Saturday, 9 July 2005

Wartime memories cast in bronze - moving and amusing

Bruce Bairnsfather's Old Bill
Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português

by Christopher Proudlove©

Sunday, July 10 has been designated as the day for celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and as the country prepares to mark the occasion, it occurred to me how attention will be focussed on war memorials across the land.

One of the most dramatic is that at Hoylake, Wirral, about which historian and author Norman Ellison writes: "From the northern end of Grange Hill rises the tapering obelisk of the war memorial - a noble monument to the dead of two world wars.

"The bronze figures by Charles Jagger are typical of that famous sculptor's rugged style. Around the high base are inscribed Kipling's stirring words: 'Who stands if freedom fall? Who dies if England live?'"

The memorial consists of a granite obelisk against which stand life-size bronzes of a female figure representing Humanity and a figure of a soldier holding his gun horizontally in front of him.

When Jagger exhibited a model of the latter at the Royal Academy, it was entitled Soldier on Defence.

With the production of a later bronze edition, the title Wipers -military slang for the Belgium town of Ypres - was added.

The memorial was a turning point in Jagger's career. Following its completion in 1922, the sculptor was never short of work.

The combination of stark melancholy bronze figures set against strong architectural forms became the central concern of his greatest monument, the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

It's worth a trip to the capital just to see the work, in all its moving grandeur, it is a true tour de force.

By his own admission, Jagger sought to show "the Tommy as I knew him in the trenches".

The compelling realism of his figures has always been highly emotive and is at the same time realist and heroic.

Inspiration for the Tommy in Wipers may have been come from a French war poster, On ne passe pas, published in 1918 by Maurice Neumont, but Jagger's figure is less aggressive and at the same time more noble and powerful.

The same bronze Tommy featured in 18-inch reductions like the example illustrated here. When a copy occasionally comes on to the auction market, demand is assured.

They were much admired when they were cast and the then Prince of Wales commissioned a copy for his own collection. This led in 1922 to a further commission for a portrait statuette of The Prince of Wales himself.

Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1943) was born in Kilnhurst, Yorkshire, the brother of artists David and Edith Jagger.

He studied at the Sheffield School of Art and the Royal College of Art from 1908 to 1911, after which he travelled to Venice and Rome.

He won a prize in Rome for his sculpture, but returned home in 1914 to enlist in the army.

He knew the horrors of the trenches from first hand experience. He joined the Artists' Rifles and in 1915 was commissioned in the Worcestershire Regiment.

He and served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front and was wounded three times, receiving the Military Cross for gallantry.

While convalescing, he began work on a bronze relief titled No Man's Land, now in the Tate, in which he gave full rein to his abhorrence of war.

Corpses lie stranded on barbed wire, while a solitary look-out hides behind them from the sniper's bullet.

Flurry of letters to The Times

Jagger's realism was too much for some. When the Royal Artillery monument was unveiled in 1925, the inclusion of the bronze of a dead Tommy provoked outcry and a flurry of letters in The Times.

In light-hearted contrast, Old Bill would be positively delighted that after 60 years, he has found the "better 'ole" he sought during the First World War ... in the hearts of collectors around the world.

The cartoon creation of soldier-artist Bruce Bairnsfather, Old Bill has left the mud of Flanders far behind and he's going places in the saleroom. Pottery plates featuring the character average about ££30-40 apiece, while a teapot on stand can fetch at much as £150-250.

The 4½-inch bronze car mascot illustrated here dates from the 1920s and is worth £200-300.

Bairnsfather was a commercial artist by training, but the young infantry officer became Britain's secret weapon, keeping his comrades' spirits high by drawing cartoons in charcoal on the backs of maps and on the walls of ruined farmhouses.

Word reached the War Office and Bairnsfather was signed up as an official war artist that took him to all the important battle fronts.

What made him a household name was a weekly series of his cartoons published by the magazine Bystander.

Crusty Old Bill was his most celebrated character. He was a seasoned veteran Tommy with a walrus moustache and a sarcastic wit.

