World’s Biggest Book Fair Coming To London

book fairLove books? You’ll want to be in London this June when seven book fairs will all take place over a nine-day period.

Billed as the world’s largest book fair in a press release by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, it runs June 8-16 and features not only rare books and first editions but also maps, photographs and ephemera.

London has several annual and monthly fairs, but this is the first time seven of the biggest have decided to run in the same two weeks. Participants include the huge London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia, the PBFA London International Summer Antiquarian Book Fair down the road at Earl’s Court and the London Map Fair at the Royal Geographical Society. The literary neighborhood of Bloomsbury will have the most events, including the Ephemera Society London Fair, the Bloomsbury Summer Book Fair both, the Bloomsbury Summer Ephemera Fair and the London Photograph Fair.

A free shuttle bus service connects some of the fairs and one ticket allows entry into most events. You can see the entire schedule and buy tickets here.

[Photo courtesy Liam Quin]

Vatican City Issues Special Stamps After Papal Resignation

Vatican City, Vatican stampsCall me old fashioned, but when I’m on the road there’s something special about writing a postcard, sticking on some local stamps and sending it to loved ones back home. Receiving mail from overseas is almost as much fun.

I especially like rare stamps from smaller or less frequently traveled countries. Sadly I couldn’t send any postcards from Somaliland because they don’t have a mail service. I was also disappointed that on my recent trip to Iraq we never stopped at a post office.

Luckily you don’t have to go so far to find strange and soon-to-be collectable stamps. The surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has forced Vatican City to issue a special set of stamps.

They are emblazoned with an angel holding the Arms of the Apostolic Camera and the words “Sede Vacante MMXIII” (“Vacant See 2013”). They come in four different denominations of 70 and 85 euro cents, 2 euros, and 2.50 euros.

Stamps for the vacant see are designed shortly after a new Pope takes office and are kept until he dies, to be used for the brief period before the next Pope is elected.

Stamp Magazine reports that since the Vatican started issuing stamps, the Vacant See issues have only been used for a total of 20 days. I suspect this means that franked (used) Vacant See stamps will later become pretty valuable owing to their rarity. So if you’re in Italy, head on over to that little country inside Rome and send out some postcards. Your friends and family will thank you for it a few years from now.

[Photo courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office]

10,000 Toy Soldiers March On English Town

toy soldiers
A new museum dedicated to toy soldiers has opened in Silloth in northern England. Soldiers in Silloth opens today and houses the massive collection of local enthusiast Tim Barker.

Barker’s personal army, which numbers some 10,000 diminutive warriors, includes early lead examples and the more modern green plastic guys. The centerpiece is a large diorama (battle scene) of Waterloo. There are other dioramas of the Old West and Hadrian’s Wall, which terminates not far from Silloth. Check out their online gallery to see more.

While the museum is now open, the organization is calling for funds and volunteers. It’s strange to think a type of toy that was ubiquitous when I was a kid back in the ’70s now requires a museum. Most kids don’t seem to play with toy soldiers anymore. Many modeling companies have gone out of business or have stopped mass production and are now catering to collectors and war gamers. The owner of one toyshop where I get models for my kid says he hardly ever sells model soldiers to children anymore.

It appears that toy soldiers are increasingly becoming museum pieces. There are large collections at the Army Museum in London, the War Museum in Paris and the Tin Soldier Museum in Valencia.

Silloth is a major tourist destination in northwestern England. There’s some beautiful coastline and countryside nearby, plenty of fishing and camping opportunities and several annual events, including the popular and family-friendly Solway Music Festival (Solfest).

[Photo courtesy J.C. Butler.]

Auction of Hitler family portraits raises questions about Nazi memorabilia

Hitler, Klara HitlerFamily portraits of Hitler’s parents are going up for auction.

Craig Gottlieb Militaria, a leading auction house in California, will be auctioning off paintings of Alois and Klara Hitler via Gottlieb’s website from September 1 to 17. Gottlieb is also selling Hitler’s desk set. The shop is open to prospective buyers by appointment.

