The Story Behind a Postcard

The Brock’s Benefit Crystal Palace September 24 1903.

a joint effort by

Fred Peskett and Bill Tonkin

 

            There is a story to be told behind this very colourful and common post card. The pyrotechnics firm of Charles Thomas Brock first staged one of their fireworks displays at the Crystal Palace on the 12th July 1865. These displays became a very popular feature every Thursday and Bank Holidays during the summer months and were usually accompanied by music from the Crystal Palace Band.

            In 1870 the Crystal Palace Company directors decided to award the Brock Company with a ‘Brock's Benefit’ as gratitude for helping to make the Palace and Grounds more of a commercial success, these Benefit days became an annual event and continued up to 1936 with the exception of 1911 when the organizers of the Festival of Empire Exhibition awarded the pyrotechnics contract to Brock's rival firm Pains, and during the 1914-18 war when the Palace was occupied by the Admiralty.

            Why the 1903 Brock's Benefit was celebrated with an advertising postcard remains a mystery, none of the other Benefit days have a postcard issued either before or after 1903. The year 1903 was after all fairly early in the use of the postcard, so perhaps the Crystal Palace Company thought it worth a try as an advertising medium. There are other Brock's postcards which feature the Crystal Palace, but these were for commercial advertising for the product and not to mark an event.

            A newspaper cutting for September 9th 1903 reveals that the invitation postcards were ordered by the Crystal Palace Company for 64,000 postcards. The cards were sent to The Crystal Palace Company Shareholders, The Brock's Company Shareholders and Crystal Palace Season Ticket Holders. The printer of the postcard is unknown.

 

 

Brock’s Benefit post card

 

            Two Post Offices are known to have canceled the postcards with the red skeleton ½d PAID hand stamp. LONDON on the 18th September 1903r and LONDON. E.C. on the 19th September 1903. For the LONDON cancel, dies number 5, 6, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 53 are known to have been used, and for the LONDON. E.C. dies number 3, 9, 10, 19, 22, 26, 29, 36, and 41, it is most likely that other die numbers exist and have yet to be recorded. It is noted that on the LONDON cancel the date is given as 18 SP 03 but on the LONDON. E.C. it is given as SP 19 03, (i.e. the day and month reversed) There are also variations known to the letters on the dies, on both the LONDON and LONDON E.C. cancels, certain die numbers have either a round or oval ‘O’ to LONDON, the same is for the ‘0’ in 03, these may be constant varieties, however they

              

 

The curved foot and straight foot to the 2 of ½

                             

 

               Oval ‘O’ to LONDON               Oval ‘O’ to LONDON            Round ‘O’ to LONDON

                    Oval ‘O’ to 03                           Round ‘O’ to 03                        Round ‘O’ to 03

                      Tall letters                                   Tall letters                                Squat letters

 

may have also occurred due to the pressure and direction of the strike when hand canceling, more will have to be examined before this is clear. However, there is one variety that cannot be explained by pressure or direction. The ‘2’ of ½ generally has a straight foot but on die numbers 3, 10, 12 and 22 there is a curved foot. The postcards are also known postally used without the ‘PAID’ hand stamps and are dated up to 23rd September 1903, (the day before the Benefit) There is a further example known which is unused and has a purple oval rubber stamp ‘C.T. Brock & Co. 109 Cheapside, London, E.C.’ on the back. This may have been a remainder after the event and was perhaps used as an advertising postcard?

 

Table of Post mark varieties

 

       Number         Wording                  Foot of ½  ‘O’s of London     ‘0’ of 03                      Notes

 

            3          With E.C. SP 19            Curved             Oval                 Round               Squat London

            5          Without E.C. SP 18       Straight             Round               Round               Squat London

            6          Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Straight             Oval                 Oval                 Tall London

            9          With E.C. SP 19 (Other details not known)        

            10         With E.C. SP 19            Curved             Oval                 Round               Squat London

            12         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Curved             Round               Round               Squat London

            21         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Straight             Oval                 Round               Tall London

            22         With E.C. SP 19            Curved             Round               Round               Squat London

            22         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Straight             Oval                 Round               Tall London

            22         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Curved             Oval                 Round               Tall London

            23         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03 (Other details not known)

            24         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03   Straight             Oval                 Oval                 Tall London

            25         With E.C. SP 19            Straight             Round               Round               Tall London

            26         With E.C. SP 19 (Other details not known)        

            29         With E.C. SP 19.03       Straight             Round               Round               Squat London

            36         With E.C. SP 19 (Other details not known)        

            41         With E.C. SP 19 (Other details not known)        

            53         Without E.C. 18 Sp 03 (Other details not known)

 

            The term ‘BROCK'S BENEFIT’ was listed in the Oxford Dictionary to describe certain ‘fiery’ Parliamentary Debates, and during the First World War it was used to describe an intense artillery barrage at the Front, ‘We are giving the Hun a Brock’s Benefit’ or ‘The Kaiser gave us a Brock's Benefit last night’ are sometimes seen written on postcards sent home.

            There is one film which depicts the fireworks at the Crystal Palace, ‘The First Great Train Robbery’ with Donald Sutherland and Sean Connery, The background for the pair meeting at the Palace to plan their robbery is well contrived and worth seeing. It was made in 1978 and is still available on Video.

            There is so much variety in this post mark that I think it may well be worth members spending a few minutes looking at their Brock Fireworks cards and letting us know what they have, as I am sure there are more to be discovered. It is regrettable that when we were gathering material for our book on the Crystal Palace, we had spotted the different dates and recorded them but at that point had not noted or recorded the other varieties of the post mark.

 

© Exhibition Study Group 2008

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