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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Gilbert and Sullivan Postcards
by John Cannon and Brian Jones

CONTENTS

  1894 - The Origin of Theatrical Postcards in Britain
1. Raphael Tuck & Sons
2. Rotary Cards
3. Parkslee
4. G and S, Gilbertian and Savoyard cards
5. Beagles - J. B.& Co
6. "D'Oyly Carte Opera Co" cards
7. Daily Sketch
8. J. C. Williamson Co, Australia
9. Other Publishers
10. Advertising Cards for Amateur Societies
11. Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte
12. Sullivan hymns, songs etc.
13. Gilbert’s works
14. American cards
15. Cards from other countries
16. Oddities
  Rarity and Value

1894 - The Origin of Theatrical Postcards in Britain

On 1st September 1894, at least a decade after Germany and other European countries had allowed it, the Post Office permitted cards published and sold privately and commercially to be sent through the post with a postage stamp affixed. Prior to that date, cards could only be mailed in a containing envelope. Initially cards sold in Britain were imported from Europe, since only European publishers had the experience and the printing technology. British importers quickly commissioned cards with British words and scenes. Some cards of British actors and actresses were printed in Europe, mainly Germany, before the turn of the century. A portrait of Rosina Brandram, numbered 7728, has on its back the credit "Published by Riesen Bros. & Co, London E.C. Produced in Berlin." The style of dress, from which a bustle has been blanked out, and the deep dark black of Rosina's hair, look more like 1890 than 1900. This same card, also numbered 7728, was published by Rotophot, known to have been active by 1902. A youthful portrait of Henry Lytton is numbered "CB Co 1198. Produced in Berlin." The example seen was hand-dated 27th May 1902, and post-marked on that date, but the card was probably produced a little earlier.

Up to 1902, the back of the card had no dividing line, and could carry only the address. Some cards allowed a little space for writing on the front, but others did not, and recipients had either to guess the sender, or recognise the handwriting. Messages such as "See you next Wednesday" or "Love to all" had to be squeezed in around the margin, or even on the lighter coloured parts of the photographs. White dresses, bare arms and decolletages were especially subject to these intrusions. Early cards were usually produced without numbers.

In 1901 an unnumbered portrait of Isabel Jay as Patience was issued by Rotary. A photograph taken at the same session, of Jay with a swing, appeared as a whole-page illustration in The Sketch on 23rd January 1901. This is believed to be the earliest card of a Gilbert and Sullivan artist produced in Britain. Rotary later published this photograph with the number 159A.

The issue also carried a beautiful whole-page photograph of Agnes Fraser as Lady Ella, which was published as Beagles 106A. Both illustrations appear to have been shot in a studio, and indeed the swing, far from being part of the Patience set, has been seen several times in illustrations of other actresses unconnected with the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

Another very early card is of Isabel Jay as Phyllis in Iolanthe, published by APPS, Rickmansworth and numbered 366.

The period from 1900 to 1914 was the absolute heyday of postcards in Britain. They were produced in huge numbers until the outbreak of war in August 1914. There was no chance for cards to be used in the same profusion after the Armistice - the inland postage rate for a card had by 1918 increased from a halfpenny (£0.002) to the astronomical sum of a whole penny (£0.004)! As we shall show, postcards continued to be produced from 1918 onwards, but there was a significant change in the reason for their use. In the early days of postcards, there was a postage rate differential: it was cheaper to use postcards since letters needed a penny stamp. From 1918, postcards were generally bought to be collected and saved - it is much rarer to see Gilbert and Sullivan cards which have been sent through the post.

In addition to cards showing scenes from the Savoy Operas, there are many hundreds which feature famous D'Oyly Carte artists in other roles. An extreme example is Isabel Jay. Although she retired from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in March 1902, when she married, she returned to the stage in 1903 in A Country Girl, and then starred in a further ten musical comedies during the following eight years. She was a willing sitter, an extremely pretty girl and her two stage careers coincided with the peak of postcard production. Over 400 different cards of her were issued. Other D'Oyly Carte artists who inspired large numbers of cards included Ruth Vincent, Louie Pounds, Decima Moore, Henry Lytton, C. H. Workman, Robert Evett and Walter Passmore.

