Gilbert and Sullivan Parkslee Photographic Postcards

I have been collecting Gilbert and Sullivan memorabilia since I joined the Sydney Gilbert and Sullivan Society in March 1969. The collection embraces an extensive range of media including books, scores, libretti, journals, periodicals , cds, videos and ephemera and I am delighted to say has been accepted by the Mitchell Library as a bequest in my will. It has been in the category of ephemera that I have developed my interest in collecting postcards of the London D’Oyly Carte Opera Company Gilbert and Sullivan principals.
I would like to acknowledge an article by John Cannon and Brian Jones entitled ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Postcards’ from which I have borrowed freely.

Bertha Lewis as Dame Carruthers in The Yeomen of the Guard

There have been a number of firms which issued cards of the D’Oyly Carte principals since the turn of the last century including, Raphael Tuck & Sons, Rotary, Beagles and Hill and Saunders. On the Australian front there are at least seven JC Williamson cards dating from about 1905 which were published with the imprint ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Co.’ Artists depicted include Dolly Castles and Howard Vernon.

Darrell Fancourt as Earl of Mountararat in Iolanthe

But it is the collaboration of two of the choristers in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in the early 1920s, James Parkinson and H.R. Sleigh and their Parkslee Photographic Postcards, where my interest has lain. The main or ‘A” Series consists of 172 cards and a rarer “B” with non-consecutive numbers between B1 and B101. Within the “A” Series there are four unknown numbers; 118, 122, 123 and 142. The reasons for this are conjectural but may be attributed to the number being assigned to an artist who immediately or shortly after was replaced in a role or to the collaborators making mistakes in assigning numbers. Many of the cards have the spelling as Parksle which is more correct but not as easily pronounced as the other spelling. Most cards in the “A” Series show single artistes and they are mainly in costume but two are a ‘double’ and there are several of artistes off stage.

Sydney Granville as Grosvenor in Patience

Henry Lytton who was the principal comedian and a member of the company for 50 years figures prominently in the series with no fewer than 12 of the first 28 cards being devoted to him. His influence also extends to the back of cards where they are stamped with the following legend: “The Secret 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.” This left very little space for any note to friends or relations.

Bertha Lewis & Henry A. Lytton as The Lady Jane & Reginald Bunthorne in Patience

The collection is based on the publicity material supplied by the Company itself. Pre-1921 photographs are identical to the Parkslee pictures, but are not overprinted or marked out as a postcard. Some pictures have credits to other photographers – Bassano, Nunn, Hughes of London, Stuart of Plymouth and Paterson of Glasgow, being represented in the first 60 cards.

Leo Sheffield

The fascinating thing about collecting these postcards has been my inability to secure any within Australia. Attending the postcard fairs has resulting in seeing many postcards of the original Savoyards (that is those pre-dating the artists in the Parkslee Series), though not in costume from the operas, which tells me that there is a market for British theatrical postcards in Australia however, not one Parkslee has been unearthed. With my collection now numbering 119 there is an all-out search on.

Henry A. Lytton as The Duke in The Gondoliers

Kevin is desirous of winkling out any of the remaining postcards in the series that collectors or dealers may have and he may be contacted by e-mail to discuss requirements and negotiate prices.

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