Capture of Taku Forts
Volume 48, Number 5, May 2010
Good times As you are reading this editorial, both Spink and Bonhams will have just held what I am sure were very successful sales. These follow on from some excellent auctions at Warwick & Warwick and, as you can read in Market Scene this month, before that there were some superb results at both Bosleys and DNW. Later this month (May) we have Wallis & Wallis, A. F. Brock and Lockdales (who incidentally were NOT the auction house mentioned in Letters to the Editor last month—apologies to them if anyone thought they were); then in early June we have Bosleys again and then Morton & Eden. We also have Baldwin’s keen to develop their medal side (it was good to see them at the recent Britannia Medal Fair), as well as the postal and internet based auctions. Wellington Auctions bi-monthly catalogue is always eagerly awaited by our readers, Neateauctions.co.uk continues to go well and DNW’s desktop sales are going from strength to strength. These are all in addition to eBay and good old Speedbid (don’t forget Speedbid, it may be David to eBay’s Goliath but there are some interesting medals on there). And, of course, you can’t forget the “provincial” non-specialist houses, some of whom, like Mellors & Kirk or Woolley & Wallis, will have sales with large medal sections, whilst others will have gems of medal-related lots hidden within their general sales. In short, there is plenty of choice when it comes to buying at auction—more choice than ever before in fact. But does that mean the traditional dealers are suffering? Does it mean that more and more people are turning towards the auctions to buy or sell, rather than going to the dealers such as Chris Dixon, Chelsea Military Antiques or Phil Burman—long established “names” in the medal world? Far from it—if you look at their stock over the past few months, indeed the stock of most established dealers, you will see that they have offered some phenomenal groups recently. You only had to see the items available at Britannia to realise that whilst the auction houses may be doing well (there was no doubt that the two VCs and Army Large Gold Medal that Spink had on display were the stars of the show), the dealers are easily holding their own with some remarkable items for sale. Yes, there is still a great deal of “standard” stuff around, there always will be, but there really are some lovely choice pieces too and that begs the question —where is it all coming from? And, in turn, who is buying it? I’ve been involved in the medal game for nearly 30 years now and in that time I have seen some simply stunning medals come up for sale at prices which, when I look back on them, seem so very cheap. But in the past couple of years I have seen more quality medals than ever appear in catalogues and lists and, of course, I’ve seen prices rise too. Every month another record seems to be set; every month another glossy catalogue featuring groups that are guaranteed to fetch mega-money lands on my desk; every month another list is perused at length and I am always left in awe at what is on offer and every month I ask where on earth does it come from? The cynics will say that the hobby is so small that it just gets shuffled from one dealer to the next and that the market isn’t as buoyant as it seems. Yes, it is true that you will see things appearing at auction that then appear on a list, and items may well be on one dealer’s website one week and another’s the next. But that’s not new, that’s how dealers make their money: by dealing, and it happens in every area of collecting. What the cynics don’t spot is the fact that those dealers aren’t so foolish as to just keep buying and selling to each other—there wouldn’t be enough money in it, so tight are their margins—so there must be customers out there somewhere who are willing to part with serious money, and so there are. Take the most recent sales for example. Choose an auction house and then choose a few random lots. You may find one or two of them appearing on the tables of dealers at Mark Carter’s next fair or at Britannia, but not many. Most of those lots will go straight into collections and you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t see them again for some considerable time to come. That being the case, I ask again: where is all this wonderful stuff coming from? It might be, of course, that as prices rise so more people, who had been holding onto what they considered to be fairly worthless trinkets, begin to realise that they could make a bob or two. It could be that collectors, eager to buy some of the choicer pieces sell off some of their own items to fund new acquisitions. Whatever the reasons it is gratifying to see so many wonderful groups (and singles of course) being offered up by so many people; it is gratifying to see that they are still selling and that prices are continuing to hold strong, and gratifying to see so many collectors able to add some fantastic items to their collections. In the past 30 years I’ve seen situations where there has been too much stock and too few collectors (or at least collectors willing to spend) and I’ve seen the opposite—too many collectors scrabbling around for too little stock, with the dealers unable to find nice pieces anywhere. Today the balance seems to be spot on. Certainly the dealers will always like to be able to get their hands on more stock, that’s just the nature of the game, but at least what they are getting is superb. The quality of items on offer today is better than I’ve seen in three decades, and all those items seem to be finding homes—this is a great time to be in medals.
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