1. Raphael Tuck & Sons

Raphael Tuck & Sons was founded as a publisher of Christmas cards. In 1881, they registered a trademark of an artist's easel, palette and brushes beside the initials R. T.& S. Tuck consistently lived up to this symbol with the high quality of their published material. The first Tuck cards were topographical (London and the Thames), but they quickly extended into a huge range of subjects, including humorous cards and paintings by major artists such as Turner.

In August 1902, Play Pictorial magazine began publishing sumptuous photographs, synopses, etc of West End shows. Several are of particular interest because they feature D'Oyly Carte artists such as Barrington, Brandram and Lytton in other plays. The Tuck Play Pictorial cards were drawn mainly from photographs in the magazine, but fortunately material not published in the magazine was also used. We say ‘fortunately', because four sets in the series are of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Tuck probably began issuing their series of theatrical cards in 1903 or 1904, starting with their Play Pictorial series, based on photographs of dramatic scenes published in that magazine. Tuck did not restrict their publication of cards to plays featured in Play Pictorial, and sets of cards were produced for The Yeomen of the Guard,The Gondoliers, Patience and Iolanthe, the four operas in the First Repertory Season at the Savoy Theatre which began in December 1906.

Tuck had a system of identifying their cards with the letter T and a number. The cards from the four operas are numbered in the same order as that in which they were presented on stage (i.e. as shown above). The Yeomen of the Guard cards are unusual in that they do not name the artists - clearly most are the artists playing the roles at the Savoy, but on the ‘Were I thy bride' card at least, Jessie Rose has been replaced by understudy Norah McLeod. Tuck may have omitted the names to avoid having to admit that they were using an understudy. There are six scenes from this opera: T865 - T870. Some sets were printed with The omitted from the title. As we shall see later with the Parkslee cards, there were several reprintings, some carried out in a hurry.

Similarly, there are six scenes from The Gondoliers - T926 to T931. From Patience, we know of only three scenes - T1075 to T1077, and from Iolanthe there are six - T1165 to T1170. All the cards for these three operas have the artists listed in the captions. As other earlier Tuck cards always meticulously credited the artists, it may simply be that they were so keen to bring out the cards for The Yeomen of the Guard that they could not wait for the information to be supplied from the Savoy Theatre. Some cards were issued in Tuck's 'Celebrities of the Stage' series, where the usual practice was to give names of artists only, although T1171 admits rather grudgingly that Lytton and Dow were in Iolanthe.

In Issue 10, Play Pictorial offered four sets, each of twelve cards for sixpence (2½p!) but the norm was to produce sets of six. Six cards were produced for The Yeomen of the Guard,The Gondoliers,Patience and Iolanthe. The emphasis was on pretty girls.

Tuck also published cards of individual artists in Gilbert and Sullivan roles, many of them in the Tuck ‘Celebrities of the Stage' series. Sometimes an artist would be given a mini-series -T856 to T860 all feature Marie Wilson as Kate, which is a small role, with only one song, but Marie Wilson was an extremely pretty girl! Jessie Rose also occupies three cards - T994 to T996, and T995 is reprinted as a ‘Tuck's Framed Gem’, coloured, reduced in size and surrounded by an elegant raised frame. Tuck, as the artistic publisher, was often not content with merely reproducing a stage or studio photograph. The great comic cat artist Louis Wain produced at least three Gilbert and Sullivan cards for Tuck. As a tribute to the 1901 Savoy production of Iolanthe, a cat in Lord Chancellor's robes is ‘Walter Passmore', another cat is ‘Powis Pinder' as Lord Mountararat. Within a series of popular song titles, one Louis Wain drawing featuring three pert little cats in Japanese robes with fans is captioned ‘Three Little Maids’.

Among the early plays featured by Tuck was A Princess of Kensington, presented at the Savoy Theatre in 1903, with many of original Savoyards. Two sets of cards were published, numbered as 10I and 10II.

