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.

Cool, calm, collecting

Whether it’s stamps, coins, theatre tickets, records or baseball cards, collecting is actually good for us. Simply being absorbed in a task which is not required of us by work or personal relationships is an excellent way to put the cares of the world to one side and psychologists agree that this is a very real benefit of any collecting hobby.

As we age, it becomes ever more important to keep the grey matter active. Regularly immersing ourselves in the history, provenance and characteristics of a collection is a great way to exercise our powers of observation, memory and judgement.

As a collector, you are part of a distinct social sub-group with a shared interest. Immediately, there is a rapport with any fellow collector and the social benefits of a mutual hobby often lead to lifelong friendships.

Finally, as the world continues to turn at an ever dizzying pace, there’s the nostalgia for a particular period in history. The past isn’t going anywhere soon. It can be a comforting anchor in the eye of the storm that is 24 hour news cycles. Whether it’s the football programmes you started collecting in childhood or finding an unusual coin in your change, collecting often has very mundane, but very enduring, roots. And while the average age of collectors in traditional fields like coins and stamps continues to rise, it has become an even broader church. The bug of collecting is every bit as strong in today’s children and while Happy Meal plastic toys and Pokemon cards might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they just might prove to be a gateway drug.

Bigger Than Christmas

While Hogmanay may be a bigger deal in Scotland, the New Year is even more important in two other countries where it’s still marked by a flood of traditional mail in the form of postcards: Japan and Russia.

Last year in Japan for example, two billion New Year’s greeting postcards were sent, an average of 15 for every person in the country. These nenga-hagaki are generally seen as a way of expressing gratitude for all those who have helped you over the past year – hence why it’s so hard to leave any friends or family out! It’s considered a bit rude not to reciprocate the gesture so you can see why people try to cover all the bases.

In Russia, of course, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday from 1929 along with Christmas trees. In 1935 though, (with Stalin’s blessing), they became ‘New Year Trees’ as an alternative celebration when Grandfather Frost brings presents to children. New Year remains the principal holiday celebration in Russia to this day with Christmas a relatively minor affair on January 7th – in line with the Russian Orthodox calendar.

Almost inevitably, the most common theme of Soviet new year postcards is a cosy view of the Kremlin. Some reference Communist achievements in the space race to help Grandfather Frost on his rounds while lots of the more colourful ones are playful depiction of rosy cheeked children or comic hares, the traditional animal of the Russian New Year.

Our final words of the year are just to say a huge thank you to all of the Market’s traders, visitors and supporters who have helped make the best of an extremely trying year. We’ll be back just as soon as we can. Happy New Year to you all!

Caveat Eator

Normally we’re big fans of putting our money where our mouth is but on this occasion we’d recommend a modicum of caution. It’s only natural for everyone to want as big a helping as they can manage after Christmas dinner in the hope that they will be the one guaranteed good luck for the next year but no-one wants to watch the Queen’s Speech in their local A and E. Even a pound coin can be easy to miss if you’re – somehow – still ravenous. But if you’re going for that really authentic touch by using a silver sixpence (available at all good collectors markets in the Charing Cross area this Saturday from 7am till 2pm), you need to be even more careful. Not only is it a good deal thinner, it’s worth much more than a pound.

Take note though: post war sixpences contain no silver at all. Only the ones minted between 1920 and 1946 were struck in 50% silver. Before 1920 that figure was 92.5%.

EDIT: Thank you to Peter Hicks who pointed out on our Facebook page that it was actually a silver 3d that was inserted into puddings. The sixpence was for new brides on their wedding day.

We’re Back! (Again!)

Yes. Once again the Shangri-La of the collectors’ world will be open to the public tomorrow – not quite as usual because of course we’ll be taking all the usual precautions to keep everyone safe. But the main thing is that London’s second most famous trading floor will once again bring together philatelists, numismatists, deltiologists, militaria buffs and collectophiles of all kinds. Some dealers are packed up by 2pm and early birds will always get the first chance to see what our traders have on offer so make sure you don’t miss the boat. We’re dying to see you – just don’t forget your mask!

Some good news at last

We’re delighted to announce that, subject to the precautions set out in a previous blog post, the market will reopen next Saturday 5th December. With London being placed in a Tier 2 category, we can meet all the criteria for safe operation which is really great news coming as it does just before Christmas. We have been inundated with enquiries since the announcement so we know lots of you are keen to catch up and bolster your collections. Quite honestly, we can’t wait to see you all again and next Saturday can’t come soon enough!