Remarkable Collection of Postcards to be Sold at Auction

Lot 3120 R & E Cross Newsagents and Confectioners, Littlehampton, circa 1904
Lot 3120 R & E Cross Newsagents and Confectioners, Littlehampton, circa 1904

A remarkable collection of postcards from the estate of the Sussex collector, Maurice Stevens (1932-2015) is to be offered for sale at Toovey’s Washington salerooms in West Sussex on Tuesday 22nd March 2016.

Maurice Stevens was a Sussex man. Born in 1932 at Hurstpierpoint, his childhood was spent at Albourne. Once married he moved to Burgess Hill where he lived happily for fifty-six years. A horticulturist and keen angler, he was rooted in our beautiful county and delighted in its towns, countryside and social history. Throughout his life he formed and dispersed numerous collections, one of his main interests was photographic topographical postcards of Sussex. He had a gift for identifying unattributed views and scenes and many of the postcards have his pencil annotations on the back. These collector’s notes and comments are fascinating and reveal Maurice’s deep understanding of postcards and the history of our county.

Auctioneer and head of department, Nicholas Toovey, is the specialist in charge of the sale. He shared a long and valued friendship with Maurice, as well as a passion for postcard collecting. I ask Nick what delights him about this particular field of collecting. He responds enthusiastically “Postcards give a glimpse into a bygone age. They provide one of the earliest photographic images of life one hundred years ago and how things were. I’m amazed by the number of small and remote places that were documented. Often these images will have been the first visual record of that place other than, perhaps, an artist’s interpretation.”

The Maurice Stevens Collection includes postcards depicting topography and social history. These include early aviation, motoring, railways, traction engines, military events, fairs and shops. As we leaf through the catalogue image after image captures the eye.

Nick draws my attention to a postcard of the Littlehampton Newsagents and Confectioners, R & E Cross and describes the scene “The staff are outside this Surrey Street shop. You can see the Sussex postcards being displayed alongside Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate. It shows the lives of everyday people.” He continues “The publisher, Frank Spry, moved to Littlehampton in 1904 with his wife. His offices were in the same street as this shop.” It carries a pre-sale auction estimate of £80-120.

Lot 3019 a photographic postcard of a steam roller at Blackstone in West Sussex
Lot 3019 a photographic postcard of a steam roller at Blackstone in West Sussex

I love traction engines and my eye is taken by a photographic postcard of a steamroller and workmen in a road. Maurice’s pencil note on the reverse of the card reveals his extensive Sussex knowledge. It reads ‘on the Woodmancote Road south of the village, W.S.C.C. Team, S.E. Sayers working’. These rare insights give life to the collection. The card is expected to realise £50-80.

A postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’
A postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’

Social history and topography are once again combined in the postcard titled ‘Welcome to Arundel of the 1st Batt, Royal Sussex regt. Aug 29th 1933-8’. It was published by White. This hopeful scene, with soldiers on parade in Arundel as flags blow in a summer breeze, stands in contrast to the growing troubles in Europe at that time and the approach of the Second World War. Offered with a postcard of similar interest, the two are estimated at £25-35.

A photographic postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’, circa 1924
A photographic postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’, circa 1924

With so much talk of flooding again this year in the news it is interesting to note supplies being delivered by boat in the postcard ‘Delivering Provisions during the flood at Bramber’. Nick remarks dryly “Some things never change.” He tells me “The card was published in about 1924 by Albert Edward Halls in Steyning. The demand for postcards was so strong that publishers grew up everywhere. Steyning had at least five postcard publishers in the first half of the 20th century.”

I have observed over the years the sense of community amongst collectors who are passionate about a particular subject, Nick confirms that this is true of postcard collectors too. I ask him where postcard collectors gather in Sussex in between his specialist postcard auctions at Toovey’s. He replies that he often attends the Haywards Heath International Postcard Fair which is held on the first Saturday of the month at Clair Hall, Perrymount Road, Haywards Heath, RH16 3DN. Nicholas Toovey will be at the fair this coming Saturday 5th March 2016, between 10.30am and 4pm with catalogues for the Maurice Stevens Collection for sale.

The Maurice Stevens Collection will be offered for sale by auction at Toovey’s, Spring Gardens, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BS on Tuesday 22nd March 2016. The printed catalogue is available from our offices for £5 (£7 by post in the UK) or you can view the catalogue by clicking here.