Perhaps the best known cartoon depicts Bill and a comrade sheltering in a shell crater in mid-battle.

As the bullets whistle above their heads Bill says: "Well, if you know a better 'ole, go to it!" It was reproduced on a countless number of Old Bill products that kept people smiling for two world wars.

Giving extra bite to the propaganda exercise was an inscription found on the underside of some Bairnsfather ceramic ware which reads: "Made by the girls of Staffordshire during the winter of 1917 when the boys were in the trenches fighting for liberty and civilisation."

Main manufacturer of Old Bill pottery was Grimwades of Stoke-on-Trent and pieces are often, although not always, marked Winton or Atlas China.

An upmarket Old Bill ceramics manufacturer was the Royal Staffordshire Pottery of Wilkinson Ltd., while Carlton China, owned by Wiltshaw and Robinson, also of Stoke, produced porcelain figures of the character in a style similar to that of W.H. Goss.

One of these depicts a 5½inch version of Old Bill standing guard with the base captioned: "Yours to a cinder, Old Bill." In typical Carlton (and Goss) style, it also carries the arms of a city, in this case London.

Another inspired by Bairnsfather is a model of a dugout with a Tommy peeping out. The inscription reads: "Well-built dugout containing one reception-kitchen-bedroom and up-to-date funk hole ... This desirable residence stands one foot above water level, commanding an excellent view of the enemy trenches. Excellent shooting (snipe and duck) ... "

The model was also copied by Savoy and Birks, Rawlins and Company Ltd., of Stoke.

Another Bairnsfather favourite was an anonymous British Tommy who makes frequent appearances.

One cartoon shows him opening yet another tin of plum and apple jam and grumbling: "When the 'ell is it going to be strawberry?"

My favourite was a book of cartoons produced on the outbreak of war in 1939. One shows an aged Old Bill back on his home ground again in Flanders.

Says Old Bill to formidable French farm wife at her doorstep: "It's 20 years since I was 'ere, Missus. Sorry I got to dig a trench through yer yard again!"

Or Old Bill explaining to a young Tommy standing alongside: "Yus, son. We was 18 months just where you're standin! Then comes the Big Push, and we got to 'ere."

Pictures show, above, left: Wipers - the haltingly powerful bronze by Charles Sargeant Jagger, a larger version of which can be seen on Jagger's Hoylake and West Kirby war memorial. The smaller version stands 18 inches in height and has an auction value of £20,000-30,000

Right: Bruce Bairnsfather's crusty Old Bill. This 1920s bronze car mascot is worth £200-300 at auction

Below: Jagger's Hoylake and West Kirby war memorial

Jagger war memorial

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 8 July 2005

Collect paper ephemera, even if folding money is tight

Nelson cartoon low res
Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português
by Christopher Proudlove©

Imagine what life would be like without paper - no rubbish-strewn streets for one thing. From plans for buildings and ocean liners to folding money, paper has played a vital role in shaping almost every aspect of the world we know today. Interestingly, all of it makes for a fascinating collection - particularly if space - and folding money - are tight.

Peter Burford*, the Director of Administration & Communications at Apsley Paper Trail in Hemel Hempstead told me that paper was first invented in China around 105 AD, but the technology of papermaking did not reach Western Europe for another 900 years and it was a further 450 years before it reached England.

Although the word paper is derived from the thin sheets of papyrus reed used over 5,000 years ago in Egypt, true paper is made by soaking and softening vegetable fibres until they become individual filaments. Removing the water leaves single sheets of 'naturally' intertwined fibres.

Although archaeological evidence suggests that a form of fused silk and paper substance was in use in China around 100 BC, the first record of true papermaking is in a report to the Emperor Ho Ti about the work of a Chinese court official named Ts'ai Lun in 105 AD.

His brilliance earned him the title of patron of papermaking throughout China.

It was not until the 3rd century that the secret art of papermaking began to creep out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet.

