Volume 49, Number 9, October 2011
Collector’s dilemma AS we all know, there are no finer feelings in a medal collector’s life than when he manages to pick up a medal that he has been searching for some time. It might be that the medal had appeared on the market before and had been missed (how often have you cursed yourself for not going that one bid higher or getting to the ‘phone that little bit quicker?), or it might be one never before spotted that fortuitously comes into view. Either way, managing to fill a hole in a collection is always satisfying and often we will go to great lengths to achieve it. Often those lengths will include buying a number of other, unwanted, medals in a “job lot” in order to secure the prize, or paying over the odds for a single medal as it comes with ephemera (uniforms, paperwork, even family medals). If we do find ourselves with “extras” on top of the prized medal we are left with a dilemma and it is that which I would like to talk about this month. With the “job lot” scenario—where you find yourself buying five British War Medals just to secure the one with your surname on or seven Victory Medals just to reunite that one—your options are fairly straightforward: you can either keep the extra medals or, and this is far more likely, sell them on to fund your next purchase. After all, the chances are the medals only came together because the dealer or auction house from whom you bought them put them together and they probably have no connection to one another other than, perhaps, a geographic or regimental one. They certainly wouldn’t be construed as “belonging” to each other, so disposal is entirely up to you. But what about the case where a medal that you have been after for a while comes with another that IS linked to it in some way—perhaps the two medals or groups belonged to members of the same family: father and son perhaps, or brothers. What then is the best course of action? If both sets of medals fit into your theme you will, in all probability (and if you can afford it), want to keep both, even if the “extra” medals are something you have an example of already. But what if the “extras” don’t fit into your collection at all? For example, you collect South Africa 1877-79 medals and finally unearth one to a unit you’re missing only to find it comes with his brother’s Egypt and Khedive’s Star. Then what do you do? In an ideal world we would all, I’m sure, like to keep family groups together and family groups are lovely to behold, we all know that. But if we are collecting to a rigid theme (be it regiment, campaign or even rank) then a family oddment may well be an expensive luxury that doesn’t sit as well in our collection as we might think and let’s be honest we aren’t made of money and the sale of that Egypt pair may well offset the cost of the “Zulu” medal, or at the very least will help fund the next purchase; but are we really in a position to be able to do that? We are, after all, only custodians of these medals. They are only ours temporarily and if they have been kept together for so long is it really fair of us to split them up? And if you decide it is only right and proper to keep related medals together, what about other items? What if the medals you want come with associated ephemera? Papers perhaps, or a uniform, maybe a swagger stick, a sword or some trench art. Again in an ideal world all of these items would stay together but perhaps if money isn’t an issue maybe space is—after all uniforms aren’t quite as easily stored as medals and our better halves may well have something to say about musty old khaki filling the house up! Ultimately none of us would ever condone the splitting of a group (even though the recipients themselves were often less worried about such actions), but sometimes we just don’t want, or can’t have, everything else that goes with the medals—what then should we do? Are we to pass on a group we’ve wanted for ages because of what comes with it? Should we lose the chance of owning something we would treasure because it really should be kept with things we wouldn’t? Or are we to split the items up, sending the uniform one way, the weapons another, whilst keeping the awards for ourselves? There is no easy answer and perhaps there is no right answer, each of us having to take individual cases as they are presented to us. Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world: money and space are tight and sacrifices do sometimes have to be made. I can’t pretend that isn’t a shame though, and I would very interested to hear what our readers think.
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