It can be hard work being a collector. Apart from the searching, the accumulation of knowledge and the scraping together of cash (there is never enough of it, and your spending is never sufficiently concealed from your wife), there is the feeling that the universe is heaping more trials on your head.
I just bid on five lots in auction. I got none. In two cases I sent in speculative bids so this wasn’t a surprise. In one case I found some interesting information that wasn’t in the catalogue, but so, it seems, did someone else, as they outbid me. In two cases, where the lots went for approximately four times the estimate, I was left scratching my head. I know that estimates generally have little bearing on the eventual price of the item, and had bid double estimate. But for them to go for double my bid? I am left bemused by the world and feel, as mentioned, that the Universe is having a laugh.
I’m not altogether in favour of auctioneers.
Auctioneers used to take a percentage off the sellers as payment. About 30 years ago they also started taking a percentage off the bidders. That percentage now seems to have risen to around 25%. So, for providing premises, “expertise” (which varies, and is mainly guesswork and breezy overconfidence) and photographs on the internet, the auctioneer gets around 50% of the value of the item.
And to cap it all, when they sell something for many times the estimate, they advertise it as a success. If I estimate something to be worth £100 and it turned out to be worth £10,000, I’d be embarrassed at my lack of expertise. But every week you see auctioneers in the Antiques Trade Gazette boasting of their “success” at doing similar things.
Don’t get me wrong, I like auctioneers. They are cheery and entertaining (in the main) and life would be poorer without them, as would daytime TV. However, there are, I assume, specialists in leeches, and they presumably feel cheered and entertained when looking at a jar of blood-gorged slimy parasites.
Just saying . . .
The picture is from our last wet and depressing trip to Stoke. It mirrors my current mood.
Well, I may be exaggerating a little, but the day started badly and carried on limping from problem to problem.
First, a phone call (this was last night to be honest) about the delivery time of my medication – the specialist one that needs refrigerating. I noted that the delivery time they had texted me was impractical and spent 30 minutes waiting until I could talk to someone on a very dodgy line. He agreed to change the delivery time from 8am – 8pm and make it 5pm – 8pm. However, when I checked my text this morning it said 2pm – 5pm. I don’t get home until 4.30pm. However, I didn’t have another half hour to waste so I decided to just let things happen.
Then, on the way to work, I got a phone call. Julia answered it because we were on the way to drop her off. There was no power at the shop and National Grid were desperately digging the road up to find the fault. So I arranged to go to the boss’s house to work, as he had collected a medal collection the previous night and we needed to go through it. That was two.
Third was the medal collection. It was, without doubt, the biggest anti-climax of my collecting life. I have known the collector for 30 years and, although he has spoken of his collection, I had never seen it, and never seen him buy anything. In a way I always doubted it was as good as he claimed, but couldn’t be sure. It may have been brilliant. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Almost everything was damaged, repaired or faulty. He had, as we always say, a good time building the collection, but it isn’t going to be an investment as his prices are are all based on prices for a medal in good condition.. We are going to tell him that we believe it would be better if he put it into an auction and let the market decide the value. To be honest, it saves us the task of criticising his life’s work.
South Africa medal with 1879 bar for the Zulu war. This is one that we bought in the shop – it’s possible for a 150 year old medal to look presentable, as you can see. Very few of today’s selection were as good as this.
The good news is that we were finished by lunchtime, the workmen say we will have electricty tomorrow and I got home in time to meet my delivery.
Then I knocked a four-pack of beans off a shelf and onto the floor. The whole thing fell on the edge of one can, the other three all added their weight, the lid split and bean juice oozed across the floor . . .
Blood test at 10.20. Think of me sitting there with my sleeve rolled up. I’m hoping then blood flows well, but after the last time I had a sample taken at the doctors I am not optimistic. I really should think about getting my own machine to do finger prick tests, but it goes against the grain to buy medical equipment on eBay.
