For what it''s worth
Volume 43, Number 5, May 2005
If there is one thing that has been a “hot topic” in recent years in our hobby it’s the steady rise in prices of medals to heights hitherto unheard of. Even the humblest of medals (at least the named, researchable ones) have seen a surge in value, or at least cost, in the past few years and now none of us can pretend it’s a poor man’s hobby. True you don’t necessarily need to be a high flyer or billionaire to own a decent collection but with practically all Victorian Medals retailing at at least £100 (even the “standard QSAs and KSAs are nudging that now) and World War I medals eagerly sought after we cannot kid ourselves that money isn’t an issue. Much as we’d like to say we’re only in it for the research, for the love of the hobby, to keep a man’s memory alive etc. etc. the very fact that we have to part with such vast sums in order to do that means that the financial aspect cannot be overlooked. Anyone with a decent collection must contemplate its worth, if only for insurance purposes, and anyone looking to add anything of real interest to their collection must consider the implications of that on their wallet! But just how much is a medal worth? What makes x so much more than y? How do you really put a value on a gong? I’m not talking about how much the MEDAL YEARBOOK says its worth – we try to reflect market conditions not lead them- but rather what makes people part with vast sums of money for these little metal discs/crosses/stars and tatty ribbons in the first place? And what makes some medals worth so much more than others In some cases it is obvious why one medal or group is worth more to collectors than another – usually because the rank is high or the recipient fought (and maybe died) at a famous action or served on board a famous ship; perhaps the citation for his gallantry award made the medal just that little bit more exciting than one “sent down with the rations” but in other cases the line is more blurred. Why, for example, are prices for casualty medals so much higher than those for men who survived? Why, if a man was wounded, will his medals command more of a premium than those of his comrades who managed to dodge the bullets? (After all anyone can stick his head over a parapet – in many cases managing not to get hit was far more of an achievement!) Often wounded men or casualties will be easier to research of course but many collectors will pay higher prices with no intention of doing any such groundwork! And if it’s simply about research why is it that some collectors seem to prefer medals to those men who were “killed in action” over those who “died of wounds” - where do these collectors think those wounds were received if not in the very actions that killed others?! To my mind I’ve never quite understood the huge sums achieved by “first day of the battle of ….” medals – often on the first day the men in action truly believed they stood a chance – by day two having seen so many of their comrades slaughtered the men must have been utterly terrified yet fought anyway - but medals to any that fell then, or after, will never quite reach the heights of the “first dayers”. The Somme is perhaps the best example - first day fetch quite staggering amounts of money - £320 was paid for a July 1 plaque (to a private) only last week - can you imagine that price being fetched for the plaque of some poor soul who was killed on July 2? The real truth of the matter of course is that medal values are actually very subjective – what might be of great interest to one collector might not be to another – a good case in point is the pair and plaque offered recently on an Internet auction site. At first glance a standard offering but the CWGC website indicates this soldier is buried in the UK; a quick look at Soldiers Died for his regiment indicates that his battalion was most likely a home service one as only 14 other men are listed and all of those have “d at home” next to their names. Nothing particularly unusual - the plaque after all was awarded to the next of kin of all those who died whilst on active service of some kind during the war years (up to 1920 in fact), whether through enemy action, disease or accident and so an award of medals and a plaque to someone who stayed at home is not that much of a rarity – but should that group cost more, less or the same as one to a man from another battalion of the regiment who was killed in action early in 1914? On this no two collectors, or dealers will ever agree – some will argue that as this poor soldier didn’t face the enemy and maybe died of influenza, or by being run over by a staff car etc then his group is “worth” less than that of someone who came off worse in a duel with a German machine gun battery; others would argue that as he is one of only 14 men of that battalion whose next of kin would have received the plaque then logically his group is rarer than that of men from other battalions that my well have suffered hundreds upon hundreds of causalities. Both arguments are valid, both logical but are they both right? In a way yes they are – the true worth of anything is what somebody is prepared to pay for it and as long as one person thinks x group is worth more than y group then so it will be.
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