Medal News

Volume 44, Number 7, August 2006

Maybe not so rosy

Volume 44, Number 7, August 2006

Anyone coming back into the hobby after a few years’ absence will, I think, be struck by two things – the first is how much prices have gone up (a topic covered many times here and not one I’ll tackle again today) and secondly the impact of the internet. Now, at the click of a mouse, we can do research we never thought possible, check medal entitlement, look at regimental histories, check casualty rolls and so on; the world wide web has enabled us to stay in regular touch with fellow collectors, keep up with the dealers’ latest offerings and of course buy medals in a way we could never have imagined. With the advent of eBay and others the on-line auction has become a staple part of many collectors lives and has enabled many collections to grow faster than ever they did in the past – there can be little doubt that for some such a technological advance has been a Godsend and there are many who won’t hear a bad word said about this new form of trading. There is, however a downside, and it’s a biggie. Since the advent of eBay and the like the number of fakes and forgeries that have entered our hobby has increased beyond comprehension. Where once you would come across one or two “dodgy” items here and there now they are everywhere – the internet is awash with unnamed medals, either brand new “copies” or toned and aged with the suggestion that they were awarded like that. On any day on any medal section of eBay you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of groups made up of “medals” that just aren’t real. Some are sold as copies it’s true but the manufacturers of these don’t mark them up as such and they know full well that they are being sold on by others as the genuine article. As if that wasn’t bad enough the very fact that this stuff appears at all means that you have to wade through pages and pages of rubbish before you ever get to a “real” medal – in short the presence of these fakes is rapidly making the whole internet auction experience a very dull and frustrating one indeed. On top of this you inevitably get those medals sold as genuine that you know full well aren’t – well you know because you are a well-read, discerning collector, but sadly those just starting out in this great hobby aren’t so knowledgeable and every week we hear stories of those who have been duped by the unscrupulous sellers. Defenders of the internet auctions (and there are many – in the main it’s an excellent form of trading and suits our hobby well) will point to the feedback system such sites employ (sellers and buyers leave each other feedback to say how the sale went – if I goes well you get good feedback, if badly then bad!) but there’s a huge flaw in this, one often overlooked. Feedback is usually left as soon as the item is received and seen to be “as described” but often the buyer won’t realise he has a fake on his hands until he comes to sell it – often years later and by then it’s far too late to change what you wrote about the seller. So it is possible that a vendor could sell nothing but forgeries and still have good feedback, his misdemeanours only coming to light in future years. The other problem is that as the seller can leave feedback for the buyer too so the poor soul who has been “ripped off” will often leave no feedback at all rather than risk the buyer retaliating and so affecting his “score” which may in turn jeopardise future trading. In short the feedback system, whilst a good idea, is by no means infallible and far greater care should be taken when trading than simply looking at a seller’s “score”. So am I dead set against this new form of trading? Far from it, I think it’s a wonderful way of bringing new people into the hobby and a wonderful way of getting medals into circulation that might otherwise sit in collections and remain overlooked for years – reuniting WWI groups for example is now easier than ever such is the proliferation of “singles” on the internet! However that doesn’t mean that we should view eBay and the like as the only way forward, if we do that then I can guarantee our hobby will die, buried under a landslide of fakes and forgeries with only the unscrupulous benefiting in the long run. The medal fair, the “traditional” dealer’s list, the local antique shop all play a part – and a very big part too, for one thing you can see what you’re buying (or at least buy from someone with a deserved and solid reputation) and for another you know you won’t be lining the pockets of those who would happily see our hobby destroyed for the sake of a quick buck. I’m not saying don’t buy via internet auctions but I am saying don’t get too fixated on them – they don’t perhaps offer as rosy a world as many may think. On a slightly different not may I please respectfully request that the organisers of medal shows TALK to each other before putting their programmes together – the last Britannia we attended was a fairly quiet affair – why? Not because the dealers weren’t there or because the money had dried up but because there were no fewer than FOUR major medal fairs on the same day! Collectors only have so much time and so much money to spend, they, and the dealers, can’t be everywhere at once.

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