2. Rotary Cards

The Rotary Photographic Company took its name from the fact that it specialised in printing cards on rotary presses. Founded in 1901, the firm occupied several different addresses in the City (EC) area. If Tuck based its excellence on the artist's palette, Rotary looked to their superiority in new printing technology. Rotary published a great many cards showing actors, actresses and theatrical scenes. The earliest cards were not numbered, but later the pattern was to number a set and subdivide the set with letters A, B, C. Some sets show operas, musical comedies, or plays, while others are dedicated to individual artists.

However, there is still rich scope for research into Gilbert and Sullivan artists on Rotary cards. There are several series featuring individual artists both in Gilbert and Sullivan and in other roles. We know of ten cards from the 1103 series on Rutland Barrington, which includes him as Captain Corcoran, Pooh-Bah, Amasis IX, as a portrait and as a portrait with Henry Lytton. Lytton himself appears in the 1584 series, as Dick Deadeye, the Pirate King and the Mikado, also as a portrait, and in no fewer than three different poses as Aristide Vert from The Little Michus. He had been previously featured with his daughter Ida on 1298A and 1298B.

As with the other publishers, Rotary sometimes issued the same card with two or more numbers. The photo of Lytton as the Mikado on 7429A at the start of The Mikado series also appears as 1548E in the Lytton series. Identical cards of Barrington as Pooh-Bah are numbered 1103F and 7429F. Details from photographic scenes from the operas were sometimes used to form part of an individual artist's series. Thus C. H. Workman as Ko-Ko on 2363A is a detail from 7429B. As a slight variation, Clara Dow on 4957B, wrongly captioned as Iolanthe, is a close-up from 4957A which is correctly captioned as Phyllis. An early Rotary, numbered 159A, shows Isabel Jay, as Patience and sitting on a swing. This, like the un-numbered card mentioned as Britain's earliest Gilbert and Sullivan postcard, owes its origin to the photographic session which produced The Graphic illustration in April 1901.

3. Parkslee

These cards feature the D'Oyly Carte artists of the early 1920s, and the main series is confined to artists in the Principal Company. The name was formed from a combination of the surnames of two D'Oyly Carte choristers: James Parkinson and H. R. Sleigh. This explains the spelling ‘Parksle' which occurs on many cards - perhaps it is more correct than the more easily pronounceable Parkslee. Parkslee was very much an ad hoc organisation, depending mainly on photographs used to publicise the operas in the theatres. Almost certainly they used a variety of printers as the Company travelled on its tours. H. R. Sleigh left the Company in July 1924, but James Parkinson continued in the chorus until December 1926, and was promoted to minor roles such as the Foreman in TJ and the Solicitor in PC. The enterprise ended when Parkinson left. Parkinson appeared in the New Company's first ever season from September 1919 to June 1920. Sleigh, as Hubert Sleigh, sang for three weeks with the New Company before returning to the main company.

There were probably about 280 Parkslee cards in total. Each is inscribed: "Published by Parkslee Pictures. D'Oyly Carte Opera Co." All are numbered - the main series from 1 to 172, and the B series from 1 to 101. The series started in the autumn of 1921. The B series features mainly artists from the New Company and started one year later. The last new additions to the series were probably made in the summer of 1926: Dorothy Gill appears as the Duchess on B88 and Ruth on B89, and she did not take over these roles in the New Company until 5 July 1926.

Most cards show single artists, the majority of whom are in costume. There are four ‘doubles' - No. 28 shows Bertha Lewis (Lady Jane) triumphantly carrying off-stage an apprehensive Henry Lytton (Bunthorne), and No. 31 shows Sydney Granville as Samuel and Leo Sheffield as the Sergeant of Police. B98 is a double portrait of Marjorie Eyre and Leslie Rands off-stage, and they appear together as Patience and Grosvenor in B99.

The Last Night Souvenir of the 1919-20 London season featured photographs from operas given during that season. Some of these were later to be used as Parkslee cards. In some cases, individual artists have been chopped out from on-stage duos. Leo Sheffield (Pooh-Bah) is alone in Parkslee 65, but with Nellie Briercliffe (Pitti-Sing) in the Souvenir. Oddest of all is the fate of the two Gondoliers. Derek Oldham (Marco) is standing beside Frederick Hobbs in the Souvenir, but Hobbs left the company in the summer of 1920, so on Parkslee 26 Derek Oldham is seen alone, and extra sections of the steps have been added to cover his absence.

