Introduction to Royal Tournament Postcards.

by Bill Tonkin.


My interest in the Royal Tournaments was boosted at our 1992 Convention held at the Crystal Palace, when one of our members Arthur Smith gave a display of the post cards and guide books of the event, and I found it fascinating to say the least. So much so that that in the 1994 Autumn Journal we printed a five page article by Arthur.

Until then I had not concentrated on Tournament cards, but that all changed, and about a year later I had the opportunity to buy a collection of about 200 early tournament cards. I remember at the time how pleased I was that there was virtually no duplication with my own collection which by then was also around the 200 mark. Over the last fifteen years I have probably trebled my collection.

The early 1906 to 1909 cards present many problems, and I have spent years studying them. I soon realised that Gale & Polden the publisher of the early tournament cards had the same problem that Valentine had, and resorted to cut and paste to help fill their kiosks with cards for sale on opening day.

The early visual history of the Royal Naval and Military Tournament was adequately covered by Gale & Polden who published all the post cards up until the mid 20s when they lost the sole franchise, first to Fleetway Press Ltd., and then to Betts Son & Malyon Ltd., not getting it back again until the mid 1940s.

I suppose it would not be correct to say sole franchise, because throughout the Gale & Polden period there were a handful of other publishers like Cribb and the various Poster cards published from time to time. Cribb certainly published Tournament cards but they were not photographed inside Olympia but at an unknown barracks, and were probably not on sale at Olympia.

When Gale & Polden secured the rights to publish and sell post cards at an event running for a short period one of their problems was how to have a large range of cards for sale on the first day. For the Royal Tournament they could send their photographers in on the non public days when rehearsals and preliminary events were taking place (Which explains the many post cards with rows of empty seats) or they could prepare and print artist drawn views well before the opening. The third option, after they had built up a stock of various 1906 negatives, was to use these over and over again in the following years from 1907 to 1912. It can be a little confusing trying to date a card you are sure was published in 1909 with a view you know was taken in 1906.

One of the first little upsets was to discover that yes the camera does lie. Or rather the technicians in the dark room can get up to all sorts of tricks. Cut and Paste was not invented for the computer, they were doing it a hundred years ago. They have for instance taken a group of performing soldiers from a 1906 negative, cut them out of the centre of the picture, leaving the barrier surrounding the arena and all the visitors, and inserted the centre into the surround of another

picture taken several years later. They have also worked the other way round and inserted several different events, one by one into the same surround. This explains the postcards showing different events all with un-moving spectators and even the clock at the end of the hall frozen at the same time.


Type 1 used in 1908 Type 2 used in 1909

Ref. 1908-16 Ref. 1909-11


Type 3 used in 1910 Type 4 used in 1911

Ref. 1910-26 No. 97.


Type 5 used in 1912. No. 107.

The 1906 centre was then used once more, this time with a 1912 surround showing the curved arch.


Gale & Polden not only used the centres of a negative in different surrounds, but they used the same surround on several occasions with different inserted centres.


Type 1 used in 1906 Type 2 used in 1907

Here Gale & Polden were able to use a 1906 negative to publish in 1907, what looks like a more

distant view by using more of the surround on the same negative.


1907 1908

The Royal Horse Artillery Musical Drive post card has caused problems in allocating it to a year of publication. The centre is from a 1906 photograph which was published in 1908 & 1909. It was then inserted into a 1910 surround, as the band stand above the exit shows. Gale & Polden carried out this exercise twice using a 1910 surround, enlarging the centre slightly on type 4 so the performers very nearly overlap out of the arena. I am sure the post card with the medium sized block title was used in 1910, but they did not need two pictures of the same event in that year so they saved type 4 until 1911, giving the card a new title in joined up script with number 87. Numbers were not introduced until 1911 and it must have been published that year as in 1912 another view was allocated No. 87.

The 1908 Rollaball post card was just a re-issue of the 1907 card with a title added. In the 1907 picture four of the mens shirts look dark, while in 1908 the shirts have been washed persil white.

Where the same surround was used with different centres, not only are all the visitors in exactly the same position but the clock shows the same time, thirty five minutes past three. Dating Royal Tournament cards without titles with dates added to help you, can be difficult, but there are several clues. The photographs for some of the Tournament cards were not taken at Olympia but probably taken in barracks. If these do not have a date in the title or a post mark then they can be difficult to date, and you have to rely on the type of back and the style used in writing the title.

The light fittings hanging from the roof did not change from 1906 to 1913, but in 1914 lights with huge lamp shades appeared and these were changed in design every few years until the mid 1930s.

