Medal News

Volume 51, Number 9, October 2013

Cromwells Dunbar Medal

Volume 51, Number 9, October 2013

The property of…? A recent article in the Antiques Trade Gazette (ATG) has highlighted an interesting issue regarding the sale of official documents which could have wide ranging implications for medal collectors, particularly those who rely on such documents to lend provenance to an unnamed group. According to the ATG, auctioneers Tenants of Leyburn withdrew four lots of documents relating to 19th century prison records after the National Archives (NA) insisted that they were public records as defined by the 1958 Public Records Act and as such could not be sold. In essence the NA was challenging the belief that any hitherto public record could ever pass into private ownership, unless, presumably, sold or given by the Government itself with provenance to back that up. Why does this affect us medal collectors? Well, take the case back in March (highlighted in the same ATG article) when Auctions of Banbury were forced to withdraw the logbooks of a member of the Dambuster (617) Squadron after a challenge from the RAF. Although a letter from the Squadron member stating that the logbooks were passing into private hands was with the lot, the RAF challenged the right of the member to make such a gift, citing that the logbooks had never really been his but rather remained the property of the RAF. Now, anyone in the hobby who collects World War II RAF will know the importance of the logbooks. Few officer gallantry groups from the period (and by definition few pilots’ groups) have named medals with them and thus it is to the supporting documentation that the collector turns when researching—and, of course, when buying and selling. A DFC group with a few stars and a War medal but without any paperwork is an interesting group, but add a logbook from a Bomber Pilot shot down over Dresden or a Battle of Britain Spitfire Ace and suddenly you have something worth serious money. If the RAF are now turning around and saying that actually all the logbooks are in fact the property of the RAF (i.e. the Government) and in fact were never legally owned by the pilot and so were not his (or his family’s) to give away or sell, then all sorts of complications could ensue. To date we are not aware of any situations where paperwork has been separated from medal groups by officious bureaucrats but maybe it is just a matter of time. Also a matter of time, surely, is the challenge by some civil servant with no eye for history but a pathological desire to nit-pick (you can tell whose side I am on . . .) regarding medals themselves and whether they shouldn’t be regarded as property of the Government rather than the individual to whom they were awarded. Such a challenge should, and hopefully will, be met with the derision it deserves and I can see certain members of the press having a field day with their headlines. However, the challenge regarding the documents is more insidious as they aren’t exactly headline grabbers in the same way medals are and it is just possible that we may one day see a ban on the sale or transfer of all logbooks, etc., as the Government seeks to reclaim them all. If that happens, then what’s next? Uniforms maybe? It’s not an impossible scenario and one we all need to keep an eye on. If you are aware of any cases of documents/logbooks, etc., being withdrawn from sale, or worse, separated from medals because of a legal challenge (we all know they get separated out by the unscrupulous from time to time), then do get in touch—this is something we need to monitor and would be delighted to hear from you.

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