome – see image below. The creased crown and narrower brim of the open road would become classic cowboy headgear and the company boasted that the tight weave allowed it to hold water – hence the advertisements showing a cowboy using his Stetson to give his horse a drink. The ‘ten gallon’ moniker is misleading though. While it may be a corruption of the spanish term tan galán, (tr. “really handsome”), in reality a typical Stetson would hold about three litres (or six pints).

A ‘Boss of the Plains’ hat

Rodney Bolwell 1934-2021

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of the market’s founder, Rodney Bolwell.

For many years a significant figure in London’s coin and stamp collecting world, Rodney started his first market in 1974 under the arches on Villiers Street. He quickly became known as a man with integrity and someone who could be counted on to act in the best interest of everyone involved as, for instance, when he charged traders nothing at all for the first three months to help get things off the ground.  This certainly seemed to work and word spread quickly – at its peak, there were 150 stallholders there every week. The Charing Cross Collectors Market became a mainstay of the coin and stamp trade across the whole of the South of England and it was not uncommon for dealers from Europe and the United States to arrive at Heathrow on a Saturday and head straight there.

While he would go on to set up other offshoots in Hays Galleria and Tower Bridge, the trading forum at Charing Cross was always closest to his heart. Unfortunately, in the mid eighties, new development forced Rodney to move the operation. His bid for a place in the nearby shopping arcade was thwarted by an – ultimately baseless – counter bid and, well, that seemed to be that. Fortunately, the station master at London Bridge railway was sympathetic and his help was key to the market’s continuation on the station concourse in 1989. Yet he never gave up hope of returning to its original home in Charing Cross and in 1991 he began negotiating with the new managers of the Villiers Street site, Greycoat Accountants. Citing the Royal Charter enacted by Charles II that there had to be a market in the vicinity, he successfully argued that this was a legal entitlement and by April he, and his loyal band of traders, was back. 
And they’re still very much there.

Through rain and shine, the good and the bad, Rodney’s collectors market has survived. Now under the forward looking stewardship of his daughter, Bridget, the ranks of the coin and stamp dealers have been supplemented by traders in militaria, postcards, autographs, ephemera and antiques. It continues to be a place where deals are struck, old acquaintances renewed and the passion for collecting ignited. There is no better tribute to him. RIP

The 2p Coin Worth (Much!) More Than Its Weight In Gold

It’s just possible that the shrapnel at the bottom of your wallet, pocket or purse could be hiding a small windfall. If there’s a 2p coin in there from the year 1983 with the words ‘New Pence’ on the other side then put it someone you won’t spend it. While there aren’t many still around, prices regularly exceed £400 – more depending on the condition. That’s because the Royal Mint had inscribed all 2p coins with the words ‘New Pence’ until 1981. It was decided that this should subsequently become ‘Two Pence’ instead but in 1983 a small number were released with the old ‘New Pence’ inscription. It’s unlikely you’ll get a coin like this in your change but it might be worth checking old piggy banks or the back of the sofa!

Easier to spot is an undated 20 pence coins which entered circulation in 2008. An error at the Royal Mint saw the first undated coins for over three centuries entered circulation. Usually worth over £200, it’s thought that there are anywhere up to 200,000 out there somewhere…

Pre-digital Picture Messaging

While the advent of email and social media has inevitably displaced picture postcards as most people’s default way of communicating with friends and relatives back home, interest is growing in the medium partly because of its value as a window on the past. While most collectors are primarily interested in a postcard’s rarity or the image it shows, one man is specialising in the personal micro-histories they reveal.

Through his Twitter account https://twitter.com/PastPostcard, Tom Jackson posts a classic postcard from a half century ago which shows just how much, or how little, we have changed. His book of the same name is a compendium of some of the best and is in some ways as good a social history of who we were as you are likely to read. His website is at http://postcardfromthepast.co.uk/

In the same spirit, we’ve sourced a few classics of our own….

“Lovely lunch by the seafront – although the rock buns lived up to the name.”
“Bruce Forsyth was a hoot – Glad nearly wet herself!”
“Funnily enough, we had quite a little drama of our own with a theft overnight.”