Collectopedia: Old Photographs

While modern digital images are produced, consumed, archived and deleted in uncountable numbers these days, this has increased the appeal of photographs from an era when capturing images on actual film (or even plates!) was highly regarded as an unparalleled scientific miracle. They are a fascinating window into a world gone by, documenting the lives, loves and preoccupations of our ancestors.

To the amateur collector, they can also offer the opportunity to make a small fortune – providing, of course, that you know what you’re looking for! Consider the example of Randy Guijarro who spent $2 on three old photographs. When he looked closely at one image of several cowboys playing croquet (above) he thought he recognised the face but it was what he was wearing that really caught his eye. “I defy you to find another cowboy wearing a cardigan” he said. Sure enough, experts have authenticated only the second known photograph of Billy the Kid. It’s worth is estimated at a cool $5 million. Paper money, indeed.

All sorts of old photographs are always available for sale at Charing Cross Market and this week is no exception. As an example, we have this memento from the Great War – nicely personalised thanks to the subject dedicating it to a former brother in arms. “To Larry, in memory of days spent together in France and Belgium. From J. R. Kennedy 5/4/1918”.

Collectopedia: Toby Jugs

It’s hard to visit any antiques fair these days without seeing at least one toby jug and Charing Cross Collectors Market is no exception. With their sometimes gaudy colours and exaggerated features, these ceramic characters are easy to pick out but few people know more about them than just their name.

First produced in the mid 18th century, their inspiration has never been explained definitively. However, the most likely possibilities are that the grotesque, often inebriated figure was inspired by the character Sir Toby Belch in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or possibly the notorious drunkard Toby Fillpot celebrated in the drinking song ‘Little Brown Jug’. Either way, you will no doubt distinguish yourself as a minor authority on the subject if you only know that a Toby jug should show a person’s full body whereas one depicting just the face is a character jug. The latter have become popular souvenirs all over the world, featuring anyone from actors to politicians.

A character mug of Josef Stalin

Naturally, Toby jugs which predate the advent of mass production (c.1750-c.1850) are the most sought after and can fetch thousands. Yet they often escape the casual observer because they might appear quite plain to the untutored eye so it’s always worth inquiring about the provenance. And if you really do get the bug, there’s no doubt that they make for a striking display!

The A to Z of Collecting

On any given day you can find a huge range of rare, exotic and just plain fascinating collectibles at Charing Cross market, including (but most certainly not limited to!): Autograph books, Beermats, Coins, Diecast toys, Ecu coins, Fulham programmes, Georgian cutlery, Handwritten diaries, Iron cross medals, Javanese stamps, Katanga crosses, Letters beautifully written by people long dead, Military dispatches, Newspapers, Old postcards, Penny blacks, Qintar coins, Regimental badges, Silver sixpences, Traders (with centuries of knowledge between them!), Unfeasibly large and friendly market dog: Dougal (not for sale), Victoriana of all kinds, Wedgewood pottery, Xiangqi chess set, Yearbooks of the past and ‘Zeppelin’ stamps.  Who needs Amazon? 

Probably The Best Collecting Hobby In The World

Collecting is a broad church. While most people immediately think of traditional fields like stamps and coins, there are many other areas of cultural history which hold their own unique fascination. One such is a sub-branch of ephemera with the grand title of tegestology. Even if you knew that ‘teges’ is Latin for ‘mat’ or ‘covering’, you’d be hard pressed to work out that this was the name for collecting beer mats.

Although we now only see their purpose as a decorative way of keeping tables clean, their original purpose (in eighteenth century Germany) was for placing over the tankard to prevent insects or debris falling in. Cheap printing methods soon allowed their value as a marketing tool to open up a whole new world of colour and creativity as brewers fashioned increasingly impressive ways of influencing people’s drinking habits.

As a general rule, older mats tend to be more valuable than those mass produced by the brewing giants of the last fifty years but condition and the size of the print run also play a part. The rise of micro-breweries in recent years also means that there is now a huge variety of mats in existence and this is one of the most accessible fields of collecting around. At Charing Cross Market the man to see is ephemera specialist, John Barrett, who usually has some older mats available to start you off.

The world’s biggest collector has amassed over 152,000 so you may have some way to go before being considered a leading tegestologist but the fieldwork is sure to be enjoyable.

“Re-open Sesame!”

At long last, we can open our doors again to the collecting public. We’ve had to put new steps in place for everybody’s safety (see last week’s post) but the main thing is that trading will resume from tomorrow Saturday 11 July. The usual cosmopolitan mix of stamps, coins, postcards, militaria and ephemera will be on sale so why not come down and see what our traders have rooted out during lockdown. Regular or first-timer, young or old, expert or amateur….we look forward to seeing you!

Open from July 11

It seems like it’s been forever but we’re really pleased to announce that the Market will reopen next Saturday July 11. Of course, some changes are necessary to make sure that we’re keeping everybody safe and your cooperation with these measures is appreciated. In summary, these are:

  • all dealers and visitors will be subject to a temperature test with a non-contact infra-red sensor. Anyone failing this test will be asked to return home and self-isolate
  • a one way system will be in place requiring visitors to enter by the Villiers Street entrance (by Costa Coffee) and follow the marked circular route around the stalls. Floor stickers and a wall map will be used to clarify this
  • the number of visitors inside the market must be controlled so members of staff communicating via walkie talkie will be stationed at both the entrance and exit to manage this
  • visitors may not arrive before 7am and must leave at 3pm
  • a one metre social distancing protocol will apply in all areas
  • all visitors must wear a suitable face covering

Although these measures are clearly inconvenient, this is the only way that the market can reopen as things stand at the moment. When restrictions ease, we will review them immediately.

To assist with enforcement, Dougal, the market dog, has been appraised of the new regulations and promoted to Head of Security (extra biscuits).

Market Update

Although market operations remain suspended for now, we are keen to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. A comprehensive risk assessment has been submitted to our landlord showing how we propose to manage this. If this is accepted, we hope to reopen at some point between mid July and early August.

We’re really looking forward to seeing everyone again after what has been a very trying time so thank you all for your patience. Keep safe and we hope to see you soon.

The Black Cat Division

Originally formed in WWI but gaining fame in the Burma Campaign 1942-45 when it was continually in action, the 17th Indian Division also enjoyed the distinction of being known as the Black Cats. Their original formation sign had been a lightning bolt but changed to this design in mid-1942. The British Indian Army already numbered some 200,000 men at the outbreak of the war. By the end of the war it had grown to 2.5 million, still the largest volunteer army in history.

Unit formation sign patches are a very affordable way of becoming a militaria collector as they start at about £10. Most come in forward facing pairs but contemporary photographs show that soldiers sometimes wore mismatched pairs or a single one on a bush hat. Generally, it is best to focus on a particular theatre or campaign such as Normandy or the Far East. Interest in patches continues to grow and they often crop up on programmes like Antiques Roadshow.

Designated Drivers

These three original British Army patches signify that the wearer is a qualified driver. All bear a steering wheel design but the earliest (top) bears the letters IC (“Internal Combustion”) since some vehicles were still ox/horse drawn at this period. By the 1940’s a star had replaced the letters with a king’s crown signifying that the wearer was in fact a drving instructor.

Like all specialist trades in the Army, such patches were worn on the lower left arm. To save officers the trouble of having to ask though, qualified drivers would usually wear their chin strap tucked up behind the cap’s badge.

During the temporary closure of the market, we have decided to continue posting every fortnight on our blog – beginning with a series on patch collecting.