It was introduced into Korea in the 4th century and spread to Japan by the 6th century where, during the 8th century, the Empress Shotoku undertook a massive project to print a million prayers on individual sheets of paper, each mounted in its own pagoda.

Thereafter, the art of papermaking spread slowly westward throughout Asia to Nepal and then to India.

In 751 the technology of papermaking began its long journey into Europe via the Islamic world when Arab warriors, at war with the Tang Dynasty, captured a Chinese caravan that included several papermakers.

With their expertise, Samarkand soon became a great centre for paper production.

Gradually papermakers made their way further west through the Moslem world to Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo.

Finally, when the Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal, they took the technology with them to Europe in the 11th century.

The first record of a paper mill in Europe is found in 1056, established by the Moors at Xativa in Spain.

After the Christian armies finally dispelled the Moors from Spain in 1224, papermaking began to spread slowly throughout Christian Europe, first to Italy by 1250.

The first North American paper mill was established in Philadelphia over more than years later, in 1690, that

Even when paper began to be made across Europe, its widespread use was hampered by politics.

Partly due to its perceived Moslem origin and partly because of the influence of the wealth landowners with financial interests in sheep and cattle, a Papal Decree of 1221 declared that all official documents produced on paper were invalid.

The preferred medium was parchment - smoothed and scraped animal skins but it was very expensive and available only in limited quantities. It has been estimated that a copy of the Bible, hand-written on parchment required the skins of 300 sheep.

When Johann Gutenburg perfected movable type and printed his famous Bible in 1456, he not only spread the word of Christianity, but also sparked the first revolution in mass communication.

The birth of the modern paper and printing industry is commonly marked from this date, although it was another 250 years before western ingenuity turned the promise into a reality.

The first recorded paper mill in the United Kingdom was Sele Mill near Hertford owned by John Tate. Founded around 1488, the mill was visited by King Richard VII some 10 years later and a report of the visit was printed by Wynken de Worde.

Sheets bearing John Tate's watermark have been found in books printed in 1494.

Other early mills included one at Dartford, owned by Sir John Speilman, who was granted special privileges for the collection of rags by Queen Elizabeth and one built in Buckinghamshire before the end of the 16th century.

During the first half of the 17th century, further mills were established near Edinburgh, at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and several in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey.

In December 1724, Henri de Portal was awarded the contract for producing the Bank of England watermarked bank-note paper at Bere Mill in Hampshire and by 1800, there were 430 paper mills in England and Wales, although fewer than 50 were established in Scotland, producing paper by hand.

With the country at war with Napoleon's France, there was a shortage of labour for making paper and, in the new spirit of the age, mechanisation was the obvious answer to both the shortage and the increasing demand.

The solution came from France, where in 1799 Nicholas Louis Robert, an accountant at a paper mill in Essonnes had invented and patented, a hand-operated machine for making paper in lengths of up to 12 feet.

Exchange of prisoners

Unable to get finance to develop his invention, he sold the rights to his patent to his employer Leger Didot who in turn approached his brother-in-law, John Gamble, the latter being in Paris at the time organising the exchange of prisoners.

Gamble secured an English patent in October 1801 and persuaded Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, partners in the City stationery firm of Bloxham and Fourdrinier, to back him in return for a one third interest in the patent rights.

The first Robert machine was installed at Frogmore Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in 1803

In 1806 the Fourdriniers claimed that the cost of making a hundredweight of paper by machine was 3 shillings and 9 pence (19p) compared to 16 shillings (80p) by hand.

With nine workers operating it, their machine could produce in one 12 hour day the same amount of paper that it would take 41 workers by hand

By 1850 UK paper production is estimated to have reached 100,000 tons and the pattern for the mechanised production of paper had been set.

*The Paper Trail project is a unique activity-based industrial exploration centre built around an historic, fully working paper mill. It offers public access into the heart of a real working environment and is complemented by an active business and industrial enterprise hub. For further information, contact Peter Burford on 01442 234600.