If you would like more information on the Maurice Stevens auction or the Haywards Heath International Postcard Fair you can contact Nicholas Toovey by telephoning 01903 891955 or emailing

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Feed the Guns!

It’s not always the most expensive lots that capture the attention of our valuation team here at Toovey’s. Such was the case when specialist Nicholas Toovey discovered a fascinating view in amongst a group of London postcards.

“At first I thought it had been put in the wrong collection” said Nicholas, who continued “the uncaptioned view would look more at home with similar unidentified views of Continental Europe, perhaps Belgium or France, that was until I turned it over!” Fortunately at some time in its history a helpful owner had identified the scene in pencil on the reverse – surprisingly this postcard actually depicts Trafalgar Square in London!

A curious scene unfamiliar to most, the ruined church tower covers the statue of General Gordon and the fountain has become part of a destroyed farm house, there is even a windmill. On closer inspection the people milling around are not soldiers but people walking around soaking in the atmosphere of this highly imaginative fund raising event. As they walked around the artificial trenches, visitors were invited to place money inside howitzers and a military truck, or purchase certificates from the modified breech of a captured German gun, thus giving the campaign the name ‘Feed the Guns Week’. Held in October 1918, this transformation in London was the main focus of a nationwide campaign to sell war bonds during the First World War. These efforts raised over £31 million nationwide with captured guns making appearances all round the country.

The postcard, Lot 3128, will be offered individually on the 11th August 2015 with an estimate of £25-35 in Toovey’s Auction of Paper Collectables. Despite its modest estimate, this postcard provides a fascinating glimpse into the past and is sure to delight a collector in the near future.

The Art Nouveau Postcards of Alphonse Mucha

‘Juin’ from the set of twelve postcards ‘Le Mois’ depicting the months of the year
‘Juin’ from the set of twelve postcards ‘Le Mois’ depicting the months

The artist Alphonse Mucha has been described as ‘monumental figure’ in the Art Nouveau Movement. His postcards are rare and highly sought after.

Art Nouveau was a reaction to academic art of the 19th century schools of Realism and Impressionism. It often combined forms and structures inspired by nature with curved lines.

Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey, comments “Throughout my career the postcards which have delivered the highest sums of money at auction have been postcards of Titanic interest, those relating to the Suffragettes and the Art Nouveau movement.”

Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey
Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey
Alphonse Mucha, postcard, after a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise
Alphonse Mucha, postcard, after a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise

I ask Nicholas about the collection of Mucha postcards already entered by a Sussex collector into his next specialist sale to be held on 11th August 2015. He replies “Alponse Mucha has always been prized by collectors for his artistic expression of the Art Nouveau. In my opinion he is the very best of the Art Nouveau artists.” Influenced by his relationship with Sarah Bernhardt, the leading actress of the Belle Epoch in 1870s France, Mucha produced posters, advertisements and menus in Paris. With the exception of ‘Le Mois’ and some other seasonal designs, his postcards are generally small images of large posters or cover designs. Rich in the symbolism of nature they idealize the female form. The fluidity of the arabesques of their hair and the foliage still engage the senses of the viewer today.

My eye is taken by a postcard of a lady in a white dress, her arms are outstretched and she is seated in a throne-like chair beneath a crescent design. Nicholas explains that this postcard is a copy of a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise which Mucha produced in 1898. He says “This card is very rare. It’s estimated that there are only between thirty-one and seventy-five examples in the world.” The palette is subdued, almost faded, which is typical of Mucha’s work. These particular postcards are chromolithographically printed, a form of colour printing developed in the 19th century.

The series ‘Le Mois’ is the most famous of the sets from the Paris publisher, F. Champenois, who issued most of Mucha’s graphic works. The twelve ‘Le Mois’ postcards have titles reflecting the months of the year, seen here is the card for June. Each provides a romantic Art Nouveau depiction of a young woman emblematic of the season.

‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’, a menu card distributed by Moet & Chandon
‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’, a menu card distributed by Moet & Chandon

Strict postal regulations at this date meant that you could only write the address and fix the stamp on the back of the card. Therefore, space was left for your message on the front. Nicholas explains that, although not detrimental to the value, a premium is always paid for them in such wonderful unused condition as seen in this example. Postcards by Mucha in this condition can achieve over £100 for a single card. But they still represent exceptional value to the collector seeking a period example of Mucha’s work.

