Volume 42, Number 10, November 2004
Many of us started out the same way – picking up single medals from our local flea market or antiques centre, building up a good selection of individual medals as a backbone to our collections. Often these single medals were the man’s only entitlement and we were happy to own that little piece of history. Sometimes however we discovered that he was entitled to something else too, we’d find that the QSA did have an accompanying KSA out there somewhere; that the soldier who fought so gallantly during the Crimea and who’s medal for that war we possess, fought just as courageously during the Indian Mutiny and so was awarded a medal for that action too. We’d find that the humble World War I pair we bought should actually have had an LS &GC and 1914 Star with it or that the single South Africa we bought to go with our Zulu War collection actually belonged with an Ashantee medal making the soldier’s tale a far more interesting one. As these discoveries became more common place so we decided not to spend our money on singles quite so often, we would instead save up and only purchase a group in it’s entirety, after all they are much more interesting, aren’t they? Well yes and no, certainly a collection feels more “complete” if it comprises only whole groups, singles can seem a little scrappy and there is no doubt that the “big” money is fetched at auction by the grand campaign groups (single VCs being the obvious exception) but I believe that by focusing solely on groups and ignoring the lowly individual medals that feature so heavily on dealers’ lists, at fairs and on the Internet we are actually in danger of missing out on a fascinating side of our hobby. One thing we should remember is that groups were often broken up by the recipients themselves, the “obsession” with complete groups is a relatively new thing and it was certainly not unusual to hear of an old soldier splitting his medals up, particularly in his will, to allow all of his children to have a memento of his service (pity the World War I DCM winner’s fourth child – they ended up with the Victory Medal whilst their eldest sibling got his hands on the Gallantry award – not fair in this day and age maybe but back then when medals were not things of monetary value so much as records of achievement and service I doubt if there was much squabbling). Occasionally an old soldier would split his group up for monetary reasons – maybe keeping his gallantry award but selling off the campaign medals as everyone knew he fought in the war so why keep a memento of it; still others would have taken advantage of the value of the silver in their medals and sold them for scrap, keeping or giving away the bronze issues. With this in mind accumulating singles or broken groups doesn’t actually seem so bad, after all if the recipient was happy to own a split group why shouldn’t we be? However that isn’t all – the owning of part groups or singles adds another dimension to or hobby that is often overlooked; when collecting complete groups it is usually only money that stands in our way, in any given month one of the auctions, fairs, lists or internet sites will have something that will interest even the most specialist collector and generally it is only the depth of that collector’s pockets that allows or prevents him from acquiring that piece. If this is the case isn’t this merely accumulating rather collecting? I have always maintained that the joy of the “hunt” is half the fun of this hobby and that the joy of reuniting medals is far greater than the joy of simply buying and owning a whole campaign group in one go. Buying a trio is easy, it doesn’t take any more than a trip to a local fair or a perusal of Ebay or Speedbid, but reuniting the Star to the pair takes a lot more work. Trawling through lists, poring over dealers’ trays, thumbing through catalogues – yes they all take time but how much more fun is it when your eye finally alights on one of the medals you’ve been seeking for so long? How much more rewarding is it to put those two medals together after years apart? True the odds are long ones but such reuniting does happen – every month through Medal tracker in the magazine and www.medaltracker.com on-line dozens of groups are being put back together and I know from speaking to the people who’ve finally found those elusive awards after years of searching just how fulfilling that can be. I have managed to reunite items in my collection three times now, once through Medal Tracker, once through a list and once through Ebay and I can testify that the buzz I got from that was far more than the pleasure I ever got from parting with a large amount of money for a complete group, no matter how badly I wanted it! And don’t forget it isn’t just for the “feel good factor” that people are seeking to bring split groups back together – there are monetary gains too. Your average World War I Military medal fetches £325 these days, a trio to an MM winner may go for £200 – put the two together and you’ve instantly got a £700 group. That same group to a casualty might fetch £1000, add a memorial plaque that costs maybe £75 (it’s an MM winner don’t forget) and you add another £200-300 to the value – quite a decent return for a bit of leg work. Good groups are getting harder to find, singles are far more readily available (they have always appeared on the internet but now seem to be filling dealers’ lists and trays as stock becomes scarcer and scarcer) and are proportionally a great deal cheaper; so next time you go to pass up that chance of owning another single to your name, campaign or regiment think again with a little bit of work and the help of such services as Medal Tracker that lonely little medal could well become one of your best buys
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