From Artillery to the RAF
Volume 49, Number 5, May 2011
No easy answer THIS month DNW have not one but two big collections going under the hammer with the Bill and Angela Strong collection and the Alan and Janet Woodliffe Collection of items related to the Sudan. Big “named” collections such as these have always been popular at auction (not just medal auctions either: they can be found across the collectables world) and you will often see past sales referenced in catalogue descriptions; however whenever I see them coming up I tend to find myself asking whether or not I would sell my medals that way were I to have the chance. Part of me loves the idea of the “Mussell” collection being sold all in one go, a lavish catalogue, the eager anticipation of the day, the congratulations (and maybe some commiserations) when lots soar way past estimate or perhaps fail to make reserve, the knowledge that in one hit my bank balance will swell and the pride when I see my name referenced in future catalogues. However, if I’m honest I think that’s more to do with my ego than the practicality of such a sale and, if I’m really honest, I have to accept that whilst I’m proud of my own acquisitions no auction house in the world is going to make a big song and dance about them. The forthcoming collections are stunning, they seem to have something for everybody and I am glad they are being sold as they are rather than being drip fed into the market piece by piece without us mere mortals getting the chance to see them in all their glory in one catalogue. My own humble collection could not command such attention and so, I fear the “Mussell” collection must remain a pipe dream. That, however, means that I have to think of some other way to dispose of my medals when the time comes, that’s assuming the time ever will come. And that leads neatly on to the “Comment” this month. What will happen to our collections when we don’t collect anymore? Now, I don’t want to be morbid about this but there will come a time in all our lives when we look at the mass of metal and silk we have accumulated over the years and have to ask ourselves: what is to become of it all? I’m assuming here that the thoughts of selling are not forced—marriage breakups, ill health, sudden emergency expenses may well force our hand when it comes to disposing of our beloved collections and in those cases we may not get a choice as to how they are sold. No, in this instance I’m talking about the thoughts that come to us all in time: the realisation that we are mere custodians of these little pieces of history and that once our time as custodian is over, either because we really feel someone else ought to get the chance to appreciate them or because we recognise time is no longer on our side, we really do need to dispose of or disperse our collection properly. Of course many of you may well not be looking to get rid of your medals at all —deciding instead to leave them to your family, or perhaps you have decided to leave them to a museum. Both are good options but ask yourself these questions: does your family really want them? It’s your passion after all and if they don’t want to keep them, will they lose out by not knowing how to dispose of them properly? And does that Regimental museum who so often helped you with your research really want more medals? Most of us who are familiar with museums know that they are often overflowing with items that they simply will never get a chance to research or even display. So whilst they may well appreciate a few choice pieces, handing over an entire collection probably wouldn’t be that ideal. Assuming then that your family doesn’t share your passion and the museum of your choice gets one or two items, what happens to everything else? Money will, I am sure, be an issue—we have all spent a fair bit on our collections over the years and whilst I am sure very few of us have done it purely for profit, we don’t actually want to make a huge loss either. So what best to do? Well, if you have an eclectic mix, a collection that appeals across the board, with gallantry and campaign medals to officers and men (and indeed from different periods of history if you’re very lucky), then perhaps a one-off sale at one of the specialist auction houses would work. Who knows, if your collection is as awesome as the Strong and Woodliffe offerings you might even get your name on it—but if you have spent your time and money buying and researching maybe one or two battalions of one regiment in one conflict, then pushing them all onto the open market in one go probably wouldn’t be wise. A collection comprising a couple of hundred trios all to the same unit might look impressive, and indeed will have been a project to be proud of over the years and a worthy collection to work on, but if you try and dispose of them in one hit the chances are the price you achieve won’t be the price you paid. Selling them in one go to a dealer might work—he will obviously take his cut so you wouldn’t get full market value (he has to live you know), but he will be able to control the flow of them onto the open market and you won’t need to worry about prices dropping. You could try disposing of the collection piece by piece either to dealers, auction houses or on-line (or all three), but do remember there will always be commission or similar to pay. You could try to sell them to fellow collectors either on-line or through private adverts—you’ll get full market value for them but the hassle might not be worth it and it might take longer than you’d hoped. Realistically there is no easy answer. How you decide to dispose of your medals will depend on the type of collection you have and how quickly you want to realise the assets. What is right for you might not be right for another, so I can’t really give any concrete advice. All I will say is that if my daydreams over the “Mussell” collection are anything to go by, working out how things are going to leave your collection can be almost as much fun as working out how to get them there in the first place!
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