Something to think about
Volume 44, Number 6, June 2006
One of the main things that sets medal collecting apart from other hobbies is the very personal nature of the items we accrue. The pieces in our collections aren’t simply pieces of metal, they aren’t like coins, clocks or keys but rather they are, in many cases all that is left to remind the world of a sacrifice made - either one of time served or, more often than I care to think about, the ultimate sacrifice of a life cut short. Whether we collect Victorian Campaigns or Gulf War medals all have one thing in common – they were awarded to somebody for something and it’s that that makes them interesting. This then begs a question – what exactly is it that we collect? Surely if the metal and silk we are now custodians of are simply representations of a man’s service then won’t another memento do just as well? A swagger stick or riding crop inscribed with a Captain’s name? A diary hastily scribbled in before the “big push”? A collection of letters home from a man who himself would never set foot back in England? You’d think so wouldn’t you but somehow in our eyes these things do not hold the same sway as the medals themselves; certainly to own such items in addition to the medals is bonus indeed but few of us will actively seek such things on the off chance that the medals might come up. Some collectors do look for such things of course, to them letters, diaries, pay books et all are as interesting, if not more so, than the medals, giving as they do an insight into the man (or woman) far deeper than an award ever could but, in the main we are creatures of habit and few of us would pass up the chance of owning a medal or two to “our regiment” if a diary or bundle of letters was the alternative. Such an attitude is not unusual of course but it still begs the question what exactly are we collecting? We know we don’t just want the physical “metal” and it is the man behind that medal we are interested in but how far will we go in pursuit of that? Take an example recently, at the MEDAL NEWS office we received a ‘phone call from a Gentleman searching for his father’s medals, his father had recently passed away and when the family went to retrieve the medals they found that he had in fact sold them years ago. It was pointed out to the caller that in fact the medals sought (A DSO, DFC and bar and a collection of stars) were in fact all unnamed and whilst they had been sold with the logbook, paperwork etc. there was no way of actually proving the medals, if found were indeed the original. The man accepted this and then asked whether he could get such a group made up himself, just as a “representation” of what his father had won – well of course he can, all these medals are available on the market so if he wishes he can make up a group himself. We urged caution – why will become obvious! A week later another caller ‘phones to ask the same question about the same group of medals – it transpires that this caller is the first’s older brother, family politics meant that both felt they had a claim to the medals and didn’t want the other involved. This caller was given the same response and he too expressed an interest in “making up” a group – again caution was advised, when he questioned the need of such wariness it was explained that if both he and his brother both made up identical groups to that won by their father, and the originals are still out there, then at some point in the future three high value groups, all with excellent provenance (after all what better than “from the family”) could, theoretically come on the market! Ouch! But this got us thinking, OK so if two new groups are made up is that necessarily a problem? After all aren’t these just representations of service? Isn’t it the man we are interested in not just the awards? If the two brothers both buy original medals (we actually advised them to buy replicas – with copy stamped on the back - and have those as representations if they so wished) and those groups one-day surface with paperwork, family letters etc are they diminished by not actually being the ones awarded to the late Wing Commander? Most collectors would say yes, and we’d probably agree, but we’re not sure why. After all many collectors will add a World War II star to a group if one is missing and if a man is entitled to a gallantry cross shouldn’t his group have one – even if it is added later? Does that make the group less “worthy”? Of course in an ideal world we’d all like our mint condition medals as issued, with no mistakes, no wrong initials, no official corrections, no incorrect numbers etc. We’d all like our groups complete, with no need to add or subtract and with all the paperwork showing the entitlement exactly as we have it. But things don’t work like that, the medal world is not perfect, there are anomalies, there will be groups that have excellent provenance but weren’t actually the ones the man wore; there will be skimmed medals, renamed medals, medals added by the soldier, even corrected by him - are these not worth collecting? Are they somehow less than the original, perfect ones? Well no, and yes – if we are simply collecting bits of metal then the better condition, the more neatly impressed the naming etc is what is important but if we are, as we always like to think, really collecting the story behind the award then it doesn’t really matter about the odd lumps and bumps, the problem areas – does it? Something to think about anyway!
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