From Balaklava to Windsor
Volume 47, Number 9, October 2009
A bold move, but . . . Don’t miss the next Britannia Medal Fair on November 22 — why not bring a friend with the free entry ticket enclosed? THIS “Comment” is being written at the absolute last minute. The magazine is all ready, it’s on the presses, but I couldn’t give the go-ahead to print until after the new look Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS) Convention had taken place (on September 20) as I felt there would be something to report and that our readers who couldn’t attend would like to know a little about what they had missed. Convention 2009 was a bold move for the OMRS—the event has been held in the New Connaught Rooms near Covent Garden for well over a decade and was firmly established there. However, for various reasons, a move was necessary and the BMA in Tavistock Square was chosen as the new venue. With the change of venue came a change of tack, with the emphasis of Convention being taken away from it being a “Medal Fair with exhibits” and towards being more of a research weekend with talks, exhibits, etc., on the Saturday and a bourse on the Sunday. From what we hear, the Saturday was a great success and enjoyed by most, if not all of those who decided to make a weekend of it. However, I can only really comment on the Sunday’s event as we, as a commercial organisation, were there to launch our Medal Yearbook 2010 and “stall out” to meet the collectors and, hopefully, cover the expenses of three of us and two cars (those Yearbooks are heavy—one car just won’t do the job) on a trip to London from Devon. Initially we had been worried that the lack of porters and the tighter security at the new venue would be a problem — we had been told that we had 15-minute slots to unload—not an easy task when you have as much stock as we did, but in fact it was simple. A lift near the unloading door and the unloading time slots not rigorously enforced meant that the day started well and we viewed the salubrious new room with optimism. It was certainly a smaller venue than the previous cavernous room, but well lit and well appointed, and it had the upmarket feel that Convention needs. Whilst it was a bit of a trek to get to the main room from the foyer, that’s academic and, certainly at first glance, you could see why it had been chosen. Unfortunately whilst the new venue might have been a worthy successor to the new Connaught Rooms, in some ways it carried its own problems. The pre-registration of all attendees was a requirement of the BMA, for security purposes, and this was rigidly enforced, meaning that you couldn’t just “turn up” on the day. That, coupled with the fact that it was absolutely “members only” this year, so no guests or even partners of members (unless family members in their own right) could come along, meant that numbers were inevitably down. This knowledge in turn had led to quite a few of the dealers either reducing the number of tables they had or not coming at all, and there were a number of high profile dealers noticeable by their absence. This meant that the 2009 event was very much a shadow of its former self, with far fewer dealers catering for fewer attendees. Now, in theory, that should have been OK. After all, if you have 30 medal dealers catering for 500 visitors, then surely half that number (there were 13 actual medal dealers at the Convention this year with the other tables being taken up by publishers, book sellers, auction houses and of course the OMRS themselves), catering for fewer people would work out the same . . . wouldn’t it? Unfortunately not. Those who did attend the bourse this year were the die-hard medal collectors, the “serious” buyers in the hobby, and they, of course, were already familiar with the vast majority of stock on offer as they were already good customers of most of the dealers who stalled out! This inevitably meant that as a commercial venture for many of the dealers, it simply wasn’t worth it. It also, to a certain extent, annoyed the attendees as they didn’t have the opportunity to view new medals and instead were faced with items they’d known about for some time—this, of course, meant that they didn’t hang around for long and, quite shockingly, the room was empty by 2.30pm (not the OMRS’s fault at all as they had the room booked until 5.00pm but there just weren’t enough dealers to hold the attention of the visitors, and vice versa!) Not all fared badly of course. I spoke to most of the dealers in the room on the day and some had had an excellent show, one in particular stating it to be his best ever. But others really hadn’t had a good day and the feeling amongst those was that the move and the new look Convention really wasn’t for them: they wanted as many people as possible through the door, not just their existing customers. However, that was never going to happen, not at this venue. There were other problems with the BMA too: the OMRS had provided complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits, but there were no other catering facilities and there was nowhere decent nearby to grab a good lunch or a pint and pore over your new purchases with a friend, something that had become something of a fixture with the previous venue. In addition, the move to a Sunday had angered some who simply couldn’t get into the capital because public transport is so sporadic on the Sabbath. Of course, it’s easy for me to sit at my desk and criticise the OMRS for Convention 2009, and it did have its faults. But there were plus points too, that must not be forgotten, and certainly I hear only good things about the Saturday and the research side of things. When all is said and done they are a Research Society after all and are to be highly commended for making Convention into more than just a medal fair—at this time of year there is hardly a dearth of those! The OMRS will never please all of the people all of the time but they tried their best this year. Unfortunately from a commercial point of view, for many the bourse was not a success and that will inevitably lead to questions about next year. It’s catch 22: if the dealers aren’t there, the visitors won’t come; if the visitors aren’t there, and spending, the dealers won’t want to attend. So what can the OMRS do? The research side of things, the coming together to “talk medals”, went down well. It was only the bourse that faltered (and even then it certainly wasn’t a disaster, it just wasn’t what it has been in the past), but without a bourse is there a Convention? Personally I feel “yes”, there can be, and that maybe the future for the Convention lies that way: in steering away from a bourse completely and concentrating solely on a weekend of research, exhibits, talks, etc. But that’s very much a personal opinion and it will be a very tough decision to make. I certainly wouldn’t like to be in the committee’s shoes when it comes to deciding what to do next.
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