Commemorating the Great War: Next-of-Kin Plaques

One of the most interesting exonumismatic items of the modern era comes from the first World War.

In 1917, while World War I raged, the British government set up a committee to create a memorial plaque to be sent to the next-of-kin of any British subject who died as a result of the war (this included those who died in training or from natural causes, so long as it was determined to be war-related.) A competition was held to design the plaque; the deadline for judging had to be extended when over 800 entries poured in from around the British Empire. The top designs won cash awards, and Mr. Edward Carter Preston’s design won the competition. His design features a large and powerful Britannia, with a growling lion. (Oddly enough, the zoo at Clifton in Bristol wrote to the Times to complain that the lion looked too small and feeble to properly represent the might of the British nation.) Two dolphins adorn the background near Britannia’s head to symbolize British naval power, and at the bottom of the design, a second lion sinks its teeth into a bird symbolizing the German nation. The initials of the designer appear above the lion’s foot. “He died for freedom and honor” appears around the rim of the design, per specifications from the design committee (for the women who died, the pronoun was changed accordingly.)


Several variants of the plaques exist. The manufacturing of the plaques moved to the Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory after production stalled at the original Acton facility. The Woolwich plaques feature a distinctive symbol, a W with a line across the center to form an A, stamped on the plaque’s blank reverse. The “H” in “HE DIED” on some plaques is narrower than others. Preston, the designer, made this change to accommodate the addition of an “S” for female honorees. The original wider H is mostly found on plaques for Army members. In addition to the designer’s initials, some plaques have a batch number stamped near the lion’s rear paw.



Scroll sent to next-of-kin of deceased servicemembers

These memorial plaques were created in the hundreds of thousands, with over six hundred known plaques presented to the next of kin of women who died in the service of the British Empire. Each recipient of a plaque also received a scroll, sent separately; both arrived with signatures from the king. Many of the war dead never had a plaque created for them, since no next of kin could be found. This may have been caused by poor families living in rental properties and moving without leaving forwarding addresses, names changing due to marriage, or even a soldier having no living next of kin for a plaque to be sent to. Record-keeping and information technology of the time simply had no way of tracking many families down.


Given the durability of the bronze plaques, the sheer number of memorials produced, and the honored status of the plaques, many are still in existence. (The scrolls, being much more fragile, are harder to find.) They are also known as a Dead Man’s Penny (though they are over 4 inches across), Widow’s Penny, or the Death Plaque. Miniature plaques can also be found; most are found with no names engraved on them. The prominent theory is that these were produced commercially, in hopes that other families members of a slain soldier might want their own memorial, and buy a small version to have engraved with their serviceman’s name on it. As these are found in abundance with no names, it does not seem to have been a profitable concept.


As with any memorial object, these plaques became objects of varied use. Many were displayed in homes with the accompanying scroll. Some were tucked away in attics or basements for storage. Many were lost or sold. But some were more creative, and more emotional.


In a small rural cemetery in Cork, Ireland, the Burke family has kept a family plot for decades. One stone stands out in particular. It has a concrete gravestone, topped with a stone cross, and bearing the plaques for three men: Stephen, Cornelius, and Edward Burke. The men themselves are likely not buried here, but the memorial plaques keep the record.  (For more details about the Burke family and this grave marker, please read the excellent post on the Irish Garrison Towns blog.)

Sales Tax Tokens. What are they?

In today’s world, in most states, sales tax is common place.  We pay it, we accept it and we move on.  At the turn of the 20th century, this was not the case.  Although several countries around the world had a sales tax of some sort, the idea had not been brought to the United States yet.

In 1921, a national 1% sales tax was proposed in a national finance bill.  It was not passed, much to the delight of farmers and other labor interests.  The state of  West Virginia took it upon themselves to implement a state wide sales tax of 1%, which would serve as an example for the rest of country later on.

By 1929, the Great Depression had struck and state governments were trying desperately to make up for the great loss in income tax and out pouring of relief funding due to the overwhelming increase in unemployment.  Many states started to look at West Virginia’s sales tax as a viable option for making up some of the lost revenue.  In 1929, Georgia adopted a state sales tax and by 1933, 11 other states had followed suit.