  • Of all new-found collectibles, paper ephemera is perhaps the cheapest, the most common and the most underrated. And you name it, someone somewhere collects it.
  • Oddest things we've seen were illustrations from the lids of Cuban and Havana cigar boxes and the bands that go around the cigars being sold alongside a selection of tissue wrapping papers from various brands of pipe tobacco. Any one of them could be had for a couple of pounds.
  • Some ephemera has been collected for years, even centuries: Christmas cards, stamps, currency, books, manuscripts, posters, maps, early photographs, matchboxes ... the list is a long one.
  • But what about these little exploited areas for future collections such as orange wrappers and packing case labels; takeaway sugar packets; giveaways from children's comics; knitting and sewing patterns; protest badges; fanzines; calendars; bill and letterheads; business cards; polling station billboards ... another long list.
  • Paper money, a long-established collecting area, remains a firm favourite. with devotees. Dealers InterCol who trade online at, has a China Ming Dynasty banknote dating from the 14th century dated between 1368 and 1399 and printed on the bark of the mulberry tree. It is priced at £950, while an uncirculated 10 bob note (that's 50 pence to younger readers) is priced at £4.
  • Elsewhere, there are numerous notes from around the world in the 50 pence to £5 bracket that would appeal to younger collectors of more limited means.

Pictures show, top:
As we start the celebrations of the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, ask yourself where political cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) would have been without the paper to carry his salute to "Admiral Nelson recreating with his brave tars after the glorious Battle of the Nile"? The print is worth £4,000-6,000

Below, left to right:
There's money in banknotes. One of only six Portsmouth branch Bank of England £5 notes known to exist. This one sold last year for £21,150

A Chinese banknote. The first banknote in the world appeared during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and this example bears a inscription which threatens death to any forger. It has a value of 1,000 kwan

No paper - no children's comics, such as this one featuring Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Daily Mirror in 1922

Portsmouth fiver low resBanknote low resComics low res


Battle of the Canalettos and the winner costs £18.6m

.flickr-photo { border: solid 1px #000000; }.flickr-frame { float: right; text-align: center; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }The champagne corks popped at Christie's when their Canaletto sold for a record-breaking £11.4 million but the celebrations moved to Bond Street when Sotheby's Canaletto smashed that price and was knocked down for a cool £18.6 million. Nice work if you can get it, but as supply of such top end paintings dries up, the problem now is finding another blockbuster. Read the BBC online report of the sales here.

Labels: , , ,

£32,400 for the £2 teapot - just right for the cup that cheers

.flickr-photo { border: solid 1px #000000; }.flickr-frame { float: right; text-align: center; margin-left: 15px; margin-bottom: 15px; }.flickr-caption { font-size: 0.8em; margin-top: 0px; }More fun than winning the Lotto. Imagine the joy of finding a Minton teapot like the one illustrated and learning it was worth all the tea in China. It sold for £32,400. Read the story here and tell us your best car boot sale buy in the You WriteAntiques forum.

Labels: ,

Thursday, 7 July 2005

Outrcy over Hitler sketches auction

When will auctioneers realise that anything connected to Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust will cause an outcry if they try to offer it for sale? Or are they such desperate money-grubbers that they don't care? Read about the latest case here: Adolf's sketches on the block.


McCartney concert tickets in Music Clearing Minefields auction

Fresh from his headlining Live 8 Hyde Park appearance, Paul McCartney is top billing in another gig - a charity auction to raise money to rid that other scourge of Third World countries: anti-personnel mines. Read about it here and get bidding.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, 6 July 2005

Bikers’ bible gets in on the bidding act

Bikers' bible Motorcycle News has announced it has launched an internet site so that like-minded buyers and sellers of anything connected with motorcycles can bid for and buy or sell objects from the comfort of their homes. Click here here to read more.

Labels: ,

Starwars sale: batteries not included

Budding Luke Skywalkers and Darth Vaders will no doubt do battle to own an authentic light sabre when bidding opens in this auction in Beverly Hills on June 29. Click here to learn where to place your bid but caveat emptor - batteries are not included!


