A PUBLIC SECRET

May 1999, Volume 37 No. 5
SO the secret is out? The name of the Victoria Cross collector, who, it is believed, buys most of the VCs that have come on the market in recent years-both at auction and through private sale-was revealed in a Sunday Times news item as being businessman Michael Ashcroft. His name may be especially familiar to readers of the financial press over the last ten or so years, as his security business, ADT, one time sponsor of the London Marathon, went through a number of ups and downs, particularly connected with control of the company as a result of involvement from Canadian business interests.
Michael Ashcoft's name also made financial news when it was revealed that he was making significant purchases of Christie shares, which he subsequently sold. More recently his position as a Deputy Treasurer and benefactor of the Conservative Party has also been the subject of press reporting.

Michael Naxton, formerly Head of the Medal Department and Auctioneer at Sotheby's, and now an independent medal consultant, apparently bids on behalf of Mr Ashcroft and has been seen to buy the majority of VCS at auction over the past few years, which are believed to form part of the Ashcroft collection. The collection is rumoured to be nudging up towards 100 Crosses and The Sunday Times also alleged what has been whispered for some time that this includes the posthumous Falklands VC to Sgt Ian Mackay, Parachute Regiment.

However in the early days, Michael Ashcroft did sometimes bid in person. The first MEDAL NEWS can remember his appearance at an auction was at the sale of the Leading Seaman J. J. Magennis "Midget Submarine" VC at Sotheby's in 1986, at which time his identity was unknown to possibly all of the medal fraternity, although a financial programme broadcast on television that same week about his company, which included a photograph of Mr Ashcroft, did reveal his identity to MEDAL NEWS. He subsequently appeared at the sale of Assistant Commissary Dalton's Rorke's Drift VC at Spink later the same year, although on this occasion he did not purchase the Cross. A couple of years later he went on to attend the Christie sale of the Royal Flying Corps VC to Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson which he purchased for more that £100,000. Generally speaking, since this time he has either bid through an agent or, it is strongly suspected, on the telephone. In the early years it is believed that he did not buy quite so many of the Crosses on offer as he has come to do in recent years.

Why did his identity remain a secret so long? Obviously many of those who have been aware of his identity were silenced by client confidentiality-as auctioneers or dealers. Outside this circle there can be very few who knew, and as far as MEDAL NEWS is concerned, although not bound by client confidentiality, as identification of the buyer was simply the result of keeping our "eyes open", there has never seemed to be any purpose served by announcing the identity of a collector whom we had very good reason to believe wanted it to remain confidential. We have, however, frequently indicated in our auction reports that it was our belief, backed up with good evidence, that one individual was the buyer of most VCS in recent years.

Now that Michael Ashcroft has been identified as the probable purchaser of VCS, where does that take us? Will he continue to bid so regularly? If not, what difference, if any, will it make to prices? Will Mr Ashcroft now be willing to speak publicly about his interest in the UK's supreme award for gallantry, and, it is understood, in other superb gallantry groups for famous military engagements? What are his intentions for this superb and unrivalled collection? It is thought that about 20 VCS is the previous maximum that has ever been in the hands of one collector, with perhaps about12"14 being the average held by the most prominent previous VC collectors, several of whom have lived overseas. Maybe this story will unfold further in coming weeks.

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In This Issue

PROFILE13
Family affairs by Peter Squibb
Two generations in uniform
UPDATE16
The evolution of the DSO by Brigadier Stuart Ryder
Stepping stones of change
COLLECTOR'S NOTEBOOK19
Commendations to the Mercantile Marine by Richard Cornish
No other reward?
BACKGROUND20
Trooper Meyer's Indian campaign medal by John L. Liffiton
Fighting the Apaches
INSIGHT24
Seamen on land by Phillip Haythornthwaite
The RN ashore in Victorian times
RESEARCH FILE29
Officer Cadets of the EIC by Tim Ash
Checking the records

Regulars

THE EDITOR'S PAGE5
NEWS & VIEWS6
MARKET SCENE9
BOOKS26
READERS' LETTERS30
ON PARADE31
MEDAL TRACKER32
DEALERS' LIST34
WHAT'S ON35
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SUBSCRIPTION FORM38