The one main problem with sales tax was the odd sales totals that were created.  The basic idea is as follows: Retailers would pay a tax on everything they sold.  This added cost was passed on to the consumer.  If, for example, a person bought something for 10 cents (remember, this is the 1930’s) and there was a 3% sales tax, the total for the item would be 10 cents plus three tenths of a cents for the tax.  Being as there was no three-tenths of a cent coin, the retailer would either lose money by rounding down, or upset the customer and over collect by rounding up.

Enter the sales tax token.

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sales tax tokens allowed for merchants to round up to the nearest cent with out over collecting (making a 10 cent item 11 cents).  The customer would pay the additional tax, and in exchange would receive a tax token that could be used to pay the sales tax on their next 10 cent purchase since, technically, they already paid it.

Confused yet?

Not only did people have to remember to bring their tax tokens along with them, but with over 500 different types and denominations from 12 states, people quickly grew confused and didn’t know what to use when or where.

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By the time World War II rolled around, ration tickets and food stamps were handed out, adding to the confusion.  Most states began dropping tax tokens altogether.  Missouri was the only state to come out of WWII with tax tokens still on their books.  In 1961, they finally dropped them.

By 1969, all but 5 states had enacted some type of sales tax and today that number remains the same today.  Although we no longer use tokens to keep things even, they do still exist in the world of collectibles.  We just came across some in our shop a few weeks ago. and have them listed on Ebay.  Check them out and consider adding this neat piece of history to your collection today.

Porcelain Dolls

The hype surrounding porcelain dolls is seen everywhere from classic literature to modern horror films.  Every little girl has looked with shining eyes at a pretty little porcelain doll at one point or another, admiring her perfect curling locks and dress stitched with care.  Produced since 18th century, thousands of porcelain dolls are manufactured yearly today.  Where did this fascination begin?

The first porcelain dolls, china dolls were manufactured predominantly in Germany starting in 1840.  They were made of white glazed porcelain with hand-painted features, stockings or boots and molded hair.  Often, these “old-fashioned” dolls were made to look like women, rather than children, with a body of cloth or leather and porcelain extremities.  Produced in large quantities reaching into the millions, these china dolls were soon replicated in America and China.  These original dolls differ from successors in their characteristic glossy appearance.


Soon to follow, parian dolls gained popularity with their unglazed porcelain faces and inset glass eyes from the 1850’s onward.  As the porcelain doll developed through World War I, they took on more complicated features and were given goat or human hair atop their porcelain heads.  As their reputation grew, every young affluent girl wanted one, necessitating industrial manufacturing of clothing and accessories for these fashion dolls.  Sometimes, Paris companies such as Jumeau and Bru would design the bodies while German companies manufactured heads.


A large shift in the industry and intended audience occurred as dolls were created to represent children, rather than grown-ups.  By the late 19th century, child-like figures overtook the market.  The most notable of these porcelain dolls were French bebes which grew in popularity between the 1860’s and 1880’s.  Made of the highest quality material and with great skill, these dolls weren’t produced for long before cheaper German imitations drove French bebes to a lesser quality and production cost.  The original bebes dolls are worth thousands of dollars on the collector’s market today.

With lower prices and increased production, porcelain dolls found their way into children’s hearts across the world.  Smaller unarticulated bisque dolls called penny dolls were popular into the early 1930’s when the United States began production.  Up until this point, porcelain dolls were viewed as toys rather than as collectables.  Artists such as Emma Clear first envisioned the porcelain doll as an elaborate and delicate collectable as hobbyist reproduction began in the United States.  By 1980 the hobby grew to include Europe, Australia and Great Britain and was of such great interest that large scale seminars were held by companies such as Seely’s and Wandke.  Many of these original dolls were created for an adult collector’s market.


Because so many variations of porcelain dolls have been in circulation, their value is contingent upon time period, location, material, manufacturer, quality and condition.  The most expensive doll ever sold was a rare and unique Kammer & Reinhardt bisque doll that sold for the hefty price of $373,417.  Desirable characteristics for collectors include consistent tone and slight translucency, artist craftsmanship, attention to detail and articulated bodies with wooden joints.  Most 1860-1890 fashion dolls go for at least $2,000 and can easily be worth more than $20,000 if from a well-known source such as Bru and Huret, while later, cheaper dolls might be worth only a few hundred dollars.

No matter the price, these fragile little ladies have always engendered wondrous fascination.  Still produced in large quantities today in China, they’re here to stay for little girls and collectors worldwide.

