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.
Created in 1931 by accident, the Pea-nut club was an organisation which had huge success in raising thousands of pounds for the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. This was the same hospital featured in last week’s blog post about the Guinea Pig Club and the pioneering plastic surgery carried out there by Archibald McIndoe.
The hospital had long needed a children’s ward and the money for this project was raised by the Pea-nut Club. A comic newspaper carried a parody article by Mrs Gordon Clemeston, offering a bag of peanuts to any child who gave twelve pennies to help fund the ward. When a young child arrived at a bank with the required pennnies demanding her bag of peanuts, Mrs Clemeston was quick to seize the opportunity. The offer was formalised and in seven years the enormous sum of £14,000 had been raised. While much attention was (deservedly) given to the injured airmen of the Guinea Pig Club, it is all too easy to forget the civilians, especially the children, injured during the Blitz and in domestic house fires which were then much more common than today.
The Pea-nut club lasted for many years beyond WWII and funded a range of gifts for children on the hospital’s Burns Ward. Some of the membership cards, letters and (rarest of all) birthday cards signed by ‘Aunt Agatha’, the pseudonym of Mrs Clemeston can be seen in the photos along with the highest level of membership, a gold peanut.
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.
While collecting beer mats has the grand name of tegestology, the only name for last week’s hobby of toby jug collecting is, well, toby jug collecting. Today though, we have a fine example for those of you into philography, or autograph hunting.
Although modern autograph hunters are becoming a rare breed nowadays (the preferred method of recording a meeting with a celebrity being the ubiquitous ‘selfie’), the market for authentic signatures of those who are no longer with us remains strong. A uniquely personal record of our passage through the world, authenticating letters, contracts, marriages and treaties, our signature has always been considered important. Arguably, this is even more true today in an age where our identity has largely been digitised. Many younger people today have never, and will never, write a cheque for example.
And autographs don’t get much bigger than this. We know that Churchill, like his father before him, was a freemason and also dabbled in several other esoteric organisations, one of which was the Ancient Order of Druids. A photograph of 1908 shows him at one of their meetings quite prominently. However, this festival programme of 1920 describes him as the Order’s Chairman suggesting that he retained his interest in the Druids rather longer than had previously been thought. Either way, we think the signature of perhaps our Greatest Briton certainly epitomises the phrase, a ‘collector’s item’.
As the lights go up for the last time this weekend at London Film Festival why not drop into Charing Cross Collectors Market this Saturday and browse for a souvenir among the merch from yesteryear. Alongside the movie memorabilia is an eclectic mix of collectables including stamps, coins, militaria, ephemera and antiques. Occupying a site in Central London just opposite the Embankment Tube station, the market can trace its lineage all the way back to the 1690’s before some of our dealers were even born. So pop in, say hello and see just why the best treasure has always been kept underground….
It’s London Film Festival! And with the British Film Institute just across the bridge we’re ideally placed for anyone wanting a quick break between events. Stretch your legs and take the Thames air with a stroll across the Jubilee Bridge. Find us opposite the entrance to the Embankment Tube Station just near Starbucks. A fascinating array of movie memorabilia and ephemera will be on sale alongside our other collectibles. You’re sure to find something of interest whether it’s classic headshots of the glitterati from the classic era of the silver screen, promotional postcards for films of the sixties and seventies or posters for modern classics. We look forward to seeing you!
The slogan of a high street institution for generations in Britain, now consigned to a place in our cultural history books (and the ephemera stall at Charing Cross Market).
- Outfitted British men from 1876
- Wound up in 1998
- Named after two brothers
- Neon red storefront logo
- Established in Birmingham
It is, of course, Foster Brothers. Well done if you’ve arrived here from one of our social media posts with the right answer.
This is a detail from a magazine advertisement from the 1930’s. Collectible ephemera of all kinds, including football programmes, postcards, magazines, books, journals and letters are regularly available at the market every Saturday.