A Family heirloom?
October 2002, Volume 40 No. 9
It is barely eight months since the first of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medals was awarded to serving Armed Forces and Emergency personnel and yet already dealer’s lists are showing them for sale. Now of course any one presented with this medal who has since retired is perfectly entitled to sell it but the question inevitably arises as to whether it is right to do so. After all there are many who did not qualify for this award that would dearly have loved to receive it and would, I am sure, have worn it with pride for many years to come and yet they, because of the qualification period specified were denied that opportunity in favour of others who, in some cases it seems, simply did not care that much. That there has to be a qualification criteria for a medal is not in doubt, it simply cheapens decorations if they are given out to everyone willy-nilly but cases like this do raise the question as to whether or not such criteria are always right; would it not have been better for recipients of awards now freely disposed of to have been able to refuse their medal and maybe nominate another who would have been delighted to receive it? Or maybe this medal should only have been allocated to those requesting it rather than anyone and everyone who qualified whether they wanted it or not to give it a better chance of being welcomed. Such thoughts are irrelevant, such measures will never be implemented, however that this instance highlights a “loophole” if not a problem cannot be doubted, it also seems to raise the question as to where medals belong in the first place. If a recipient of the QJM doesn’t want his medal but received it simply because he had been in his job long enough what is he to do? Keep it for his family? Give it to a museum? Refuse it? Keep it himself, locked away gathering dust? Or sell it to a collector who will get some joy out of owning it. Many would say the first of these options is the preferred, after all how many of us wish we still had our Grandfather’s or Great-Grandfather’s medals in our collections? Certainly the number of medal trackers that come into this office with requests to search for family medals are easily on a par with those simply seeking to add to their collections and many of us would be far happier to part with a group or single if we thought it was going “back” to the family than if we thought it was simply going to grace another collector’s cabinet. However it doesn’t always follow that the family wants the medals and too often awards from actions now long passed into the annals of history, like so many other mementos of the past, are shut away never seeing the light of day, passed on from one disinterested generation to another mere pieces of metal on tattered ribbons worn once by an old man whose face is now only remembered through a fading photograph in a worn frame. There may, in some far flung future, be a member of the family who has more than a passing interest in the exploits of his ancestors but are the medals to be kept hidden on the off chance of this happening? Surely in instances like this it is right that the medals, mere pieces of jewellery to the uninterested, pass from the family and into the public domain be it in a museum for many to enjoy (and in the case of rarer medals that would otherwise be kept in bank vaults this is obviously a preferred option) or in a private collection to be lovingly, painstakingly catalogued, researched and looked after. Without a doubt the ideal scenario remains that of the family member who is also a collector and, fortunately, as the medal world continues to boom we do find this to be the case more and more often. New faces are coming into our hobby all the time and invariably when asked how they started collecting the answer is the same – they had been left some medals and, wanting to know a little more about why they were awarded and when, began to do a little research; before they knew it they were hooked. However such ideals are not always possible and there will sadly always be those who don’t care much for their own medals or for those once proudly worn by others but now regarded as nothing more than relics of a forgotten age or the means to some ready cash. Surely then it is better that Granddad’s medals are in the hands of somebody who wants them and will cherish them rather than simply someone who shares his name?
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