I used to think that collecting was mainly a boy thing but I have long since revised my opinion. This was partly due to the Old Bat starting to collect plates, the decorative ones that are hung on walls. She ended up with the entire series of plates with animals painted on them - gorillas, lions, zebras and so on - and another smaller series illustrating London street criers such as the baked potato man, the hot chestnut seller and the milkman. The animal plates are now hung on the wall in the hall, while the street sellers are on the stairs. Well, they are actually on the wall beside the stairs.
As a boy, I had several collections: car numbers, then train numbers, then bus numbers. I half-heartedly collected cigarette cards and, more keenly, stamps. But my big "thing" was inn signs. Not the socking great name signs that you see hanging outside pubs but miniature versions of them.
Whitbreads was a Kentish brewery situated in the village of Wateringbury. They had pubs across Kent and into Sussex and south London - before they became a national chain - and were well-known for having decorative signs outside their pubs, signs with pictures rather than just the name of the pub as their main rivals, Shepherd Neame, did. Way back in the later 1940s somebody had a bright idea of a way to attract business. They produced aluminium miniatures of the inn signs of 50 of their pubs, each of the featured pubs being given a supply. These were to be given only to people buying drinks at the pub. They very quickly became collectors items for us schoolboys. There was, however, a problem. Well, two problems, really.
First, we had to encourage our fathers and other adults to visit the pubs whose signs had been produced in order to collect them. Then having acquired one of the signs, it had to be protected. being simply painted aluminium, it was easily scratched or bent. So we wrapped each sign in a sheet of toilet paper. This was not the soft tissue we know today but the hard stuff, usually Izal, which was fairly rough on one side but shiny on the other. It was somewhat thicker than tracing paper but could be used for that in an emergency.
I think the first three series - each of 50 - were produced in aluminium, but the 4th and 5th series were printed on card.
One of my favourites was the sign for a pub called the Startled Saint which stood close to the Battle of Britain airfield at West Malling.