In 1900 F. Champenois published a set of ten menu cards after watercolour designs by Mucha. These were distributed by, and bear the name of, the famous champagne house Moet & Chandon. The design allows space to write your menu framed by ‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’ who holds a vine.

Toovey’s next specialist sale of Postcards and Paper Collectables will be held on Tuesday 11th August 2015 and entries are still being accepted. Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is always pleased to offer advice whether you are interested in selling or acquiring postcards in this buoyant market. He is a member of the Postcard Traders Association and can be contacted on 01903 891955 or via

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th June 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Maiden Voyage for Titanic Letter at Toovey’s Auction

RMS Titanic off Cowes ©Toovey's
Postcard of RMS Titanic passing SY Alberta off Cowes
Original Titanic Letter at Toovey's Auction ©Toovey's
Titanic letter to be offered at Toovey's

The ill-fated maiden voyage of RMS Titanic is one of the most famous marine disasters of all time and needs little introduction. The sinking of the White Star Line ship on 15th April 1912, after colliding with an iceberg, was made ever-more memorable with the 1997 award-winning movie by James Cameron.

Titanic in Dock at Southampton ©Toovey's
Postcard of RMS Titanic in Dock at Southampton

A previously unrecorded and unpublished letter, to be offered in Toovey’s forthcoming auction of Paper Collectables, was written on board Titanic by the wealthy American heiress Georgette Alexandra Madill, later Mattei. It details that the 1st class passenger had arrived at Southampton at 11.30am and, after exploring the ship, had set sail at noon. It also states: ‘The “Oceanic” & “New York” were moored beyond us and just after we had left the dock the “New York” broke her cables & drifted into our stern – it was most exciting!’ This lesser-known incident was very nearly a serious accident, caused by the huge displacement of water that Titanic generated. The two smaller ships were lifted by the huge bulge of water, which dropped into a trough; SS City of New York’s cables could not take this sudden strain and snapped. New York drifted towards Titanic and it is reported that a collision was only a few feet away, but a nearby tugboat helped take New York out of the path of Titanic. Madill shared a cabin with her cousin, Miss Elisabeth Walton Allen, and was travelling with her mother, Mrs Elisabeth Walton Robin, and her maid, Miss Emilie Kreuchen. All four survived the disaster, being rescued in Lifeboat 2.

The 3-side letter, dated April 10 1912, is on RMS Titanic headed paper and was presumably sent to the recipient, Doris, from either of the stops at Cherbourg or Queenstown. It carries a £2000-4000 pre-sale estimate and will go under the gavel at Toovey’s on 24th February 2015. The letter was discovered by Toovey’s during a valuation for probate at a local property. The deceased’s family were completely unaware of the letter’s existence and have no knowledge of how the recipient, the deceased’s mother, had come to know Miss Madill.

Also included in the auction are a group of postcards featuring RMS Titanic, consigned by other vendors. They include a detailed photographic view of the ship moored at Southampton, a view of Titanic passing the sailing yacht Alberta off Cowes, written on the reverse by the yacht’s owner, and scenes relating to the unveiling of the Titanic Memorial in Portsmouth.

Postcard of the Unveiling of the Titanic Memorial ©Toovey's
Postcard of the Unveiling of the Titanic Memorial

Identifying the unidentified

For many collectors, research can be a source of great joy or, when unfruitful, great frustration. Today, in this age of the internet, a powerful resource of knowledge is literally at our fingertips. Most of us will now ‘Google’ the answer to something, rather than refer to a book. This was not the case in the late 1980s, however, when Mr Savory, a postcard collector from Northants, purchased a group of five postcards from a local fair. Filed under ‘Sussex’ in the dealer’s stock, with a hearsay attribution of being Littlehampton, the collector secured them for their military interest but obviously wanted to find out more. His quest to discover the incident pictured lead him to write a plea for help to the editor of the West Sussex Gazette. On May 21st 1987 nearly half of a page was dedicated to four of the five postcards. Readers of the newspaper wrote in, some with their snippets of facts and some with their reminiscences of these events or similar events. It was discovered that, although they all related to the Battle of Britain, they did in fact illustrate two different events.