I took delivery of some medallions from eBay this morning. I spent £22 on four medallions and they all looked quite good when they arrived. So far I’ve only checked one of them out. A similar one is for sale on a dealer’s list (not eBay, which is not a good guide) for £38, so it looks like it was a successful buy. There are more important things than making money, but it’s always nice when you buy a bargain.
I’m sure I will never make a profit on my collection of 1919 Peace Medallions, because I often get locked in a bidding war when buying them, but with the others I try to be more sensible.
When I was younger I used to think that if I paid too much inflation would take care of the problem. Generally this is true as prices do tend to rise with most things. The only problem is that when you are thirty there is a lot of inflation in your future. These days it won’t be many years before downsizing or mortality makes a sale necessary so I have to be a bit more thoughtful. On the other hand, as with the Peace Medals, I tend to think that if I haven’t got it after thirty years of collecting, I shouldn’t let it go for the sake of a few pounds.
The header picture is the obverse of the 1919 Birmingham Peace Medal, one of the commoner town medals given out to school children. The initials MBL next to Victory’s feet, stands for Matthew Boulton Ltd, a factory, set up in 1775 by Matthew Boulton and James Watt to produce steam engines. They later specialised in minting, and ,made the famous cartwheel pennies.
I just looked at the title, and thought, that only leaves 323 days until the end of the year. Give it three weeks and the year will be 1/6th gone. And what have I done? Well, apart from moaning about the cold, worrying about WW3 and putting off the housework? I know they are all important things, but they aren’t real achievements are they?
I’m getting ready to put a few better bits on eBay for work and, at home, to catalogue my collection of plastic transport tokens. Here’s a question for you, what are collectors of transport tokens called?answer (in the US at least) is Vecturist). In the UK, they just call us anoraks. Even coin collectors look down on us as being peculiar. The hobby is much more developed in the US. There are also more serial killers in the US. I’m not saying the two things are linked, but you have to wonder . . .
The pictures for today are two pieces of coin jewellery. The header picture is a 1901 penny which has been cut away and made into a brooch. It’s fine work and it’s a shame the pin is missing. It isn’t much worn, which makes me think it was probably made in about 1901, maybe as a piece of mourning jewellery for Queen Victoria. It is very dark and the patina may have been artificially applied.
The other is an enamelled bronze brooch (also lacking a pin) which has had a farthing mounted in the centre. This, as the inscription shows, is definitely a piece of mourning jewellery. The maker’s mark is “W.J.D” which is W. J. Dingley, a Birmingham manufacturer of everything from high quality trophies to mass market badges.
When I found them (I was going through one of the junk boxes) I thought of adding them to my collection, as I have a few bits of coin jewellery, but decided against it, as it’s time to start cutting back, not adding to the burden of whoever has to sort out my collections.
If things had gone a different way I may, by now, have become a leading authority on mourning jewellery. Instead, I’m a shop assistant. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say.
Penny Brooch – front view
Penny Brooch showing rear view with Britannia and the date 1901
Day 18 passed in much the same way as Day 17, but without the element of anticipation that you get after a Sunday off. In that respect it was very much like Day 11. I expect that Day 25 will be similar.
It was also like Day 17, in that I have a few ideas for writing, but didn’t do much about it. The trouble with giving days numbers is that the passing of time is much more noticeable and there is nowhere to hide. “Next Wednesday” is quite a friendly place, in a soft and woolly future. “Day 26” is much sharper, and leaves you in no doubt that you have seven days to do something, and that when it arrives the deadlines are only five days away (the days leading up to Day 31 are going to be interesting.)
I bought 500 items on eBay last night. They were very cheap, just pennies each and will, eventually, help finance my collecting habit. Julia will be delighted when she finds out and will no doubt be keen to congratulate me on my financial acumen and the purchase of more clutter. That’s why I’m letting her know via the blog. I don’t want to be in the room when she finds out. I could, I suppose, conceal this from her, but she will eventually notice a big box of plastic tokens no matter what I do.
When I have a few minutes I will prepare more posts on collectables to leaven the musings on mortality, boredom and the passage of time. However, despite all my attempts to put it off, I need to go for a blood test now. It’s not procrastination if you put it off because you have to do something important.
