What is it worth?
Volume 44, Number 3, March 2006
There’s an old adage that states “something is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it” and for years that was absolutely true, the price of medals, indeed anything, was dictated by market forces and would always “find its own level” given time. This still holds true in the main but the advent of the internet, and the auctions sites in particular, means that now something will sell for what someone is prepared to pay for it but that doesn’t necessarily mean it, or medals/groups similar to it, is actually WORTH the money paid. To illustrate this, look on any auction site and you’ll see the “standard” medals being sold for, roughly, what they ought to be – WWI pairs are retailing at £35-40 (when you take the postage into account – don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve got a bargain because it was less than you’d pay at a fair – at a fair you don’t pay postage to get it to you!), 1914/15 trios for £75 –85 etc. Victorian medals too, when they come up, are realising the approximate value that the MEDAL YEARBOOK places upon them – but then there are the anomalies. We’ve all seen them, seemingly humble medals that suddenly shoot up in price with two or more bidders frantically battling it out for ownership – does their inflated price mean that all medals of this ilk are worth that amount of money? Of course not, indeed it doesn’t even mean that that particular medal was worth the money paid, after all when the buyer comes to sell it on there might well be no-one interested in it at all. A classic example came recently when a medal to a Pte Sidney Mussell of the Devon Regiment came up for sale. Pte Mussell had been killed in action in Salonika with the 10th Devons and obviously the fact that he was part of the “forgotten” campaign on Salonika and a member of a “good” line regiment meant that his British War medal would sell well – but I didn’t care, all I knew was that his was one of the few “Mussell” medals I would be able to obtain and so I wanted it. Now I won’t say I would have bought it at “any price” but I was certainly prepared to pay well over the odds for it – but what would have happened had everyone bidding on it had thought like that? What if Mr “Salonika-campaign” hadn’t got a 10th Devon casualty in his collection? What if the 10th battalion collectors had spotted it? What if those who collect to casualties from Bramshaw in Hants where Sidney was from had seen it? Well there would have been chaos with the price creeping up well beyond what the market forces for “standard” casualty British War Medals would have us believe is the “value” of the medal. With the internet reaching far more people than any medal fair or even dealers list ever could the chances of a Salonika collector, a 10th Devons collector and a Mussell collector all finding that medal are, of course greatly increased – and that’s just in the medal world. What about all those other “Mussells” out there who had no interest in medals but happened to be searching the auction site for our surname just when that medal was listed? I could have found myself bidding against my brother! If that medal had fetched £100- 150 after a bunfight between interested parties could I honestly sit here and tell you it’s “worth” that? Of course not, it’s only really “worth” the same as any other KIA British War Medal from the same theatre of war but to me it’s priceless – and that distinction is what makes our hobby what it is. Of course such anomalies have always been the feature of auctions – when two or more bidders go up against each other the “book price” can often go out of the window but nowadays with more people in the virtual sale room than ever it is easy to see how strange results can occur. Another example is the pair and plaque I was “watching” last week – initially it failed to meet the reserve of £150 with the auction closing with it bid up to £135, it was re-listed immediately and within seconds was bid up to £170 – it sold for £180 two days later – what then was it “worth”? £180? £135? The reserve price of £150? If you say it’s worth what someone was prepared to pay for it then on Monday morning it was worth £135 and by lunchtime £170 – enough to confuse anyone. Perhaps it’s better not to think of a single “worth” at all but rather look at our acquisitions in three ways - the cost of the medal, the worth of a medal (i.e. what you could realistically sell it for on the open market) and the value of the medal to you as a collector. Many of us would, I think find the latter figure far higher, indeed incalculable, and that, I think is how it should be.
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