The Gold Humbug Book


           It cometh to pass that I walk of a morning adown the flags of the Court of Honour, musing on beautiful things. Uprises a lady who lieth in wait (and in other-ways, perdie !), and she saith, “Would you like to sign your name in the GOLD BOOK, Sir? Tis only a shilling.”

           I answer, “You have it the wrong way about. If I sign my name, it is you who should pay me a shilling for the labour of so doing.” But, sneering, she disdaineth argument, and I pass on, merry in the discovery of this new thing. For the predatory genius who invented the GOLD BOOK found the idea swiftly in an evil night, and it burst suddenly on the White City, twelve stalls in different places each with a monstrous early Victorian album, wherein you signed your name and received (ye pocket-rifling gods of tin!) a certificate that you had visited the Exhibition. For sixpence you received certificate with a red seal; for a shilling you had certificate with a gilt seal.

           The best thing in booby-traps, I must always pay honour to any best thing. The racing crook with his upturned umbrella, his furtive eye for the police, and his brief gospel of “Find the Lady, gentlemen,” was child-brained, compared to the master mind that created the idea of the GOLD BOOK and underlined the last word in inanity. It was all so beautifully vague, though girls sat calmly in the receipt of custom with explanations. There were going to be 250,000,000 names in the GOLD BOOK. Then they were all to be bound together, the first page containing the signatures of King Edward and other notable visitors.

           “What then?”

           “Oh, then! They’ll be put, I think, in the British Museum.”

           Why were you not true artists, dear lady attendants of the GOLD BOOK? Why did you not tell Balham, Streatham, and Walham Green, whom you persuaded to sign, that King Edward, the Sultan of Turkey, and Marie Lloyd had faithfully promised to send a bar of chocolate and a letter of thanks to all who signed in the gold book, the gold bug book, the gold humbug book?

           Then, I think, there would not have been such stout portions of the six gold books pathetically unused in their brave gilt. Certainly you were very good, you sent the certificate to the signers in a neat useful roll, charging a penny, and if you buy a good pair of lenses, and pay to get them adjusted scientifically, you can make a passable telescope out of a cardboard roll. At least I think so.

           Designers of the White City money-hooks, this was your crowning achievement. Take, with my compliments, the figurative crown I give. You deserve a knighthood; but at that thought I am filled with grief; I am desolé. I am very sorry. I am out of stock, or you should have one with pleasure.


                                                                                                           Herbert Shaw



          © Exhibition Study Group 2007