Lytton's status in the Company at the start of the main series was overwhelming. Cards 1-8 are all of Lytton in the comic roles; 9 is Lytton off-stage. He appears in no fewer than 12 of the first 28 cards. What is more, his influence also extended to the back of the card. Many of the early cards, right up to No 76, are stamped with the following legend: "The Secrets of a Savoyard by Henry A. Lytton. 6/- net, 6/6 post free. To make sure of a Copy of the First Edition, write to the author." The address section of the card is left unmarked, but nearly all the writing space is taken up by Lytton's message. Little space was left for anyone to write to friends or relatives.

The collection is quite clearly based on the publicity material supplied by the Company itself. Pre-1921 photographs are identical to the Parkslee pictures, but are not overprinted nor marked out as a postcard. The prime purpose of the material was for use by the Advance Manager, for front-of-house displays, press releases, etc. On most Parkslee pictures there is no ‘credit' for the photographer, most having been taken by D'Oyly Carte's regular photographer(s). However, sometimes pictures from other photographers had to be included, possibly because of a change of artist or role during a tour.

As early as No. 17 in the main series, Catherine Ferguson as Tessa is credited to "Nunn, Brighton", and so are several other shots of this artist. Catherine had been with the Company since January 1918, but it is interesting to note in Rollins & Witts that the Company had spent three weeks in Brighton, starting on 18 July, at the start of its 1921-22 tour. Catherine must have had a series of photographic sessions then. Geoffrey Stuart of Plymouth (3 weeks from 8 August), Bassano Ltd., H. C. Hughes of London and Patersons of Glasgow are all credited within the first 60 cards. Perhaps the oddest credit of all is the No. 48 off-stage portrait of Henry Lytton, taken by Whitlock of Wolverhampton. The Company must have had dozens of pictures of Lytton, so why send to far-flung Wolverhampton? The reason may be that the Whitlock photograph made him look particularly dapper, but it is only fair to point out that the Company was in Wolverhampton for two weeks from 12 September 1921.

There are occasional signs of panic. Martyn Green made his debut with the New Company in Northampton on 6 November 1922, singing Luiz at Crewe a fortnight later. What could have been more natural than for Parkslee to issue a portrait of him as Luiz? In fact B8 shows Martyn Green as Captain Paul Petrov in Sybil. In case you are racking your brain as to which Gilbert and Sullivan opera or D'Oyly Carte production this role belongs to, the answer is none. Sybil by the Hungarian composer Victor Jacobi had been a big success at Daly's Theatre, and Green had taken part in the subsequent provincial tour which ended in May 1922. So the picture has nothing at all to do with D'Oyly Carte - it must have been the only shot of Martyn Green available at the time.

As we look through the Parkslee series, every picture tells a story. There are the bright young singing stars like Elsie Griffin and Winifred Lawson, daringly recruited by Rupert D'Oyly Carte and not at all in the old tradition. There is poor Helen Gilliland, who was "absolutely terrified" when the first bombs fell during a Zeppelin attack at the precise moment when she was singing ‘The Sun whose Rays' at the old Kennington Theatre, and was later to die when the ship with her ENSA party and all hands was sunk by the Japanese during the Second World War.

The real rarities are the later cards, especially those in the B series. We do not know, for example, who is featured on B2-6, B8-11, B15, B17-29, B3l-­40, B42-51, B53, B56-57, B67, B69, B73-75, B77-84, B90-93 and B97. Unknown numbers in the main series are 118, 122, 123 and 142. A possible explanation for a missing number is that it was assigned to an artist who immediately or shortly afterwards was replaced in the role. It is also possible that Parkinson and Sleigh may have made mistakes in assigning numbers. As we shall see in the listing, there are several examples where they used the same number twice! Any information would be gratefully received.