Junkers 88A down at Pagham postcard auction ©2015 Toovey's
A series of four Battle of Britain postcards

Four of the postcards record the fate of a German bomber which took off on a sortie to attack the London Docks on 9th September 1940. It was a Junkers 88A, works no .0333, coded 4D+AD, of Stab 111/KG30. For those not familiar with such terms, it was an aircraft of the Staff Flight of the 3rd Wing of Kampfgeschwader (Bomber Group) 30. It was piloted by Gruppe Kommandeur Major Hackbarth and his crew comprised Oberfeldwebel Manger, Unteroffizier Sawallisch and Gefreiter Petermann. The first two survived but the other two died in an attack almost certainly launched from Kenley, probably by 253 Squadron Hurricanes but possibly by Spitfires of 66 Squadron. It was subsequently force-landed off Pagham at 5.50pm and soon after that is the moment the postcards start to capture the event. Two of the postcards depict British soldiers guarding the aircraft; another shows an injured member of the crew on a stretcher and the final view is of soldiers removing a spoil of war, the swastika from the tail, as a memento. One of the letters from a reader of the newspaper claimed that the removed tail panel resembled one in the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, which had been used during the war as a scoreboard by a Hampshire Territorial searchlight troop. Another reader stated that, as a curious local schoolboy in Pagham, he was inside the plane and removed the factory serial plate from the cockpit (long since lost), which gave the release date from the factory as the previous day!

Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor Auction ©2015 Toovey's
Postcard of Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore

The fifth postcard was originally believed to be part of the same series but, in fact, illustrates a separate event from the Battle of Britain. It shows Sgt. Cyril F. Babbage returning to shore at Bognor on 26th August 1940. He had been piloting a Spitfire X4188 of 602 Squadron Westhampnett (Goodwood airfield). A contemporary account was published in an unidentified newspaper, the clipping of which was offered by someone responding to Mr Savory’s plea. It stated:

A thrilling air battle was witnessed over a South-East Coast town on Monday afternoon during an air raid alarm, when machine gun fire rattled overhead, and the thuds of bombs were heard exploding in the distance, punctuated by sharp cracks of anti-aircraft guns… As soon as our ground defences held their fire nothing could be heard except the sharp rat-tat of machine guns… One of our fighter pilots during the engagement baled out of his plane, and could be seen descending towards the sea. He pitched in the sea about half a mile off shore, where he was picked up by some fisherman. He was brought ashore with cheers ringing in his ears from several hundred persons who flocked to the sea-shore, although the all-clear had not sounded, thus incidentally, exposing themselves to extreme danger.

The pilot was rowed to shore by two fisherman from Littlehampton and the ‘L.I.’ registration code on the boat was perhaps the clue for the original dealer’s attribution. The fishermen, Messrs N. & A. Ide and a member of the Ragless family, recalled that Babbage was smiling cheerfully as he had shot a Messerschmitt prior to two others setting upon him over Selsey Bill. It was Hauptman Mayer of 1/JG 53 that finally put him out of action at 4.43pm; he was taken to Bognor hospital ‘slightly hurt’. One West Sussex Gazette reader said that he subsequently went back to his squadron and ‘had a very chequered career, being shot down, or damaged in action at least three more times, during the Battle of Britain.’

Perhaps today Mr Savory would have typed in ‘crashed German plane on the Sussex coast’ or similar into a search engine and, after visiting swathes of results, found out all the information he needed. He would not, though, have found all the fascinating reminiscences that were relayed by readers of the West Sussex Gazette, among them an anecdote of a lady who dived into a stinging nettle patch fearful of a chasing plane, only to see the R.A.F. roundels pass overhead! It was this research that brought the postcards to life for Mr Savory and why these postcards gave him so much pleasure.

Having enjoyed the postcards ever since, Mr Savory has decided to sell the postcards at Toovey’s forthcoming auction of Paper Collectables on 24th February 2015, encouraged by the fantastic results achieved for Sussex postcards in these specialist auctions. The group of four photographic postcards of the German bomber at Pagham carry a pre-sale estimate of £70-100 and the single photographic postcard of Babbage’s return at Bognor will be offered separately at £30-50. In addition to Postcards, Toovey’s sales of Paper Collectables also include Stamps, Cigarette Cards, Autographs, Photographs and Ephemera.