I had some haiku turned down yesterday, which means I am currently running with one acceptance and one rejection so far this year. The editor sent a longish email and included a useful link to help me do better. The problem I find with haiku is that although they are small poems they come with a lot of conventions attached (some call them rules, though this isn’t quite accurate) and I never quite manage to remember them all at the same time. It’s a bit like that hypothetical over-filled bookshelf – you put a book on one end and one falls off the other. That’s my brain . . .
The picture is a small Royal Artillery sweetheart brooch carved from mother of pearl. They are generally from the First World War usually, I’m told, made in Palestine. I include it as it’s a new picture and illustrates my inability to stop collecting things.
US Navy Sweetheart Brooches – the penny is 20.3 mm in diameter. An American cent has a diameter of 19.05 mm for those of you who like to know these things.
Despite the need to spend money on the house, and to declutter, I am still browsing eBay, and still adding a few items to my collection. If you want to see other examples , I have written about Sweetheart Brooches in a previous post,
My collecting started over 50 years ago. I was about five or six when I started collecting badges. A few years later my Dad gave me his stamp collection (which had been untouched since he had left the Navy). I added a few to it, then went into coins, bird’s eggs (yes, I know this was bad) and military medals. I’ve carried on sporadically ever since. At times I’ve been busy or broke, so there have been long gaps between purchases. However, with eBay , a regular income and the time that comes from having no kids around the place, I have been slowly adding to the collection again.
The latest two are both American and Naval. I don’t collect Navy brooches to the same extent as I collect the army ones but I always like to add a different type when I find one. American brooches are often sentimental/patriotic rather than military in style, though there are some more military ones. They also tend to have more bracelets than we do. Generally I don’t collect brooches from beyond the Commonwealth forces, but if I see an unusual type I can be tempted.
US Navy Sweetheart Brooch – with PO Class II badge
A couple of months ago I was tempted by the brooch with the Eagle and Chevrons. I think it is the badge of a Petty Officer Class II but I’m relying on the internet for this, as I’m not sound on US Navy badges. I have a couple of other brooches with this sort of chain set-up but this is better quality, and it’s always nice to upgrade. Collecting sweethearts, you will never get every possible type, so there’s no point trying. Compared to the tyranny of trying to collect one of every known date of a coin, this is a very relaxed way of collecting. These days I just collect things that catch my eye, and where the price is right.
A couple of weeks ago, another one caught my eye. It’s exactly the same sailor and the same set-up but the device on the chain is the medal ribbon of the American WW2 campaign medal for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It was sold by the same dealer and is out of the same collection.
US Navy Sweetheart – Europe, Africa and the Middle East campaign ribbon
I’m now checking them regularly to see if they have any other varieties. With coins and medals all the varieties are known and catalogued (with the odd rare exception) but with sweetheart brooches you can’t know everything. There might be sailors with different devices attached, or there may be marines, soldiers or airmen. You never know…
Here, at last, is the information on the Gibraltar £20 coin I mentioned a few days ago.
There is a tradition in Numismatic circles for collecting coins from shipwrecks, indeed we had a talk on this subject just a few weeks ago at the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire. Sadly, I had one of my senior moments and completely forgot about it, even though I had intended going. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of shipwreck and treasure and it’s a collecting field that has always interested me. However, you can’t collect everything.
There has also been a fascination for collecting relics of ships. It is still possible, if you go round antique centres, to pick up small barrels and oddments like paper knives made from the deck timber of ships like the Warspite, Iron Duke and Ajax. Copper from Nelson’s Victory has also been used to make souvenirs, such as this copper fob from the British and Foreign which we currently have for sale on eBay.
Despite the photos, it’s only about an inch across.
Copper Fob HMS Victory BFSS 1905
British & Foreign Sailor’s Society
Copper Fob HMS Victory BFSS 1905
More recently, I bought some key rings made from the bronze of the Queen Mary’s propellers, and also have some copper cash coins from the Admiral Gardner, which sunk on the Goodwin Sands in 1809.
