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News > OP updates > Pupils as collectors

Pupils as collectors

Pupils of the past have always enjoyed collecting stuff
24 Apr 2024
Written by John Sadden
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Pictured: a Dungeons and Dragons hologram card issued in packets of Shreddies c 1986 (found in a school library book), and a collection of cigarette cards featuring OPs  - cricketer Wally Hammond c 1935, VC winner Norman Holbrook c 1915, helicopter pioneer Alan Bristow c 1949, and the school arms c 1906 and Olympian Roger Black, featured on a trading card c 1992.

In Dec 1934, the editor of the Portmuthian wrote that "one of the strongest instincts of man is the collecting instinct; especially is it prominent during the time when he is at school. This school is comparatively large, and we feel sure that almost every member of it, junior or senior, is a collector of some description.”

Fifty years earlier, a group of pupils had come up with the idea of having a school museum to collect and display curiosities from all over the world. The Headmaster, Alfred Jerrard, recognised how educational this would be and readily agreed. Arrangements were made to have display cases alongside the bookshelves in the school’s new library and appeals were made for donations from OPs all over the world. Old boys of the school who travelled to the far-flung corners of the British Empire in the service of their country were encouraged to bring back to the school “wondrous stones and bones and bottled beasts”. Wondrous stones meant geological specimens, and bones included fossils. Bottled beasts meant creatures that had been preserved in alcohol enabling pupils to learn about animal anatomy, biology and classification. Pupils and former pupils who donated artefacts were acknowledged by having their name printed in the Portmuthian alongside lists of acquisitions. Many items were, in fact, trophies of Empire which, if displayed today, would need explanatory notes sensitive to the impact of Britain's oppressive and exploitative colonial role. 

War trophies collected from the First World War included a badge from a German helmet and a girder from a Zeppelin. In the Second World War, collecting shrapnel was popular amongst pupils, mostly harvested during school holidays when the evacuated boys returned to a blitzed Portsmouth from Bournemouth. One OP, David Harle, remembers collecting the tails of incendiary bombs. The Luftwaffe dropped over 40,000 of these on Portsmouth, including some on the school.  Boys all over the country used the tail section as a pen and pencil holder on their desks.

From the 1940s onwards, there was a Philately Society at the school but, not surprisingly, during the war, foreign stamps were hard to get. By the 1950s stamps were auctioned at the meetings and there was much fun and disappointment as pupil bid against pupil. By the late 1950s, the stamp collectors were joined by coin collectors and The Philately and Numismatological Society was formed, but by the 1970s the collectors had reorganised and broadened the group's appeal and formed a general Collectors’ Club - a collection of collectors, as it were.

Members gave enthusistic talks about their collections, which, over the years, included early gramophone records, matchboxes, miniature bottles, tickets, Dinky and Corgi cars, tea cards, marbles, model aircraft kits, sugar lumps, postcards, conkers and cigarette cards. Today, pupils have a very rich and diverse choice of school co-curricular activities, but collecting does not appear to be as obviously popular as in the past, at least not as a group activity where pupils are able to share their collections. Perhaps some of the joy of collecting - of chasing that elusive item - has been lost because of the easy availability of practically anything online.   


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