Tuesday, 5 July 2005

Ebay’s double standards …

Strange that no-one at eBay is interested in putting an end to all the crooks selling fake designer goods. Or is this a case of double standards? Read
here about the axe falling on unlicensed DVDs of Live 8 concerts.


Friday, 1 July 2005

Collectors of old enamel advertising signs strike oil

Español | Deutsche | Français | Italiano | Português
by Christopher Proudlove©
The collecting world was abuzz this week as news filtered out about the sale of an Edwardian enamel advertising sign promoting "BP The British Petrol" which sold for a world auction record of £28,000.

No, not a printing error. With the auctioneer's 10 per cent buyer's premium and VAT, the 3ft 6in by 2ft 3in sign (pictured here) made a little over £25 ... per square inch!

Who said nostalgia isn't what it used to be? It has to be conceded though that the image of the 1920s racing car thundering over the finish line is both wonderfully patriotic and stunningly graphic. But what a price.

It was one of a collection of 10 early enamel and mirrored glass advertising signs taking up every inch of the walls in the hall and sitting room of a small two-bedroom bungalow.

They had been collected by a keen photographer and auction buff, who had retired to Herne Bay but had been determined to keep his collection with him.

The sign was bought by a Yorkshire collector who is clearly dedicated to his hobby. Speaking by telephone immediately after the sale, the buyer told me he already owns around 100 old enamel advertising signs but he confessed that the BP sign was easily the best he had seen and he just had to have it.

"The world of enamel signs is like football and this sign is in a league of its own. It's in near perfect condition and is a remarkable survivor when you consider it's gone through two world wars," he said.

"What was once thought of as scrap metal are now being seen as the works of art they really are. But they're painted on steel - not canvas - and you could hang it back outside and it would last a lifetime."

According to the weekly trade newspaper, the Antiques Trade Gazette which carried the story on its front page, the price appeared to be an auction record for what was described as a previously unrecorded image.

However, the record price for any advertising sign is currently $85,000, paid in 1990 for a Campbell's Soup painted sign made from tin by the Standard Advertising Company, Ohio, decorated with 52 red and white cans forming the stripes of a stylised American flag.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for either price to be beaten and whether more examples of the BP sign emerge following the publicity.

Enamel signs have become to be regarded as the jewel in the crown of British advertising in the late Victorian and Edwardian era, arresting public attention with their often outrageous entreaties to passers-by for over half a century.

Millions were produced between 1880 and 1950 but comparatively few survive today after they were made redundant by a combination of social change, the rise of magazine and later television advertising ... and the Advertising Trading Standards authority,

However, by the early 1960s, a handful of collectors began to recognise them as highly decorative works of art in their own right and soon survivors were being rescued.

It wasn't a moment too soon. Following the Second World War, when scrap metal had become a scarce commodity, tens of thousands of the signs had either been exported abroad, notably to China, or else melted down for recycling here at home.

Ironically, the nostalgic revival of interest in industrial and transport museums and steam railways, such as the one in Llangollen, also played a part and many old signs found their way back to their original locations, lending authentic atmosphere to station platforms and street settings.

The secret of the longevity of the Hovis and Virol signs we remember from our childhood is that they were made from vitreous enamel which is actually a thin layer of glass fused by heat on to the surface of the metal.

Interestingly, the technique has been around for centuries. In history, enamels were applied first on gold and then silver, copper, bronze and more latterly on iron and steel. The term is also used for the application of coloured glass applied to other glass objects.

The earliest known enamellers worked in Cyprus in the 13th century BC. Gold rings discovered in a Mycenaean tomb on the island were decorated with various vitreous coloured layers fused on to the gold.

Glittering lustrous finish

The art of enamelling was given a massive boost by the adoption of the cloisonné technique, in which strips of gold, silver, copper or brass form a network of small raised cells, or cloissons, to form the decoration of an object to which they are applied.

The various coloured enamels are then applied to the cloissons, often as a paste, and the whole is fired and polished to a glittering lustrous finish.