A change of publisher favoured other types of views not necessarily of the arena and details of barriers, light fittings and Royal boxes were no longer available on post cards.

Dates given after the entry is the post mark date if postally used or is in manuscript if not posted. The use of post marks is a useful aid to dating the year of publication of a post card, but it must be bourne in mind that a card may well be pressed into use several years after it was purchased. While on the other hand if a card bears a 1908 post mark then for sure it could not have been first published in 1909 or 1910.

I had better explain the system of numbering cards that I have devised. In the years before titles and numbers were used by Gale & Polden I give the card the year it was published ie 1909, this is followed by say -36 which tells me that it is the 36th card for that year in my collection. If I get two more 1909 cards then their reference number would be 1909-37 and 1909-38. Once Gale & Polden started using titles I just give the Year, title and a reference number of my own starting at No. 1 and so on. This is necessary as Gale & Polden has been known to use the same title on 17 different views in one year. From 1911 They added numbers as well as titles, and there is then no need for reference numbers.

Hand written titles.


Hand written titles were not introduced until 1908 and Gale & Polden employed several staff writing titles. The individual writers can be identified, but unfortunately not named. The first titles in 1908 were written in two sizes by the same person, title No. 1. a large rather tall and narrow style using block capital letters (Large size block capitals) and title No. 2. written in the same style but slightly smaller (Medium size block capitals) This later medium size must have proved more popular as it was used after 1908 in 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912. Taking up slightly less room it was possible to get more details of the event onto a single line, and this probably explains why the large size was discontinued. The illustrations are 150% of full size


Title written in large size block capital letters.

Title type 1. (1908)

Title written in medium sized block capital letters.

Title type 2. (1908, 1909, 1910, 1911 & 1912)


The hand writing in title type 3 was only used on one post card in 1908 and is smaller than the previous styles. The initials R.N.& M. are used instead of the full words, and this is the only 1908 post card to be numbered.

Title No. 4 has a very distinct ampersand and the letters are much rounder in form as well as being smaller than No. 3. Title No. 5. is even smaller and has an artistic flourish to the letters K and R with exaggerated long tails. Quite a distinctive hand.


Title written in small rounded capital letters.

Title type 3. (1908)


Title written in very small sized block capital letters. Note different way of writing the ampersand.

Title type 4. (1911, 1912)


Title written in very small sized block capital letters with long tails to K and R.

Title type 5. (1912)


Title in very small sized capital and non capital letters.

Title type 6. (1912)


Title written in a mixture of fairly small sized capital and script unjoined letters. (1912)

Title type 7. (1912)


Title in very small sized mixture of joined and unjoined script letters.

Title type 8. (1912)

1906 Royal Tournament


In the early days around the arena was erected iron railings similar to the three bar railings you still see sometimes in parks. These were faced with horizontal rows of planks, in 1906 with four rows of planks and in 1907 with six rows of planks. In 1910 the planks were covered with canvas painted to simulate brick or stone walls. The design of wall was changed every year until well into the 1920s.

In the 1906 view of the barrier, the top rail of the three bar railing can be seen above the four horizontal boards. The white dashes at the bottom of the barrier are the gaps between the uprights of the iron fence showing below the boards against a white background. This feature can be easily recognised on most of the 1906 views, and let it be said on many post cards re-published in later years from photographs taken in 1906.


1906 four board barrier and closer view of the barrier showing the white base that

appears under the boarding as a series of white dashes from a distance.


Most years Gale & Polden would include a view of the Royal Box, sometimes occupied by Royalty, sometimes by lesser mortals. In 1906 there was a bunch of accoutrements (helmet shield and swords) fixed to the lances at each side of the box, these come just above the level of the roof, there is also a helmet in the centre of the apron which is decorated with six lions. The box has a cone shaped roof, with a pattern of vertical stripes ending in a circular design at the bottom, see Box C.

The early stages of building the box in 1906 appears on later cards, but as far as is known no post cards of the unfinished 1906 Royal Box before the pelmet was added was published in that year see Box A. At one time the sides of the box were shielded by hangings see Box A and B. The cone roof must have obstructed the view of those sitting behind it, and it is possible that complaints led to the removal of the cone roof. In Box D it appears to have a flat roof. Cards showing the unfinished box were published in 1907, 1908 and 1909. Some times other events were cut and pasted into the arena without disturbing the 1906 barrier or visitors.


Box A. 1907-1, 1907-2, 1908-2, 1908-16, Box B.1907-4

1909-36, 1909-40 & 1909-41.


© Exhibition Study Group 2009