Wednesday, September 9, 2015

63 Years and Counting: Elizabeth II

Every so often I attend an estate sale that includes British monarchy memorabilia.  A couple of weeks ago, I found a small collection of postcards that were issued to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth II.  

Since September 9, 2015 is the day that Elizabeth II became Britain's longest-reigning monarch (surpassing her great-grandmother Victoria), I thought it would be appropriate to share some of those postcards.

The first batch of cards were issued to commemorate Elizabeth II's coronation in June 1953, created by Valentine's for the consumer market.

Valentine's of Dundee was founded in 1851 by photographer James Valentine, who specialized in landscape views. In 1897, his sons, who had inherited the company, decided to get into the postcard business.

Elizabeth was only 25 when she became Queen in 1952. Her father, George VI, had died a few weeks before. And, as countless news stories have noted, she wasn't even the "heir presumptive" when she was born.  George VI only became King when his brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne.

This postcard, from 1937, is even labeled "The Heir Presumptive."

Also in the postcard collection were a number of cards from a series of 24, which came inside tobacco products from Godfrey Phillips Associated brands.

Other postcards from the series show members of the royal family.

One card shows an illustration of Westminster Abbey, where coronations are held.

Others show the ceremony itself.

Many of the rest of the cards from the series show what the well-dressed monarch wears.

Another postcard in the collection I found, shows a formal portrait of Queen Mary, George VI's wife and Elizabeth II's mother. The photograph was taken by Cecil Beaton, the famous portrait photographer who was also an Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer.

It was printed by Raphael Tuck & Sons, one of the preeminent publishers of postcards during the correspondence boom of the late 1800s-early 1900s.

My favorite card in the collection I found, is an official engagement photo of Elizabeth and Philip by The Times of London.

She reportedly fell in love with him when she was 13 years old, and they started writing letters.  They were married in November 1947.  If you look at pictures of them together today, you can see that their eyes still sparkle.  Perhaps their still being friends after nearly 70 years of marriage, is as significant to them -- in a different way -- as being heads of state for 63.


British Pathe' has archived much of its work on YouTube. Here's its coverage of the coronation of Elizabeth II:

And of her father, George VI, in 1937. Note that this is color footage, somewhat rare in its day.

This is my favorite newsreel footage of Elizabeth II -- not of her coronation, but in honor of her 18th birthday.  It also shows her at her father's coronation. (I get the impression that she is happiest when she is around horses.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Barty the Radio Cat

It's not uncommon, at estate sales, to find that someone has spent many decades collecting animal figurines. I often go to a sale and find a table or a shelf crammed with tiny ceramic owls, elephants, dogs, or turtles. 

Or cat figurines. At a sale I attended last month, I observed the estate of Margie and Norma, two spinster sisters who, putting it mildly, were devoted to cats. Margie had died in the 1970s and Norma passed away earlier this year, leaving behind them the mother of all cat collections, carefully kept in scrapbook albums, in boxes and on shelves.  There were literally thousands of ceramic and plastic and paper and fabric cats, all over the small house. I liberated a few of the ceramic cats.

Hagen-Renaker "Madame Fluff" Persian

Hagen-Renaker "Moonbeam" Persian kitten, designed by Maureen Love

Hagen-Renaker large lying Persian, designed by Maureen Love

I also ended up buying part of Margie and Norma's collection of cat postcards and greeting cards. Some dated back to the Edwardian era.

But most were from the mid-20th century.

Norcross Cards "Topaz" the kitten.

I was interested to see that, while most of the cats on the postcards were nameless, one was a unique sort of celebrity: Barty the Radio Cat, from Long Beach, California.

Decades before cats ruled the Internet, Barty had his own radio show.

To be specific, Barty was the co-host -- along with his owner, station manager Hal Nichols -- of a program called "Memory Room" on KFOX-AM 1280 in Long Beach, California. Barty was the station mascot, and from what I've read about him, he could purr on command.

Or perhaps he just purred all the time, and all Nichols had to do was hold the cat up to the microphone (or vice versa).  (The audience never would have known.)

It would have been a good job, being a Radio Station Cat.  Barty would have been able to spend quality time with his person in the cozy environment of radio master control. No one could see if he shed hair or drubbed his claws on the furniture.  Barty's fans could collect pins with his image (above), and he sent them postcards at Christmastime.

Hal Nichols was something of a pioneer in radio broadcasting. He was born in 1885, and became a professional musician after high school.  Here's one of his compositions, the Harmony Rag:

And another, the Black and Blue Rag:

As a musician, Nichols saw the potential of radio, and by 1920 he had started a station in Denver, Colorado. By the early 1920s, Nichols and his wife Dorothy had opened a radio store and started a radio station in Long Beach. By 1930, according to the US Census, they also owned a candy store. 

But Nichols' heart was in radio. As early as 1935, he was experimenting with an all-live format of music and talk. One report that I read, said that a high school kid named Spike Jones and his band used to play jazz on Nichols' station before school.

Sources from Back in the Day tell us that Barty the Radio Cat's career started in the 1940s, and lasted until 1953, when Hal Nichols died, probably of cancer.

Nichols' obituary in the LA Times reads: 

Funeral services for Hal G. Nichols, 68, pioneer radio station founder who died Wednesday night, will be conducted in Long Beach at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Holton & Son Chapel. Entombment will follow in Angelus Abbey Mausoleum. Mr. Nichols, who founded KFOX in March, 1924, leaves his widow Dorothy. He had been a resident of Long Beach for 31 years. At the time of his station's founding, it was one of but three in the Los Angeles area. Mr. Nichols had been ill for the last 10 years.

In old-school radio announcing classes, the instructor would tell the students to imagine not that they were speaking to thousands of people, but to one person. At its best, radio is the connection of the listener to the announcer, people who don't know each other but have something in common, something to share. In the case of Margie and Norma, and Hal and Barty, it was the love of music combined with the love of cats. 

A cat on the radio. A little unexpected, a little corny perhaps, but uplifting and kind, and something to look forward to every day.

Their listeners might not have known it at the time, but Barty the Radio Cat wasn't just purring on the radio. He was seeing Hal Nichols through his final illness.


Some sources of information on Barty and Hal: