The Guinea Pig Club

“It has been described as the most exclusive Club in the world, but the entrance fee is something most men would not care to pay and the conditions of membership are arduous in the extreme.” This is how the brilliant New Zealand surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, described the club informally set up in June 1941 by 39 of his patients. His experimental work in reconstructive plastic surgery paved the way for many modern techniques and McIndoe is rightly seen as a pioneer and a hero to those whose lives he changed.

The terrible burns suffered by WWII aircrew were on a scale few surgeons had ever dealt with before but McIndoe was determined to improve their survival rate and quality of life. You could only qualify as a Guinea Pig Club member if you were a serving airman and had undergone at least two surgical procedures. By the end of the war the Club had 649 members.

This was all achieved on Ward III at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. Patients were encouraged to lead as normal a life as possible and local residents were encouraged to welcome them into their homes as guests and treat them as they would anyone else. East Grinstead famously became ‘The Town That Didn’t Stare’ and played an important part in the servicemen’s rehabilitation.

One of our traders, Michaeal Burroughs of Anything Military, has sent us this fine example of a Guinea Pig Club badge with a 1939 star with Battle of Britain “gold” rosette. This will be on sale this Saturday alongside lots of other fabulous collectibles.

The Largest Wreck in the Caribbean

This unfortunate distinction belongs to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique’s SS Antilles. Built in 1952, the Antilles was painted white to distinguish her from her sister ship, the SS Flandres. Both were built to address the post-war shortage of dedicated cruise ships so their construction was a great source of pride to the CGT – hence the beautifully illustrated commemorative medal seen here. While the Flandres would see wide use under several different owners until 1994, the Antilles had a much shorter life.

On 8 January 1971, she struck a reef near the island of Mustique in the Caribbean while attempting to navigate a shallow and reef-filled bay on the northern side of the island. On hitting the rocks the impact ruptured a fuel tank and she caught fire. All of her passengers and crew evacuated the ship safely to the island of Mustique where they were later rescued by Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II.

The wreck is submerged but is – supposedly – barely visible on Google Earth (although I couldn’t find it!) and the mast is said to protrude above the water during low tide.

Collectopedia: Cartophily

Although card collecting could mean a passion for baseball, football, Pokémon or even Magic: The Gathering cards, for a significant period of time, it really meant the cards from cigarette packets. What began in the United States in 1875 (featuring boxers, actresses or Indian chiefs) was soon copied in the UK. The cards’ original purpose was to stiffen the packet and provide some measure of protection to the cigarettes inside but manufacturers soon saw them as a valuable piece of, firstly, advertising real estate and, later, a way to add novelty to their product. As such, the earliest examples are mainly advertisements but it was the advent of John Player’s ‘Castles and Abbeys’ series in 1893 that showed just how collectable they could be.

In 1895, Wills produced their first set ‘Ships and Sailors’, followed by ‘Cricketers’ in 1896. In 1906, Ogden’s produced a set of association football cards depicting footballers in their club colours, in one of the first full-colour sets. As ever, when it comes to an individual card’s value, the primary factor is its condition. Any card which has been stuck down or mounted will be worth a fraction of what it would have been in mint condition. A leading player in this still very vibrant market is the London Cigarette Card Company. A quick browse through their listings give an idea of just how valuable these cards can be with many priced into the hundreds of pounds.

And while you would be right in thinking that it was legislation that put an end to the practice of adding collectables to an already addictive product, you’d probably be mistaken on the reason. It was Britain’s wartime government in 1940 which banned cigarette cards because there were severe shortages of board and paper. Post-war rationing and the high price of raw materials meant they never returned although there are still occasional runs in the US. And it is to the US that we must look for the world record price for a single card: some way north of three million dollars.

In Memory of Alan Haylock (1943-2020) and Pearl McNamara (1949-2020)

Our delight at being able to reopen last week was tempered by the sad news that two of the Market’s best loved characters had passed away over the Christmas period. This photo, taken last September, was passed to us by his son, also called Alan.

Although neither Alan nor his wife, Pearl, were stallholders, they were among the longest standing attendees at the market. Alan in particular was almost always waiting for Bridget to open up at 6:30am every Saturday! There cannot be any Market regulars who weren’t saddened by the news of their passing and we, in common with their sons, Paul and Alan, will miss them greatly. Rest in Peace.

OPEN!

Finally! We’re open again this Saturday (from 7am for the early birds!). It will be so lovely to see you all again! But please remember that we have special precautions in place for everyone’s safety: a one way system (enter by Villiers Street next to Costa Coffee), masks must be worn and we are maintaining a one metre social distancing rule. Please bear in mind that while you may have had one or even both of your vaccinations, these measures are designed to limit the spread of the virus and are there to protect everyone.

Michael Burroughs of Anything Military has sent us a couple of very unusual items which will be on sale tomorrow: a belt buckle and pendant of the beautifully named Army of the Lily. This formed part of the ceremonial uniform of the Knights of Pythias, an American secret order founded in 1864 and which, even in 2003, still had 50,000 members and over 2,000 lodges worldwide. Famous Pythians include FDR, Nelson Rockefeller and Louis Armstrong.

The UR showed that this belt clasp belonged to someone of ‘Uniformed Rank’ while the skull and cross bones symbol on the pendant was appropriate enough for an order which laid particular importance on the use of ceremonial swords. Worth noting on the reverse of the pendant is the all seeing eye so beloved of any would-be secret society.

