Volume 52, Number 8, September 2014
The Medal behind the Man ONE topic seems to be dominating the medal world at the moment, both on line and at the recent OMSA convention in Santa Ana, California (more on that next month) and that is the subject of biographical research versus numismatic research. I know this is something I have mentioned before but it comes round again periodically and I feel it worth bring up again now. Essentially there are two aspects of our hobby, almost uniquely in collecting spheres, the physical medals we collect, the metal, the ribbons, the naming styles, the clasps, etc., and then the story behind those medals; the story of the man or woman who was awarded them. The “man behind the medal” story is, of course, what separates us from coin or medallion collectors. The fact that we are really collecting the history rather than the present day item is what many of us got into the hobby for and logically that is what most of us research. We want to know more about the recipients: we want to know what they did, where they were, who they served with and what other medals they were awarded. This is why we often talk about the “men” in our collection rather just the groups—it’s much more personal to us than simply pieces of metal. The advent of the internet and digitised records, censuses, etc., has inevitably led to even more biographical research being available and so we are able to further complete the story of “our man’s” life. Now this is, of course, is how it should be. We really should be researching the recipients of the medals which we are now the custodians of as we owe it to the men and women who were first given these awards to keep their memory alive and that is something I have tried to emphasise time and again in MEDAL NEWS. Unfortunately this, somewhat ironically is causing a problem for our hobby. Before records were so freely available people were not able to research the man so diligently and so, when they hit a dead end biographically, they turned their attention to other aspects of the medal they owned. They looked at numbers awarded, qualification criteria, naming styles, die variations, suspension varieties, odd clasp combinations and so on. This research was relevant to anyone who owned a similar medal and much of it has been reproduced in article and book form and has helped generations of collectors with their hobby. Now, however, things are different. The biographical research available means that most of us concentrate solely on our own man and not on the broader aspects of the medal he was awarded, and whilst that may be of great interest, especially if the “man behind the medal” has a great story, it doesn’t necessarily help further the cause of the hobby at large. At MEDAL NEWS we have always tried to publish articles across the spectrum, both good “stories” of recipients and also more numismatic themed pieces too, but in recent years authors submitting the former have increased immensely whilst those prepared to look further afield than their own man have dwindled. We now receive 25 “man behind articles” for every one numismatic one and sadly many of those don’t even have a good story behind them, instead they simply retell what we all already know (this especially true in the case of World War I stories). Therefore this month’s comment is very much a plea to all you budding authors out there—whilst we very much appreciate good man behind the medal articles, we, and the hobby, would also very much appreciate some articles on the numismatic side of medals. We genuinely want to know more about the medal as well as the man so why not give it a go, look at those varieties, look at those clasps, the ribbon, the naming and let us know what you find out. Your story of Uncle Bill winning an MM on the Somme may well be interesting but in time it will probably fade in our memories (sorry but it probably will). Your article on how to spot a fake MM may well help the hobby more than you can know and be with us for years to come.
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