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.

Operation Temporarily Suspended

Regrettably, Charing Cross Collectors Market is temporarily suspending operations in line with government advice on managing the Covid-19 pandemic. We must prioritise the health and safety of our dealers, our customers and, indeed, the general public. We will of course monitor the situation closely and only open again when we feel it is safe to do so. This will be announced on our blog and all our social media channels. In the meantime, please look after yourselves everyone, follow all the relevant NHS guidance and we’ll see you again soon.

Foreign Awards

Completing our brief overview of the six major types of medals is a look at France’s croix de guerre. Although it has no direct equivalent in the UK medal hierarchy, it falls somewhere between the Military Medal and Mentioned in Dispatches. Also issued by the Belgian government, it was awarded in both world wars and French examples are dated on the reverse by means of a fitted disc.

Interestingly, this was awarded by both the British and collaborationist Vichy regime during WWII. As ever, sold as part of a group with relevant documentation identifying the recipient add at least £50 to the value of the piece (and possibly even many hundreds depending on the action) but single original medals can be bought from just £15.

The 369th in action at Séchault in France, 29 September 1918

Famous recipients include the writer Samuel Beckett, several daring SOE agents like Violette Szabo and Yvonne Baseden and the mainly African American 396th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, for their tremendous valour in the Great War.

Unofficial Medals

WWI tribute medal

Although they obviously don’t attract as much interest as official medals awarded by the sovereign, ‘tribute’ medals like this one are nevertheless an important part of the historical record. The earliest ones were struck after some of Britain’s nineteenth century wars but they were issued in great numbers following World War I. Many towns and even villages had a committee which raised funds to send Christmas gifts and treats to soldiers in the trenches. When the war ended the leftover money was often used to buy a permanent mark of gratitude for returning soldiers – and even the widows of those who didn’t. There was no standard design for these so the range is very wide but the town crest will usually give a location at least. Unfortunately, many bear nothing which could indicate who the recipient was.

However, the tribute medal shown here is rather different. In the first instance, it was paid for by a private individual, Mrs Cunliffe-Owen. In 1914 she had been instrumental in raising the 24th (Service) and 2nd (Sportsman’s) Battalions in London. They trained in Romford, Essex. Her signature is on the back of the medal (dated 1915) and the man’s service number (2656) allows us to trace his war record. Private George Joseph Burge of Portsmouth of the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was later awarded the Military Medal for bravery in 1918 before being killed in action just a month before the armistice.