The subject of Hitler and Nazi memorabilia comes up regularly here on Gadling. An article about a Hitler tour around Germany started a flame war, and my discussion about the other meanings of the swastika got some interesting and somewhat more level-headed responses. More than sixty years after the fall of the Third Reich, these symbols still elicit strong reactions.

This raises all sorts of questions about how we portray the past, and what should and shouldn’t be included. In Germany and Austria, for example, it’s illegal to display the swastika expect in specific historical contexts. My article on swastikas probably couldn’t get published in a German magazine because it skirts the edge of the law. Other countries display these items freely. At the Imperial War Museum in London you can see a variety of Nazi items. An Orthodox Jewish friend commented that such a context is OK. It makes her wince to see it, but it’s part of history and needs to be discussed.

On the spectrum of what’s acceptable and what’s not, museum displays are on pretty safe ground, although it took many years before a Hitler exhibition was allowed in Germany. But what about selling Nazi memorabilia? Gottlieb’s store is full of SS items. He’s even written a book on SS Totenkopf (“Death’s Head”) rings and currently has 44 such rings up for auction. Some countries ban selling Nazi memorabilia, as does eBay, yet an article in Forbes estimates the sale of these items to be in the hundreds of millions.

%Gallery-129938%I’m a military historian and collector myself. I’m also a struggling writer with a kid to feed, so my collection is pretty small. We collectors buy these things because they give us an immediate connection to history. Yet the thrill I feel when reading a postcard from the Western Front or holding a Civil War bullet is far different than what I feel when I see a swastika flag covering a coffee table. Yes, that’s an example taken from experience. I don’t have any Nazi items in my collection and I’m not interested in buying any.

London is my favorite place to shop for militaria. Provincial Booksellers Fairs take place all over England and offer up lots of rare books on military and other subjects. Shops in places like Grays Antique Markets and Camden Passage Islington offer a huge variety of medals, weapons, and uniforms. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are two types of shops: those that sell Nazi memorabilia and those that don’t. Those that do often have a lot of it. In one shop I saw an entire set of instruments from an SS marching band.

I asked a shopkeeper who didn’t stock Nazi items why he made that decision.

“Because I don’t having those people in here,” he said.

“Perhaps they’re just interested in history?” I offered.

He shook his head and replied, “That’s not why they buy it.”

While I won’t go as far as to suspect anyone fascinated with the Third Reich as being a closet Nazi, I do have to wonder what they get from it, and shake my head in amazement at how much power Hitler and his goons still have over our emotions sixty years on.

Attached is a gallery of the kind of Nazi memorabilia prized by some collectors. What do you feel when you see them? Do you think they should be for sale? Would you accept one as a gift? Is it OK to have them in museums? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

[Photo of Klara Hitler courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The naughty postcard museum

The British have always been famous for their humor, both dry wit and the naughtier brand. One man who combined the two is being celebrated in a new museum that opened in Ryde in the Isle if Wight yesterday.

Donald McGill, Britain’s “king of vulgarity”, illustrated thousands of postcards over an almost sixty-year career. He was best known for simple double-entedres like the one pictured to the right. He also has the distinction of making it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most sales of an individual postcard–one featuring a bookish man and an attractive young woman sitting under a tree. The guy peers over a volume and asks the girl, “Do you like Kipling?” to which she replies, “I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!” That sold more than six million copies.

One of his most popular, and most controversial, shows two men admiring an attractive woman as one says to the other, “She’s a nice girl. Doesn’t drink or smoke, and only swears when it slips out!”

In the age of Internet pornography these barely qualify for a PG rating, but in Britain before the Sixties they shocked stogy traditional sensibilities. In 1953 many local jurisdictions raided the shops selling his postcards and burned any they found. The next year at the age of 79, McGill had to face what the museum’s curator called a “show trial” for obscenity. He got off with a fine, but the ruling almost killed the saucy postcard industry.

The Donald McGill Museum website is still under construction but shows some more examples of McGill’s work.


Photo courtesy Donald McGill via Wikimedia Commons.