The Story of Mount Everest Expedition Label and Post Card, 1924 – By Pratisad Neurgaonkar
Illustration 1 and 2
Illustration 1: Address Side of the card affixed with Mount Everest label tied with Special Cancellation and KVG 1½ As tied with “BRITISH EMPIRE / EXHIBITION 1924” cancellation send to Holland dated 11/10/1924.
Illustration 2: Front side top of the Post Card shows title “MT.EVEREST EXPEDITION 1924.” followed by “Leader – – Gen. Hon. C.G. Bruce, C.B.”
Depicting picture of “Mt. Everest from the Base camp in the Rongbuk Valley, TIBET.” “Dispatched by Postal Runner to India.”
A message “Best Wishes/ J. B. L. Noel Captain/ Mt. Everest Expedition.”
“The Film of this great Exploit will be shown / throughout the country, commencing at the Scala Theatre, London, / November, 1924”, printed in black box at the bottom.
Illustration 3: Mount Everest Expedition Label printed in dark Blue, the label is very striking with its bold depiction of Everest’s north face as viewed from base camp. In each corner is the symbol of peace, frequently used prior to World war II. Sikkim which is the State of Indian Union is named in left hand border. In the top and right hand borders the names of Tibet and Nepal are inscribed within which the world’s highest mountain lies
The 1922 Mount Everest Expedition mounted by the Mount Everest Committee had been immensely successful, and Sir Francis Younghusband, the President of the Royal Geographical Society, was keen to capitalise on the valuable lessons which had been learned in 1922; initially, there was hope that another expedition could leave in 1923, but soon it became obvious that there were too many hurdles to overcome, and that the earliest feasible date would be 1924. Plans went ahead, but there was a constant financial problem; Captain John Noel, who had accompanied the 1922 expedition as the Official Photographer, and had been invited to act in the same role in 1924, presented a scheme which, at a stroke, would relieve the Committee of a major financial burden – he proposed buying all the photographic rights, both for film and stills and lecture rights, in return for the vast sum of £8,000. The idea was accepted readily, and Noel agreed to pay the entire sum before the expedition departed. Not himself a wealthy man, he set up a company – Explorers Films – and invited friends to contribute to the scheme, in the expectation that, when the film and lecture tours were undertaken in the autumn 1924, the company members would soon recoup their initial outlay.
The greatest obstacle was to sustain interest in the expedition; long before the age of television, it would be vital to keep the public attention focused on the expedition’s progress, so that, when the film was shown many months later, the response would make the entire undertaking worthwhile. His aim was to encourage mainly youngsters, who would persuade their parents to take them to a film or lecture show, with the memorable postcard as a souvenir.
Noel designed the post card, using one of his images of Base Camp, and the commemorative label. He put an advert in one of the daily papers, and engaged two secretaries to deal with what he hoped would be a positive response. By 10 am, the deluge of mail overwhelmed the two girls, who fled in panic! So Noel had to quickly engage an agency to handle the sack loads of mail which were sent in each address was transferred to an Everest postcard, which was packed for transportation to Base Camp. By virtue of his enormous contribution to the expedition, and the fact that he was the official photographer, Noel was entitled to certain privileges, one being the opportunity to take an immense amount of baggage; the leader, General Bruce, often complained at the amount which Noel was taking – Noel legitimately attributed these sacks to essential photographic equipment! At Base Camp an Indian stamp was added and the thousands of cards were dispatched. Thus the explanation for the different handwriting of the address, and the disparity in dispatch dates and provenance. The exercise proved very successful; whilst lecturing in the United Kingdom, and even in continental Europe, Noel was approached by enthusiastic youngsters, delighted at owning such a special souvenir of a great climb, although it had also been such a tragic attempt on the mountain. Noel was indeed a man of great vision and enterprise who died at the age of 99 in 1989.
Illustration 4 and 5
Illustration 4: Mount Everest Expedition Label tied with Special double circle cancellation in Red, “MT. EVEREST EXPEDITION/1924”around the circumference and “RONGBUK / GLACIER / BASE / CAMP in the middle.
Illustration 5: The scarce “RONGBUK GLACIER / MAIN /BASE CAMP/ 17,000 ft.” cachet.
Illustration 6 and 7
Illustration 6: The “TIBET” cachet
Illustration 7: The “TRACTOR PARTY” cachet
Each label was tied to an item of expedition mail by one of four special cachets By far and away the most commonly found cachet is that which was used to tie the special labels to the souvenir postcards. Usually struck in Red, the double circle cachet reads “MT. EVEREST EXPEDITION 1924” around the circumference and “RONGBUK/GLACIER/ BASE/ CAMP” in the middle. (Illustration 4)
Two variations in which the central wording is different are known but these are much scarcer. The first reads “RONGBUK GLACIER/ MAIN/ BASE CAMP/ 17,000 ft.” and was used and alternative to standard version since it refers to the same location. The second struck in Grey, was purportedly used at a camp established near Pharijong, north of Yatung. (Illustration 5).
The fourth cachet was a single circle cancel bearing the words “MOUNT EVEREST EXPEDITION TRACTOR PARTY” and in the centre “TIBET/ 1924.”. It is a rare cachet and the few examples of its use are on items of apparently commercial, as opposed to souvenir mail. (Illustration 7)
The Tractor Party itself was instigated by Noel to help carry his vast array of photographic equipment during early stages of the journey across Tibet. Central to the plan was Cetroen tractor which was accompanied by Lt. Col. Haddick, Mr. Millwright, Mr. Cundell, a Citroen representative and Lt. Fitzgerald, the driver. Unfortunately the tractor did not arrive in Darjeeling until the main expedition party had left, but the Arthur Pereira, who was in charge of developing the vast quantities of film shot by Noel decided it should follow the party towards Tibet. Initial progress was good, but Fitzgerald began to feel the effects of altitude sickness and was sent back to Darjeeling. Cundell took over the driving only to be presented with increasingly challenging and unstable terrain. This slowed the tractor to such an extent that it was quietly abandoned in Sikkim, still some way short of the Tibetan border. Pereira, together presumably with the other members of the Tractor Party made his way back to Darjeeling where a purpose built film processing laboratory had been established for his use. Items of mail with Tractor Party cachet were forwarded to the Indian post office in Yatung, which lies in the north of Tibet, close to Indian border.
John Baptist Lucius Noel (26 February 1890 – 12 March 1989)
The Silver Key to the Golden Treasure of Indian Philately: Manik Jain – S.B.Kothari
The John Noel Photographic Collection
Gibbons Stamp Monthly, November 2003