Causing a stir
April 2007, Volume 45 No. 4
All the talk in the medal world recently has been about the somewhat shocking announcement that as of December 21, 2006 it was illegal to buy or sell American medals (at least in the USA!) “What?” I hear you cry, “That’s ridiculous, it can’t be true!” Well it is, or at least was until recently. Back in December the House of Representatives passed their version of the Stolen Valor (sic) Act and just before Christmas President Bush signed it into law. The act was apparently prompted by a number of recent films and novels where (wholly fictional) characters had gained special status by pretending to be veterans of various conflicts—one of the ways their scams worked was because they were wearing the requisite medals. The great and the good in Washington saw this in a somewhat unfavourable light and realised it could easily happen for real, indeed apparently in some cases already has, so they set about ensuring that such a travesty could not continue, hence the implementation of the Stolen Valor Act. The Act stated, amongst many other things, that Whoever knowingly wears, purchases, attempts to purchase, solicits for purchase, mails, ships, imports, exports, produces blank certificates of receipt, manufactures, or sells, attempts to sell, advertises for sale, trades, barters or exchanges for anything of value any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable (sic) imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
This quite naturally caused something of a stir among our friends across the pond. It had always been the case that the Medal of Honor was “protected” by law but now it seemed just about every US medal was to come under the same scrutiny and there was, needless to say, an uproar. Dealers, collectors, even museums foresaw prosecutions and jail terms as it suddenly seemed mere possession of a medal that they themselves hadn’t been officially awarded was now a criminal offence. FJP Auctions cancelled their sale in Louisville at the Show of Shows in February, the OMSA Convention was, for a brief while, in doubt, and there was talk of the American dealers shutting up shop for good. Thankfully all was put right when in late February Senator Conrad of North Dakota, one of the authors and sponsors of the original act, made it clear that his intention had never been to affect any type of legitimate collecting or dealing and assured us all that, “the Stolen Valor Act does not in any way stop collectors or dealers from selling or collecting officially made medals and insignia.” The key thing here of course is the phrase “officially made medals and insignia”—and there we come to the important point for us on this side of the water. Yes, the act is ostensibly to prevent fraudulent use of decorations to claim to be who you are not (and of course in America veterans have benefits that are far greater than those offered by their UK counterparts and so it is conceivable that some would try to pretend to have fought for their country when in fact they did nothing more than buy a medal or two). But more than that, it also looks carefully at the whole process of the manufacture of military medals. By doing so the act throws the spotlight on some of the unscrupulous who have been manufacturing poor quality copies (and of course as most US medals are unnamed a copy can easily be taken as an original by the uninitiated) and therefore have been making money by, in effect, exploiting the deeds of others. This act was never meant to stop collectors, but it is clear from the Senator’s recent statement that those who continue to manufacture medals and decorations unofficially will be prosecuted.
Now, whilst I would never encourage any law in this country that would ever damage this great hobby of ours (and there were fears this might catch on over here), I do put it to you that a law banning the unofficial manufacture of British medals (not proper marked copies but the sort of rubbish you see on the internet auction sites every day) wouldn’t be a bad thing. Perhaps the Stolen Valor Act was a sledge hammer to crack a nut, perhaps it was an over-reaction and there can be no doubt that we all breathe a sigh of relief now the record has been set straight, but maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t all bad!
We would like to point out that whilst the Act will take a while to re-write (if indeed they do) the Senator’s statement makes it quite clear that collectors, dealers, etc., will not be affected and as such the FJP Auctions are back on schedule, American dealers can carry on business as usual and the OMSA Convention at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel near Houston on August 9–12 will go ahead—see you there!
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