4. G and S, Gilbertian and Savoyard cards

In the 1950s two members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Neville Griffiths and Frederick Sinden, photographed fellow members in costume and supplied un-numbered postcards on a limited scale, jointly under the title ‘G and S'. At that time, they insisted it stood for Griffiths and Sinden - what else could it have stood for? They later published individually as ‘Gilbertian' and ‘Savoyard' cards. In total there are at least 120 of these cards.

5. Beagles - J. B.& Co

The J. Beagles & Co firm of postcard publishers was established in 1903, and became a Limited Company in 1908.

Like Rotary, their expertise was in printing technology. Many cards were imprinted J. B.& Co, though the full Beagles name was also used. Unusually, many Beagles cards were printed in a matt finish. Several artists had both matt and glossy versions of identical photographs, often with a slightly different number to make the distinction clear.

6. "D'Oyly Carte Opera Co." cards

Cards were issued with the imprint ‘D'Oyly Carte Opera Co'. Some were credited to the Stage Photo Co. Several are of artists from the New Company. In the Gilbert and Sullivan Society museum, a card of Gertrude Wolfle as lolanthe identified as Parksle B86 is signed ‘Yours immortally' and dated 1/10/27. Alongside is a card of her as Lady Angela, PC, signed ‘Yours aesthetically' and dated July 1927, but without any Parksle imprint. It therefore seems possible that some of these "D'Oyly Carte Opera Co" cards may have been intended for some of the missing numbers in the B series. The primary influence in selecting artists and roles seems to have been the preference of individual artists. Several are of artists in roles not usually played, and there is a preponderance of cards showing Sydney Granville, at least six being of roles he did not play before 1928.

7. Daily Sketch

A clue to dating is that soprano Phyllis Dicksee features in several of these cards. She was with the company only from December 1917 until April 1919, and her cards are numbered. Others featuring long-serving artists such as Lytton and Bertha Lewis are not, so they were probably issued before the Dicksee cards. Helen Gilliland, who joined in July 1917 had one numbered card, and another which was not.

8. J. C. Williamson Co., Australia

J. C. Williamson secured the Australian rights and opened as Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore in Sydney in November 1879. His company became a major producer of musical theatre, presenting tours in Australasia, India and the Far East. Close links were maintained with D'Oyly Carte, and many Savoy artists later worked with Williamson. At least seven cards dating from c. 1905 were published with the imprint ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Co’. A card with a different imprint features Williamson himself.

9. Other Publishers

Some provincial publishers produced cards of special interest because they photographed the artists in local studios, rather than relying on publicity pictures offered by the company. Often the initiative (and the printing cost) came from individual actors, not the advance manager. In about 1912, the Oxford firm of Hills & Saunders produced six cards - two of Lytton, three of the attractive young soprano Olive Turner, and one of Lytton and Turner together in The Yeomen of the Guard. Similarly, Paterson's of Glasgow produced cards of Sydney Granville and Clara Dow. There are many cards by Philco of Marie Wilson as Casilda in The Gondoliers.

10. Advertising Cards for Amateur Societies

Between about 1912 and World War II professionally produced illustrated cards were used as promotional material by some amateur operatic societies. The majority of these cards were supplied by Stafford and Co. Ltd. of Nottingham, to be over-printed locally with details of productions, as were Stafford's more well-known posters. Once societies had tried using publicity postcards, they were likely to continue their use with future productions.

11. Gilbert, Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte

Some cards are associated only with Gilbert or Sullivan, and a few even relate only to Richard D'Oyly Carte. These include reproductions of well-known portraits of Gilbert by Frank Holl, and Sullivan by Millais, housed in the National Portrait Gallery, and of Gilbert and Carte cartoons by Spy and of Sullivan by Ape which appeared in Vanity Fair.

Carte's former home on D'Oyly Carte Island at Weybridge appears on at least 20 cards, with a variety of captions including D’Oyley Carte Island’ (sic), ‘D'Oyle Carte House' (sic), ‘Eyot House' and ‘The Thames at Weybridge'. Early cards of the Savoy Hotel are rare, but not impossible to find.

