An odd hobby really
Volume 43, Number 6, June 2005
On the surface collecting medals is something of an odd hobby – after all it doesn’t really follow the usual rules of “collecting” as such. Usually, when somebody starts collecting an item, be it postcards, matchboxes, coins or Dinky Toys, it is “varieties” that form the backbone of the accumulation. A collector looking for postcards of Salisbury Cathedral might decide to go after one of each of the different “shots” or views of that impressive building, then, after he has obtained all he reasonably can he might decide to collect cards bearing the same views as he already has but on cards published by different companies. When he has acquired all of those he may look at other buildings in the impressive close and so move outward, or turn his attention to other great cathedrals. Very rarely will you see him simply buying the same postcard over and over just because it bears a picture of the Salisbury Spire. With coins you’ll find collectors looking for dates, varieties, mintmarks, denominations. You’ll find condition becomes paramount with numismatists only adding to their cabinets when a better specimen than the one they hold comes along.; very rarely will you find a collector who collects one coin, with one date, in one condition. With Dinky Toys the same, collectors will hunt out those elusive varieties, the limited editions, the cars with blue rather than green bodywork, the tankers with Esso rather than BP on and so on and so forth, simply accumulating vast numbers of two or three different cars, even in their original packaging, is not normally something they do. Medal collectors however are different. We are happy to collect just one medal type, admittedly they will all be named to different people (we hope) but essentially the medals themselves are the same. We will happily show off our collections of “Waterloos” or QSAs, will gladly exhibit our MM groups or MSMs, will happily show anyone foolish enough to express even a passing interest drawer after drawer of GSMs or “Zulu” medals without realising that, to those not bitten by the same bug as us, these things really are all the same. To the uninitiated to accumulate these little discs, some obviously bashed about, others with tatty “original” ribbons in place and most patently uncleaned, but otherwise all absolutely identical, is madness – I’m sure many of us have experienced just this reaction from partners or friends- but we of course know differently. We aren’t collecting metal and silk, not collecting jewellery - We are, of course, collecting history, collecting memories of men (and sometimes women) who helped shape the world we live in today, we are collecting their stories and their lives and by putting them with those of their former comrades are helping to preserve their legacy just that little bit longer. Few medal collectors would disagree with this sentiment and so I am forced then to ask why it is that so many of us do still simply accumulate! Too often recently have I seen “unresearched” on a medal offered for sale, with a seeming reluctance on the part of the seller to do even the most basic groundwork (only recently I purchased a 1914 Star from a dealer only to discover he was KIA at First Ypres, the dealer hadn’t even checked the CWGC Website, something that took me all of 30 seconds and doubled the value of the medal). Too often have I heard collectors ask the simplest questions about the campaigns and battles in which the regiment that they collect to took part or, worse still, not know that those battles even existed! Too often have I seen collectors pass up the chance to do some basic reading on their subject and, far, far too often have I seen diaries, service papers, photographs and the like separated from the medals of the man to which they relate (and often discarded) as they aren’t of interest. Of course we must all collect as we see fit, but ask yourself this - if you collect “Crimeas” to the Light Brigade and don’t know about the Charge at Balaklava, if you collect South Africa Medals to the 24th Foot and know nothing of Islandawana or if you collect WWI trios to the Coldstream Guards and know nothing about the Retreat from Mons and the “Race to the Sea” then of what does your collection actually consist? Of nothing more than metal and silk and really you may as well have anything stashed away. These examples are extremes, or at least I hope so, but everyone of us is guilty of something similar, few of us can pretend to know every action for which an award in our collection was made, few of us know the full story of every battle “our” regiment fought in and all of us know we could do better. So next time you get a chance to do a bit of “reading up”, be it at the National Archives, on-line or simply by doing it the old fashioned way and buying a book, maybe you should take it, – at least then you can rebut all those who think Dinky Toys make a more fascinating collection!