Churchill’s Regiment

Originally formed as far back as 1794, the Oxfordshire Yeomanry (later the Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars) have a particularly distinguished history and enjoy the distinction of having Winston Churchill as an officer from 1902 to shortly before the outbreak of the Great War. The future PM retained a special fondness for his old regiment and made sure they were the first territorial unit to see action in 1914. Later after D-day, they were again the first territorials sent to France on the personal instructions from the Prime Minister. In the plans for Churchill’s funeral (codenamend ‘Operation Hope Not’) members of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry were given the unprecedented distinction of having prominent position immediately ahead of his coffin at the state funeral, in preference to many senior and more prestigious regiments.

The badge seen here is large (6.8 x 11cm) so it is most likely from a vehicle or gun carriage. This may well be from one of the Regiment’s anti-tank units during the Second World War. Two were stationed at Banbury (551st and 552nd)and two others at Oxford (249th and 250th). The 249th Battery served in NW Europe and were the first British unit to arrive in Belsen on 15 April 1945. The 251st saw action at Singapore where, after being left with no option but to surrender to the Japanese, they were force marched 400 miles to brutal POW camps and years of forced labour.

News Update

Following the recent government announcement outlining the roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions, we’ve been reviewing our approach to opening up the market again and are pleased to announce that – unless Government rules are changed – the planned opening date for the Collectors’ market is 17th APRIL!  This is obviously great news for both collectors and dealers who will be able to interact face to face when negotiating the best deals. As always though, our priority remains keeping the public and stall holders safe so this is uppermost in our minds when making the decision to re-open. Naturally, government guidelines must still be adhered to with the wearing of face masks, social distancing and keeping gatherings to the appropriate number.

We look forward to welcoming our regular and new visitors to the market!

Neil Tilt

On a more sad note, Bridget and Jim would like to offer their condolences to the family of Neil, a long standing member of the Charing Cross Market community who recently passed away after suffering serious ill health over the past few years.  He has been unable to attend the market for the past couple of years but we were in contact with him to obtain an update on his health.  Despite having much to contend with health-wise, Neil retained that same wonderful sense of humour and met life’s trials with dignity and acceptance.  He really was one of a kind and we know that he will be missed by many at the market.

When Galloping Inflation Hits Lightspeed

To a child, it’s an obvious answer: if you don’t have enough money, just print some more! Although the perils of such a simplistic solution – hyperinflation and economic implosion – were long known in theory, it hasn’t stopped some governments from doing it, most famously Weimar Germany. The consequences for ordinary people were catastrophic: life savings wiped out in a week, wages collected in suitcases, the price of a coffee going up between the time it was ordered and the arrival of the bill, stoves being lit with banknotes…the examples are startling.

Naturally, the banknotes of the period tell their own story. Previously inconceivable denominations were printed (and in some cases overprinted!). The highest amount from the Weimar period is the 100 trillion mark note (pictured) but much more recently, Zimbabwe printed its own 100 trillion dollar version. Most sobering of all is just how much these notes are worth to collectors today. The Zimbabwean note can be had for around £40 while Weimar-era currency often change hands for as little as a few pounds.

Variations on a Theme by Mail

Anyone starting out as a collector of stamps is often advised to specialise in a particular theme. Because the field is so vast, it is easy to flounder and lose one’s way. Choosing a theme for one’s collection is a much more certain way to master your field and even gain a degree of authority.

While some philatelists focus on the postal output of a particular country, properly speaking, this isn’t thematic or topical collecting. Often a collector will look to his or her existing interests to decide on a specialism. Cats, dogs, ships, spaceships, stamps on stamps, windmills, plants, chess, elephants, poets, war…the scope is enormous. And, in fact, such is the popularity of certain themes as subjects for stamps (birds, for example) that it’s probably a good idea to narrow the field further – flightless or aquatic birds perhaps. More offbeat ideas include crash mail (salvaged from airplane crashes), rocket mail (exactly what it says on the tin!) and stamps issued by an occupying power.

In the end, no matter how niche your choice, it is unlikely that you will be the only interested philatelist in this, the world’s most popular hobby. However, the chances are good that no-one else in the Dog and Duck this Friday will be in a position to argue with your contention that the 1930 USPS Zeppelin airmail issue remains the gold standard for stamps featuring airships.

The Museum of Culture in Your Stamp Album

While the average age of philatelists continues to rise, there is good reason not to exaggerate reports of its death. It remains the world’s number one collecting hobby for good reason. Certainly a generation is growing up who may one day be called on to reminisce about the time when they actually bought and used stamps at a post office. Yet while technology may indeed kill off the postage stamp for good, that passing will only increase its appeal as a link to our shared history.

Few tokens of a nation’s past are as revealing as its stamps and they can almost be viewed as miniature exhibits of a unique museum of culture. A stamp’s provenance, usage, iconography and even its price give us clues to, among other things, a country’s values, art, politics, geography, natural history and economy.

Indeed, as a recent Guardian article noted, many see them as works of art in their own right, uniquely placed to appeal to the Instagram generation. Suzanne Rae actually creates art which celebrate stamps as a medium on her site Art Stamped while John Simper, in his Twitter account @Philatelovely, has been posting fine examples daily in his Stamp of the Day feature for well over a year now.

Accompanying this post are a beautifully engraved US postage stamp ‘Western Cattle in Storm’, an optimistic $2-60 Zeppelin stamp from 1930 and a finely detailed UK issue celebrating the Postal Union Congress of 1929.