The Enduring Charm of Antique Advertising

As modern advertisers come up with increasingly creative ways of driving ‘brand awareness’ among a savvy 21st century audience, there is something undeniably quaint about their early forays into the medium. Print ads had long been used to wax lyrical about a product’s virtues but signs you might see in the street were often much more to the point. Often the ad was nothing more than a high contrast rendering of the company name.

These enamelled metal signs were ubiquitous in towns and villages around the country but many were melted down during World War II. They are now highly sought after and often sell for hundreds of pounds because of their ability to add charm and character to homes and businesses. A battered vintage whisky sign on the bare white brick wall of a minimalist loft apartment might be just the thing while a Shell one behind a garage desk suggests that this has been a family business for generations.

The Largest Wreck in the Caribbean

This unfortunate distinction belongs to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique’s SS Antilles. Built in 1952, the Antilles was painted white to distinguish her from her sister ship, the SS Flandres. Both were built to address the post-war shortage of dedicated cruise ships so their construction was a great source of pride to the CGT – hence the beautifully illustrated commemorative medal seen here. While the Flandres would see wide use under several different owners until 1994, the Antilles had a much shorter life.

On 8 January 1971, she struck a reef near the island of Mustique in the Caribbean while attempting to navigate a shallow and reef-filled bay on the northern side of the island. On hitting the rocks the impact ruptured a fuel tank and she caught fire. All of her passengers and crew evacuated the ship safely to the island of Mustique where they were later rescued by Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth II.

The wreck is submerged but is – supposedly – barely visible on Google Earth (although I couldn’t find it!) and the mast is said to protrude above the water during low tide.

In Memory of Alan Haylock (1943-2020) and Pearl McNamara (1949-2020)

Our delight at being able to reopen last week was tempered by the sad news that two of the Market’s best loved characters had passed away over the Christmas period. This photo, taken last September, was passed to us by his son, also called Alan.

Although neither Alan nor his wife, Pearl, were stallholders, they were among the longest standing attendees at the market. Alan in particular was almost always waiting for Bridget to open up at 6:30am every Saturday! There cannot be any Market regulars who weren’t saddened by the news of their passing and we, in common with their sons, Paul and Alan, will miss them greatly. Rest in Peace.

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!