Colorful & Delightful German Notgeld

Notgeld is quite possibly the most beautiful currency around, which is why it’s so popular with collectors.

Notgeld comes in thousands of designs, all of which have beautiful colors or tell small stories in a tiny space. For any kind of currency, notgeld is remarkably colorful. Notgeld can be printed as a banknote, coin, or in another form.

If it’s not official currency, why was notgeld created in the first place?


During World War I, German villagers started making their own, local currency. Inflation had caused the material of coins to have a higher value than the coins’ denominations, causing people and businesses to start hoarding the coins. Said metals were also needed for war supplies, making coins less common and paper banknotes more practical.

Towns and villages started making their own currency. The first notgeld wasn’t so exciting; the issues were not colorful and existed only for practical purposes. However, later notgeld featured local buildings and landmarks, making each kind of notgeld more personal for locals.

If a German banknote has Reichbanknote written on it, it’s a note created by the state and is not notgeld.

Not = emergency or necessity

Geld = money



Soon, collectors noticed notgeld for its lovely colors. Printers started making sets even after they ceased to meet any economic demand. These were the more colorful sets, which included local folklore stories. These sets, which didn’t go into circulation, were called Serienscheine. They were produced up until 1922.

Germany saw a hyperinflation starting in 1922, causing the need for new runs of notgeld in order to keep up with inflation. But soon other materials became their own kinds of notgeld, like wheat, rye, sugar, coal, or gold, as pieces with a fixed value.

The rarest kind of notgeld is made of coal dust. Coal notgeld burned for fuel, making a coal piece a rare find.

Germany was not the only country to print notgeld: Sweden, Belgium and France also printed notgeld (coins or currency) at one time or another.

A Brief History of the Postcard

For as long as the postal system has existed, people have been posting cards in the mail. The cards just weren’t labeled as postcards yet.

The first known “postcard” lookalike went through the mail in 1840, painted on the front and sent to English writer Theodore Hook with a penny black stamp. Rumors say he sent the card to himself as a taunt to postal workers, judging by the postal worker caricatures painted on the card.

Postcards officially happened in 1861 when H. L. Lipman bought the patent for commercially available cards. Said cards had a decorative border and not much else, allowing plenty of space for writing the address on the front and a full space on the other side for the note. Writing took priority over any pretty pictures.


A postcard with an undivided back.

The first postcard with a printed image came in 1870. Camp Conlie, a training camp for soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war, made a lithographed design with the inscription “War of 1870. Camp Conlie. Souvenir of the National Defence. Army of Brittany”. However, these cards may have been sent in envelopes, making them less postcard-like.

The Edwardians brought postcard fads to a whole new level. They used postcards (thus renamed from “private mailing cards”) for sending information on every little thing going on in their lives, not unlike today’s text messaging and social media. This was the age of postcards with undivided backs, when people could only write on the front of the card.

An Edwardian postcard showing a little girl with a crown of flowers.

An Edwardian postcard.

During WWI postcards were popularly sent from soldiers. These “silks” were high quality cards and frequently passed from soldiers to family members as a way of greeting.

In the 1920s, dyes grew brighter and postcards became embossed to help with the new kind of ink. Humorous postcards also became very popular around this time.

Linen postcards entered the market from 1931 to 1959. Though not actually made out of linen, these cards had a linen-like texture to them. Many popular postcard companies made these at the time, like Curt Teich, E. C. Kropp, and more.

A typical British seaside postcard

A typical British seaside postcard

In the 1950s, Donald McGill and other artists made numerous successful British seaside postcards, many of which made innuendos and double entendres. The British government became concerned about Britain’s morals and made the decision to prosecute Donald McGill for obscenity. Though his postcards weren’t the most risque at the time, he was more popular than other postcard artists, making him the messenger to other risque postcard artists.

The 1980s did see a resurgence of seaside postcards with much more risque images, this time without the restrictions of the 1950s to stop their publication. Less saucy postcards of the British seaside still continue in popularity today.

In later years, postcards have become a conglomeration of subjects, with no one subject or material being more popular than the other. But postcards still stand their ground as essential tourism items and ways to say hello to loved ones in print.

World War I Silk Embroidered Postcards

Embroidered postcards made their first appearance at the 1900 Paris Exhibition. Collectors can still find these lovely cards today, though it’s difficult to find them in great condition since many have faded from being placed on window sills or displayed close to sunlight.

