Christmas Wishes from Egypt (1934)

Quite an unusual envelope this week… Sent in 1934 from a member of the armed forces based in Egypt, there’s an unusual addition to the envelope. Forwarded from Reading to Brighton to what we can only assume was its final destination in Ealing, the letter bears a quaint reference to the season of good will. We might more often associate whimsical stickers like this to modern post but it clearly has a much longer pedigree. Marked ‘Sealed until Dec XXV’, it must have proved a mighty test of the recipient’s self discipline, arriving as it did in the first week of October!

Below are some of the series of stamps and Christmas seals for letters sent from pre-war Egypt which would have been available in the NAAFI during the mid-late1930`s. 

A Striking Collection

Our eyes lit up when we received this stunning array of matchbooks from Michael Burroughs this week. We’re always keen on discovering a new field of collecting so today’s specialist topic is…phillumeny!

A hobby which has existed for over a century, phillumeny is the practice of collecting match-related items, such as matchboxes, matchbooks, and matchbox labels. The word comes from the Greek “philos” (meaning “lover of”) and “lumen” (meaning “light”). The British Matchbox Label and Bookmatch Society is an admirable non-profit which produces a magazine, holds auctions and regular meetings.

The matchbooks were just another way in which all sorts of enterprises advertised themselves: banks, fast food chains (as with the early McDonalds example here), airlines, theatres, restaurants… the variety is immense. Some collectors won’t countenance anything which is less than mint so it’s always best to preserve them in as near perfect condition as possible – just like most collectables.

Among the more valuable are those issued to special forces in World War II. These would form part of an escape kit and would always light no matter how damp they were. Attracting particular interest at present are any examples from Hong Kong before it was taken over by China.

The Colonies Rally Round

Beyond the 2.6 million Indian troops who helped Britain stay in the fight during World War II, a significant number helped out on the home front. In this rare series of cards, ‘On War Work In Britain’, we see sheet metal workers in critical production positions, Indian women with roles in London’s Civil Defence service and as nurses as well as a Hindu technician from Bengal making a piece of the intricate mechanism of a reconoissance camera.

Also on sale this Saturday will be a well preserved pair of British Forces Day pins. The sale of these raised funds for Lord Roberts workshops, a charitable body set up to train and equip the many thousands of people disabled through war.

Whole Lotta Love for Bone Records

Certainly one of the most unusual items we’ve ever featured, this is a very rare bootleg recording of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’.

Dating from a time in the seventies when Western music was banned behind in the Soviet Union, Russian fans would cut records into old X-ray plates. Hence they became known as ‘bone records’. Held up to the light, this one shows the image of a broken shoulder! The rough circular shape is because they were cut by hand and the hole in the middle was often made by a lit cigarette.

Usually, the value is determined by the condition of the record and whether it’s retained its original sleeve with Russian title.

Pet Cemetery

A grim reminder of the horrors that war bring is this notice from 1940s London encouraging any pet owners being evacuated or mobilised for war work to euthanise their cats and dogs so they don’t starve in their absence.

It will seem horrific by modern standards but was no doubt regarded as a kindness almost a century ago. The cemetery at the address has an extensive plot for animals with some impressive statues and carvings.

With thanks to Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria for the photo and background information.

Majestic Memorabilia

This week we’re featuring some highly topical items sent to us recently by Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria.

Firstly an official pass for a motor vehicle to be in Westminster during the late Queen’s coronation in 1953. It’s impossible to see in the photos but the registration numbers of the vehicles has been pencilled in on the front: JK2204 and RV7074 for ‘Westminster Bank’.

And then there are a couple of much sought after ‘real photograph’ postcards. The one from 1939 shows the King riding in Windsor Great Park alongside the princesses. Princess Margaret has her horse on a training lead held by her father. The other portrait photograph of the Queen was taken by Dorothy Wilding at a time when this would have been really quite unusual!

A Branded Childhood

Doug Larson described nostalgia as a “a device that removes the ruts and potholes from memory lane” and it’s often true that, almost without knowing it, our hands fumble for a pair of rose tinted spectacles whenever we look back to our childhood or adolescence. And it really doesn’t take much to transport us back across the decades to a time which seemed, and in fairness probably was, so much simpler.

Perhaps it’s the smell of a coal fire, the sound of a particular song or the taste of a favourite meal cooked ‘just right’. Or maybe it’s something as simple as a packet of Kellogg’s Sugar Ricicles, “twicicles as nicicles”. The bright commercial tapestry which formed the backdrop of our youthful lives is tinged with all sorts of bitter sweet emotions.

In 1963 one forward looking young man named Robert Opie began to collect contemporary packaging from all sorts of products. Things which were regarded as being of no consequence and routinely thrown away he would tuck away for posterity. In time, his collecting obsession grew to encompass bottles, signs, tickets, toys, games, postcards, comics and newspapers. Today the Robert Opie collection has a permanent home at the Museum of Brands in Central London and he has compiled a number of fascinating hardcover books stuffed full of visual memories of days gone by. Nostalgia like this is surely what A E Housman described as “the land of lost content…The happy highways where I went / And cannot come again.”

Holocaust Memorial Day

As regular readers will know, Michael Burroughs of Anything Militaria consistently sources the most marvellous historical items for us to feature. However, although this blog has featured some really quite remarkable treasures over the last few years, in my view none of them have been either as poignant or as precious as these: letters written by an inmate of Dachau concentration camp.

A very fitting post for Holocaust Memorial Day, they are a haunting reminder of one of humanity’s lowest points. There are four letters in all, dated 14-2-194, 7-6-1941, 1-9-1941 and 12-4-1942. Written by Johann Jaworski to his wife Maria at an address which appears to be No.(/Apptment?) 37, Horst-Wessel-Strasse, Litzmanstadt. Litzmanstadt was the Nazi name for the Polish city of Łódź, part of which had been turned into a ghetto following the invasion of 1939. It was the second largest ghetto in the whole of occupied Germany.

As for the street name, this was one of thousands of streets which were renamed after figures revered by the Nazis. Horst Wessel was a brownshirt leader who was assassinated by two Communists in Berlin. Goebbels subsequently used his death for propaganda purposes and the Horst Wessel Song became the party’s official anthem.

It is rare indeed to find such letters but even more unusual to have the envelopes which held them. Few people who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis wanted to keep the envelopes bearing a stamp with either his image or former President Hindenburg. Both letters and envelopes bear the camp name, the terms and conditions of use and have been stamped by the camp censor.


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.