Portraits of Sullivan appeared above a few bars of ‘The Lost Chord’ on a card by G. W. Faulkner and Co (number 503C) and in the Rotary Photographic Plate Sunk Gem Series (number P1740C). Other portraits originated in Germany. In France, Sullivan shared an early postcard with Smetana. This featured portraits and potted biographies of the two composers and was published in Sullivan’s lifetime. (Publiée par la Quinzaine Musicale Librairie Hachette).

12. Sullivan hymns, songs etc.

Sullivan works featured on postcards include ‘The Lost Chord', ‘The Absent-minded Beggar', ‘The Light of the World', ‘Onward Christian Soldiers', ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor', ‘Little Maid of Arcadee’, ‘Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes', ‘The Sailor's Grave', ‘Will he Come?', and ‘Let me Dream Again'. Listing these would be far from straightforward, since a number of different publishers are involved, some cards were published anonymously, and the cards are by no means all numbered.

The tremendous popularity of Sullivan's 1877 parlour ballad ‘The Lost Chord', which was in 1938 voted among the six most popular songs ever written, is reflected in its postcard coverage. At least 40 cards were issued, most of which are of a serious nature, although a few are humorous. Bamforth and Co. Ltd. issued four sets each of four cards i.e. one card per verse in each set. The only sepia set is unnumbered, and three coloured sets are 4504/1 to 4, 4622/1 to 4 and 4830/1 to 4 respectively. All 16 of these cards, together with some others, depict a reflective lady organist surmounted in most cases by hovering angels. Bamforth and Co also issued a set of four ‘Onward Christian Soldiers' cards in their Hymn Series (numbers 4968/1 to 4). People sometimes think that the characters in these cards might be D’Oyly Carte artists. In fact, Bamforth was a publisher based in the village of Holmfirth in Yorkshire, and a very high proportion of the models are members of the Bamforth family.

A mischievous child looking out of a window on a Bamforth card with the caption "The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra…la… la" may well be a member of the Bamforth dynasty.

13. Gilbert’s works

Only three of Gilbert’s works without Sullivan are known to be represented on postcards. Most are of The Fairy's Dilemma, and by a variety of publishers. The other cards are Ben Greet in Creatures of Impulse and Mary Anderson and Julia Neilson in Pygmalion and Galatea. None of these artists created the role; the latter two plays are revivals long after the first production. These examples owe their existence to the popularity of the artists rather than to that of Gilbert.

Gilbert of course has a stake in the "Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes" cards mentioned in Section 12.

14. American cards

Although we do not know of any major imprint based in North America, a few cards were published for individual productions. For instance, a single turn-of-the-century card of The Mikado at Contoocock River, Concord, New Hampshire shows a curtain call scene in colour.

A novel promotional approach was adopted for the Winthrop Ames season at the Plymouth Theatre, New York City in 1926. Quotations from glowing newspaper reviews such as "Charming, admirable … a delighted audience chuckled over Iolanthe with much glee and gusto" were surmounted by artists in costume posing on set. Two different pairs of photographs appeared on the Iolanthe cards. The first card showed three fairies plus the Lord Chancellor, Mountararat and Tolloller. The second paired the Queen of Fairies and Private Willis with Phyllis, Strephon and the Lord Chancellor. The backs of these cards were overprinted with the message: "I have just seen Winthrop Ames' production of Iolanthe at Plymouth Theatre. Why not let one of your friends know how much you have enjoyed Iolanthe? If you will address this card and give it to one of the ushers, we will post it for you." Just in case the audience was still slow to seize the opportunity, the stamp square bore the instruction: "Hand to Usher and the Management Will Stamp and Mail." A card advertising The Mikado and featuring five characters comes from the same stable.

A rarity of a similar vintage shows a portrait of DeWolf Hopper and five separate pictures of him as Sir Joseph Porter, the Lord Chancellor, Ko-Ko, Major General Stanley and Jack Point. The card explains "This is DeWolf Hopper and these are the characters he plays so wonderfully well – Coming to this city."