Embroidered postcards reached a level of popularity during WWI from 1914-1918 that would never be reached again, thanks to soldiers on duty who would send these bright, colorful cards home to loved ones.

You won’t get this level of detail from any postcards today. It was mostly French and Belgian women refugees who hand-embroidered the designs onto silk mesh, which were then sent to factories for putting on postcard material.

Many of these postcards were actually envelopes, prepped for carrying even smaller cards with sentiments like “To my dear Mother.”

Up to 10 million handmade cards were made during the war!

These postcards became very popular with British and American soldiers in France. You can clearly see the patriotic themes in the cards; almost all of them have British, French, or American flags.

Starting in 1930, machines made simpler cards with less character; the unique silks had lost their time in the sun.  But if you’re lucky you can still find and own these special historical postcards.



Propaganda cards

Library of Birmingham

Vintage Blog

The Tales Behind World War I Postcards

A number of vintage postcards from the era of WWI give us insight into the thoughts of the people living through the war. Some are insightful and some are a little ridiculous, showing the rumors surrounding battle.

One of the more science fiction-y postcards emerged from the invention of tanks. Before many had even seen the things, artists drew what they thought the tanks actually looked like, making for amusing illustrations.

The drawings were probably influenced by this gem from The Times: “the gratifying fact seems to be, that our inventors have not hesitated boldly to tread unbeaten paths…unearthly monsters eased in steel, spitting fire, and crawling laboriously but unceaselessly over trenches, barbed wire, and shell craters, which, had they been conceived by imaginative novelists, would have been regarded fantastical.”

tank 2 [1600x1200].jpg.opt605x387o0,0s605x387

Notice the pincers on the front.

Another WWI postcard shows an account of a popular legend, which tells the story of St. George and an army of medieval English bowmen appearing in the sky during battle and shooting spectral arrows at the Germans. In later stories the bowmen became angels, and people often heard through the grapevine about soldiers seeing angels on the field “with their own eyes”.

This inspired this postcard, featuring art by W. H. Margetson:

mons 2 [1600x1200].jpg.opt322x522o0,0s322x522

“The Angels of Mons”

Another war story surrounded by rumor involved zeppelins. Rumors in the British Isles claimed that there was a secret German base nearby that flew over towns at night. While this rumor was dismissed, another zeppelin event did occur that later showed up on a postcard. Zeppelin SL20 was seen in the sky and pilots climbed their planes into the sky to shoot it down. Soon, the zeppelin caught fire and fell to the ground.

An unknown artist depicted the event, showing the moment when the flaming mass fell out of the sky, surrounded by spotlights and glimpses of surrounding planes. The moment is frozen on this postcard:

Zep 2 [1600x1200].jpg.opt289x450o0,0s289x450

These are just a few of the postcards that give glimpses into the tales surrounding WWI. There are many more out there to keep your eyes open for!

Have you ever ran into vintage postcards that give great snapshots of moments in history? Let us know in the comments!

How to Start Your Own Victory Garden

Winter is on its way, but some of us are already dreaming of spring. And why not put that anticipation of spring to good use?

During World War I and World War II, the government promoted the creation of “victory gardens” or “war gardens”, vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted on private property and public parks.

On a similar vein, Seattle, WA has confirmed plans to build a “Food Forest” full of fruit trees, herbs, and more, all available to the public free of charge.

Creating victory gardens helped with multiple things at once. The public food system was becoming overburdened, and if citizens created their own gardens, more factory food could be shipped to soldiers. They also made people feel like they were truly contributing to the war effort and boosted morale.


“A Victory Garden is like a share in an airplane factory. It helps win the War and pays dividends too.” -Claude R. Wickard

Victory gardens can be just as useful today – for slightly different reasons. With a growing movement toward at-home solutions, self-reliance, and locally grown foods, victory gardens fit right into place.

So how do you start your own? With perseverance, yard space, and some seeds.

  • Planning is important, which is why you should take the winter season to read up on gardening and the right plants for your area of the world.


  • Pick your plants. Which veggies, fruits or herbs do you eat the most often? If you’re new to gardening, which ones are the easiest to grow?
  • Decide where to plant your garden. Will you pick a nice patch in your backyard, or will you need to use creative containers like window boxes?

With some patience and reading up, a victory garden can be yours!


Victory Garden Informational pdf
As usual, Wikipedia
Starting a Victory Garden
Wartime Educational Film