This year, I have seen mementoes made from the silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa.
The Gairsoppa, originally built as the War Roebuck, was completed in 1919 by Palmers of Jarrow, just in time to miss the Great War, and was named after the city of Gerusoppa in the state of Mysore. She had one touch of drama in her career in the Merchant Fleet, with just one touch of adventure when she ran aground at Fulta Point on the South Eastern coast of India in 1930.
Palmers closed in 1933 after a long struggle to stay in business during the depression, and the unemployment this caused precipitated the Jarrow March.
In early 1941, whilst carrying a cargo of pig iron, tea and silver, she joined a convoy at Freetown, Sierra Leone to complete a voyage from India to the UK. Running short of fuel, she had to reduce speed, drop out of the convoy and head for Ireland to take on coal. On 16 February 1941, she was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft and was attacked by U-101 later that day, being sunk by a torpedo attack.
There were 82 men on board. Only one lifeboat launched successfully and out of the six men on board three died in the next two weeks. The boat capsized on the fourteenth day and the Lizard lifeboat was only able to rescue one survivor, Second Officer R. H. Ayres.
Sunk by submarine, fourteen days in an open boat, five men dying before rescue…
I can write the facts, but I can’t come up with anything that remotely does justice to the experience. While writing this post I found this item on an on-line forum – amazing to read the words of the man in question. His account doesn’t match up with the Wiki entry, but I suspect it’s more accurate.
The researcher who contacted him did a fine job, as modesty could have prevented us ever knowing the full story.
The epic nature of the story does not end there, because in 2011 an American salvage company located the wreck and, under licence from the British Government, began lifting the silver. So far they have recovered 61 tonnes, or just over half of the 110 tonnes known to be on board. At 15,000 feet deep (half a mile deeper than the RMS Titanic) this is the record for a salvage operation.
Of course, if the ship didn’t contain silver this would be considered plundering, piracy or desecration of a war grave. It’s amazing how a mountain of silver can make the moral compass swing.
We have, as I noted in the last post, been putting banknotes on eBay.
There are a lot of notes in the shops, ranging from serious notes for collectors to cheap and cheerful bulk lots.
Austro-Hungarian Empire – early 20th entury
I work with two keen banknote collectors. I always admire enthusiasts, and respect their immense knowledge on the subject, but really can’t get enthused by talk of serial numbers, replacements and security printing. If I was going to collect notes I’d probably collect them by theme, such as notes with pictures of birds on them. I like birds.
However, I prefer burgers, and that would be a very small collecting field.
Republic of Biafra 1967-70 – a short and tragic story
Some notes are spectacular, either because of the quality of design, or the history of the note or country. Others are very dull. You will probably see several of each sort in the pictures, though it has to be said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
It’s a very simple way of touring the world and it has one advantage over many other forms of collecting in that you can, when handling circulated notes, get a fairly strong whiff of foreign bazaars and sweaty hands.
Years ago I had a delivery of foreign notes in an antique centre and as soon as the wrapping paper came off several neighbouring dealers turned green and ran off spluttering.
Atmospheric selection of notes from Ghana
So, for atmosphere , circulated notes are the thing to collect. But if you are looking for beauty, collect uncirculated notes.
Today started well when I had just a short wait to have my arm stabbed. The blood flowed well and I was able to et out and get Julia to work in plenty of time. I’m hoping the free flow of blood indicates that it is going to give me another five or six weeks before the re-test. Tomorrow’s post will tell.
We will spool forward to my recent telephone conversation with the doctor. It seems that while testing for the arthritis consultation they took it upon themselves to test for liver function using a new test they can now do.
So, I had a test done for something we hadn’t discussed, for a condition I’m showing no symptoms of, to get a result that isn’t germane to the current issue so that I can be investigated for a result that isn’t any cause for concern and that isn’t going to cause any problems.
Meanwhile, I still have trouble dressing myself because of the arthritis in my fingers and would like to get that sorted before winter sets in.
