A B.B.E. IN MY BONNET.

by Peter Griffin

Part 1

"That's not a collection - that's an addiction!" a collecting colleague stated, after an hour spent looking through my 1924 / 25 British Empire Exhibition Collection.

I do collect other G.B. up to 1952 and have other special studies but my Wembley collection, like Topsy, has 'just growed and growed' over 15 years, from a poor 1924 1d to a range of material that few normal collectors would ever suspect existed.

My first Wembley 1d was a mucky mint off-centre and poorly perfed but a prized possession from my schoolboy collection. I stopped collecting when in 1948 my mother refused indignantly to buy me a Silver Wedding £1 (Dad was earning a fiver a week at that time!). Thirty years later the old album reappeared, the old enthusiasm was rekindled, my family had passed the 'grossly expensive to maintain' stage so limited funds were available to prime the old hobby once more.

Almost the first thing I did was to replace that tatty old 1d with a used set and for a while was content I had 'em all. Then in a small George V collection I bought from a friend I came across the 1d postal stationery cards for both years. This was something new! I soon discovered there were sets of four postal stationery items for each year to track down, both mint and used, and then a slogan came my way. A few picture postcards, a set of mint stamps and I had an embryonic specialist collection!

It took about three years to spread it out to nine sheets for a thematic entry in a club competition, and to my surprise it won. Automatically it went off to represent our Society at Federation level. I remember it being well packed out with photos, postcards and diagrams with a sufficiency of stamps to satisfy the rules. There was much muttering about it 'really belonging to the Postal History Section' from some of the other competitors... but it won!

That was enough to fire me up and gradually from the basic sets of stamps and stationery a whole world of Wembley has opened up.

It may seem logical to start my discourse by discussing the adhesives but the whole concept starts long before 1924. In fact the idea of a British Empire Exhibition was first suggested in 1913 and it was suggested it could be held in the existing pavilions at White City that had been built for the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908. Before the many ideas and inspirations had a chance to gel the 1914-18 war intervened and it was not until 1919 the project resurfaced with the backing of Lloyd George's government, King, and country.

Anything relevant to this early period of planning is now almost impossible to obtain and it is not until October 1922 that anything even vaguely suitable for inclusion appears in any quantity. During October and November a number of publicity slogans appeared and are often to be found on postcards of that period. There is a wide range of these to collect and though the slogan itself remains virtually unchanged to the end of the 1924 period some local varieties have been discovered including re-cut dies showing second states. The main variations of course concern where they were used and the type of machine they were used on.

The first to appear was the continuous Krag (Fig 1). These were used at twelve provincial offices only but are still around if you have the patience to hunt about for them. I found three in a dealers junk box, one of which turned out to be the earliest known day of usage at Cardiff, 13th October 1922. That cost me 30p but Murphy's Law being what it is the more desirable marks turn up on expensive items priced for their pictorial value.

Far less common are the Krag Machine triangles with telegraphic codes, and the 'Paid' dies used on pre-paid bulk mail (Fig 2). In fact these are decidedly scarce and I have yet to get one for my collection.

The commoner types include the Hey Dolphin single impression, single circle and double circle machines. Wherever more than one machine was in use there are different codes collect as well (Figs 3 & 4). The Universal machines of London, Manchester and Glasgow had year dates in the centre of the datestamp, not at the base. Notably there were two London offices that had Hey Dolphin machines fitted with the telegraph numbered triangles, again scarce and well worth looking for.

In all there are about one hundred to track down and that does not include for each of the three years they were in use. The 1925 slogan (Fig 5) was different and for some reason the Wembley Lion was left out. There was a wide gauge slogan and a narrower one which appears to have been used only at Newcastle-on-Tyne and on the London Code G machine. No continuous slogans appeared but single circles, doubles and triangles appeared once more. A total of twenty offices used these slogans and to date 33 machines have been identified, 16 of which are from outside London. Finding the 1925 slogan is more of a challenge but they are still to be had if you ask around.

While out slogan hunting one day a dealer showed me a Calcutta slogan on a card commemorating the 1924 Everest Expedition. I just had to have that and probably paid too much for it. After a little further research I discovered that if I hoped to have a really comprehensive collection I was going to have to go international!

I discovered continuous machine cancellations were used in Australia, Bermuda, Ceylon, Gold Coast, Kenya, Singapore, New Zealand and South Africa. Single machine cancellations were used in India, Jamaica, Malaya (Kelantan), Newfoundland, Trinidad & Tobago and Ulster. Undated circular handstamps (Fig 6) were used in British Guiana, Malaya (Johore, Kedah, Kuala Lumpur), Malta and Turks& Caicos Islands. Various types of boxed cancels (Fig 7) exist from British Guiana, British Honduras, Ceylon, Fiji, Palestine and possibly North Borneo. Like the circular handstamps these too were undated.

The most unusual of the cancellers resembled the Duplex type of Victoria's reign (Fig 8) and are from Malacca, Penang and Singapore.

The handstamps were usually used as publicity cachets in conjunction with the normal dated cancellations but some are to be found on the adhesives themselves. Dated types and machine cancels frequently appear as receiving marks. All of these Empire slogans are of double figure scarcity and for some of them you would need a very deep pocket indeed.

I think I have covered the basics of the pre-Exhibition publicity slogans and next time I propose discussing the range of publicity slogans used during the Exhibition. The most recent reference work on this subject is 'The Lion Roars at Wembley' by Donald Knight and Allan Sabey. A most readable book full of fascinating facts and amazing statistics about the B.E.E. There is a large section on the postal aspects in far greater detail than space allows here and anyone who decides to take a serious interest in this fascinating subject really ought to get a copy.


End of Part 1


Peter Griffin one of our newer members has let us have a series of articles he wrote, that were originally published in RAFLET. I would like to thank Eric Cowley of RAFLET who has agreed to us publishing them in our newsletter. If any of our members are interested in the R.A.F. and the related philately Eric's address is, Swiss Cottage, Sutton Rd, Huttoft, Alford, Lincs. LN13 9RG. I should also like to thank Alan Sabey who first heard of the articles, and for getting the act together for me. Thanks are also due to Don Knight for giving permission to use illustrations from 'The Lion Roars at Wembley'.

© Exhibition Study Group 1994   

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