This contrasts with the champlevé technique, in which casting, chasing or engraving to the surface of a metal object is filled with enamels, fired and then polished flush. Saxon bowls found at Sutton Hoo are some of the finest early examples.

The Limoges area of France is famous for its champlevé enamels, while a technique developed in Italy in the 13th Century is known as basse-taille.

This required a translucent or transparent enamel to be applied over a low relief, sunken or intaglio design, usually in gold or silver.

Next came the plique-a-jour technique in which translucent or transparent enamels were fused to create a web across a network of cells, without a backing, thus making the enamel the structure of the piece.

This was the most difficult type of enamelling, but one that produced spectacular results such as those by the Art Nouveau jewellery designers Lluis Masriera and René Lalique.

The first enamelling of cast iron for such domestic products as cooking pots dates from the 18th century in Germany, while sheet iron was introduced in Sweden at the end of the 1700s.

This so-called vitreous enamelling was being mass-produced by the time of the Industrial Revolution and by the mid 19th Century enamelled steel cooking vessels were commonplace.

Glass is applied to the sheet metal either as a powder or mixed with water and fired in a furnace to temperatures that causes the glass to melt and coat the surface of the sheet. This gives a smooth surface that is hard and resistant to scratches, weather fire and chemicals.

The durability of early advertising signs, still showing the brilliance of the original colours after a hundred years, is one of the best examples of the long-term colour stability of vitreous enamel.

The only sad thing is that many, if not most, or the graphic artists whose designs are reproduced on the signs remain anonymous.

  • One of the earliest manufacturers of enamelled iron advertising signs was Salt and Co, of Selly Oak, near Birmingham.
  • Managed by Benjamin Baugh, an early pioneer of the enamelling trade, Salt operated 12 huge furnaces, and later changed the name to the Patent Enamel Company.
  • The West Midlands area become synonymous with the production of enamel signs, further factories being established in Bilston, Wolverhampton and Oldbury. London was the other main hub of manufacturing, with four large factories, including Gamier and Co, also producing millions of signs.
  • Arguably the best designed, most colourful and durable enamel advertising signs were made in Wolverhampton, a centre of enamel manufacturing since the 18th
  • Among the most important firms were Macfarlane & Robinson; Orme Evans and Chromo.
  • The Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War which prohibited the use of steel for advertising, coupled with the disappearance of smaller businesses which needed to advertise to survive in the face of competition from emerging supermarkets and stricter advertising legislation caused the relatively rapid decline of production.

Pictures show, top: Record breaker: this dramatic BP Petrol sign sold for a massive £28,000 last week, the highest price ever at auction for an enamel sign
Below, left to right:
An early 20th Century enamel advertising sign by Chromo of Wolverhampton, enamelled with the royal coat of arms and worded "Recruits are now wanted for all branches of His Majesty's Army, God Save The King". It sold for an affordable £270
"Black Cat Pure Matured Virginia Cigarettes" sold for £460
"Suter Hartmann and Rahtjen's Composition Company Ltd, 18 Billiter Street, London", used this sign depicting the British Super-Dreadnought moored in an Admiralty floating dock to promote their antifouling paints. It sold for £10,500
"There's No Tea Like Phillip's", decorated with a classical female with jardinière of flowers to side cutting the letters into stone. It measured four by three feet and sold for £2,600
An early 20th Century enamel advertising sign by Willing & Co of London, worded "Star - Largest Circulation of Any Evening Paper", sold for £180

Enlist - for £270Lucky Black Cat - £460Go tell it to the Navy£2,600 for a Phillip's cuppaAdvertising a £180 Star


Many a slip twixt antique cup and lip

Imagine hearing that the antique silver cup you sold in a provincial auction for £4,000 had just sold in a London auction for £456,000. That's what happened to one unlucky punter this week, but what would you do? Sob or sue?
Click here to read all about how an exceptionally rare early 17th century globe cup made by Dutch silversmith Pybe Wouters turned to gold.