But that doesn’t matter because they have a new test they can do for something that’s more interesting. I’ve agreed to have a scan because I was so tightly wound up by this point that I was on the point of being rude, and I’ve been brought up to be polite. I also don’t believe in being rude to people who may have to check my prostate at some time in the future.
But I am not happy.
On a brighter note, Number One son will be home tonight. He’s having two nights in Nottingham then going up to Leeds to look for a job. This is good as we get to see him and discuss his trip, then we get rid of him. This, despite what Julia may think, is the natural cycle of life. You are born, you grow, you get a job, you leave home and pay your own bills. Then it starts over again. You settle down, you have kids, you moan about their effect on your finances…
The grandparents turn up and get them excited, give them fizzy drinks then go home and leave the consequences. I’m looking forward to that bit.
In the middle of all this, I had a delivery in the shop.
My military sweetheart collection is progressing in a shaky and uncertain manner. Like all my collections it is under-financed, under-researched and badly neglected. I’ve decided to put a bit more structure into my collecting. With the sweethearts I’m going to start looking at eBay a couple of times a month and buying something that seems reasonably priced. If I don’t find anything it doesn’t matter. If I do, it will be a bonus. If I buy one item a month for the next ten years that will be 120 extra brooches for the collection.
Lothian & Border Horse Sweetheart brooch
Hampshire Regiment Sweetheart Brooch
Royal Scots Greys Sweetheart Brooch
Last week I bought a lot of brooches from eBay consisting of six pieces. I therefore stuck to my principles (just about) but managed to add five to the collection – one, I think, is destined for the swaps box. They have a definite Scottish theme to them with four out of the six being Scottish Regiments.
They are a sort you don’t often see – made to look like a hanging banner by folding celluloid over a pin. I suspect they were cheap at the time and , because they don’t look like jewellery, they didn’t survive in such numbers as the more durable and attractive metal ones.
Royal Engineers (Broken Pin)
Royal Scots Sweetheart Brooch 1
Royal Scots Sweetheart Brooch 2
At 600 words that’s more of a memoir than a post, so I’ll let you go now. Thanks for sticking with it so long.
The opening picture is a medallion of William Shakespeare by Paul Vincze, commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. You may remember the Moon Landing Medallion I pictured a few days ago. I mentioned I had this in my collection and Laurie said she’d be interested in seeing a picture of it. I laughed in a hollow fashion, as it’s just one piece of the multifarious detritus that flows around our house.
However, I have to start tidying and last night one of the first things I put my hand on was my medallion collection. To be more accurate, some of my “medallion collection”. The some is easy to understand, the inverted commas were added as I haven’t really collected so much as accumulated. There is a difference, as we tell people when they come to the shop with bags and boxes and even buckets of coins, stamps, cigarette cards, medals and postcards. We do banknotes too, but they don’t usually appear in such quantity.
An accumulation is just an aimless gathering of bits and pieces, often put together with an eye to quantity and economy rather than a theme. It’s often called a collection, but that doesn’t make it one. I could call a salad food, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s just colourful plate decoration.
I’m in anti-salad mode tonight. Julia is cooking and has just told me that our baked potatoes and veggie burgers will be accompanied by salad. This is indeed a cruel and unusual meal.
However, back to collections, a proper collection should have a theme, it should improve your knowledge of the subject and it might even increase knowledge of a collecting field.
Having rather foolishly agreed to give a talk at the Numismatic Society – Monday, 9 March 2020 – Peace & Tribute Medallions of The Great War – I am having to knock that part of my collection into shape. (Make a note in your diary if you are in the area).
The trouble is that there isn’t much information about them and I’m having to trawl the internet and write to museums. So far the museums have been friendly but have had no information, and the internet is tricky. If you search individual towns for information something sometimes crops up. But if you just search generally the third or fourth reference I found was one of my posts on this blog.
I’ve pictured a couple of examples below. In a week or two I’ll probably find this post cropping up as part of my research!
Great War Tribute Medal Ecton, Yorks
Great War Tribute Medal – Washington and Barmston , County Durham