The Artview Postcard Company published a postcard of the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Theatre in Monmouth, Maine. From the very end of the 1930s comes a photograph of Jean Colin as Yum-Yum in the 1939 film of The Mikado.

15. Cards from other countries

Cards tend to appear wherever the operas are played, and Danish cards of the Three Little Maids and Yum-Yum at the Central Theatre, Copenhagen have come to our notice. A Hungarian card features the Savoyard actress Ilka Palmay who created the role of Julia Jellicoe in The Grand Duke. She too is playing Yum-Yum.

German and French cards are referred to in Section 11.

16. Oddities

High ranking for oddity goes to a series of North American cartoon cards sharing the caption ‘Let the Punishment fit the Crime'. Some ‘comic cards’, as postcard traders term them, come to the attention of Gilbert and Sullivan collectors solely on account of their titles, such as ‘The Absent-minded Beggar', ‘The Lost Chord', ‘Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady’ and ‘None but the Brave Deserve the Fair’. The celebrated animal artist Louis Wain depicted ‘Three Little Maids from School' as kittens.

There was also a vogue for appending Gilbert’s lines from The Mikado to pictures of anonymous Japanese ladies in order to make the cards more saleable. Three such cards in the Wildt and Kray series 1093 were captioned "Two little maids all unwary", "In spite of all my meekness I have a little weakness" and "Braid the raven – weave the supple tress – deck the maiden fair in her loveliness". An anonymous card from about 1907 is captioned "Dainty little ladies from scholastic troubles free, each a little bit afraid is, wondering what the world can be". The idea even crossed the Atlantic, and a Detroit Publishing Company card number 6964 featured two Japanese ladies and the words "I heard one day a gentleman say: ‘Maidens are fairest in Japan’".

‘Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes' is included in the ‘Dainty' series of cryptic Illustrated Song Titles. Some cards reflect social history, such as one advertising a single World War I performance of HMS Pinafore in London on 9th February 1918. All the male principals and chorus members and all the musicians were wounded soldiers from the Military Orthopaedic Hospital in Shepherd's Bush, London W12.

Delittle Fenwick and Co. of York published a curious pre-World War I card, with the word ‘Pinafore’ spelt out by sailors contorted to form the letters aloft in a ship’s rigging.

Eric G. Castle of Exmouth produced a photograph of a model stage with a scene from The Gondoliers. The characters are cut-out photographs and the costumes date from the early 1920s.

Rarity and Value

Age, numbers issued and original mode of distribution are obvious factors affecting the present-day availability of cards. The only cards which can be considered ubiquitous are those of the first Parkslee series numbered below 100. Higher numbers and Parkslee B series cards are considerably harder to find. The post-World War II Griffiths and Sinden cards are surprisingly uncommon, but they were only distributed within the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and to a very limited extent among the fans.

Value is related to rarity, condition and source, and London was for long the dearest market. However, since this article was first drafted in the mid-1990s, an increase in internet trading and auctions has removed that distinction. It has also, coupled with increased numbers of dealers and collectors, and increasing scarcity of cards, rendered it difficult to make meaningful comments regarding current prices. Auctions apart, prices of specialist dealers are likely to exceed those of non-specialists.

Postal use rarely affects value significantly, although postmark collectors do exist, and occasionally a message may relate to momentous events or be written by a person of renown, which can increase the value.

Second-hand material is always worth what someone is prepared to pay for it, and demand can be influenced by the fact that some Gilbert and Sullivan-related cards are also sought by collectors in other fields. Cards of "The Absent-minded Beggar" are an excellent example, being also sought by Kipling and Boer War collectors. Louis Wain cat cards are highly-prized, and two of these, depicting Powis Pinder as Earl Mountararat and Walter Passmore as The Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, provide another example, and can sell for well over £50 each. Also at the top end of the market are six highly collected 1900 Art Nouveau Mikado cards by the Austrian artist Raphael Kirchner. A set of these six cards was on offer at a 1993 London international postcard fair for £300 – a remarkable price at that time.


John Cannon is Archivist and the late Brian Jones was formerly Librarian of The Gilbert and Sullivan Society
(parent branch, based in London)

Page modified 11 Mar 2013