Medal News

Volume 58, Number 7, August 2020

Path of Glory

Volume 58, Number 7, August 2020

Headline act THE weekly newspaper for the antiques trade, the Antiques Trade Gazette (ATG) of June 20 had what I consider to be a rather curious headline. Reporting the discovery of an organised medal forging “factory” in Derbyshire (see News & Views, page 6), the headline, on their front page, read “Market reels after medal factory raid fuels fears of fakes”. Now we will accept that the alliteration is excellent, those three “fs” trip off the tongue very nicely, so bravo there, but we don’t accept that the market is “reeling” in any way whatsoever, in fact we think the exact opposite is more likely to be the case. Yes, it is true that a very sophisticated operation forging medals, particular gallantry medals, has been unearthed and that over the years it is perfectly possible that a large number of fakes have come on to the open market and, logically, that would indeed make outsiders think that the medal hobby would be worried, with collectors now keen to check every group they’ve ever bought. But, you see, here’s the thing—most of us have known all about fakes and forgeries since the moment we started collecting; we have known that there are “copies” out there since the word go, mainly because said copies are readily available to buy on the open market and a quick look on many dealers’ websites or a trip to a fair (when they are on) will see a vast array of them. Copies serve a purpose, they are there to replace a missing medal in a group, show entitlement or maybe complete a display. Collectors have embraced copies for decades and, because we are a fastidious lot, we have wanted our copies to look good and we don’t always want the word “copy” on them. Consequently some of the “not original” medals available are actually pretty darn good and we have had to hone our senses in order to spot them. The question you may now be asking is “if such things are readily available why did somebody recently get a suspended jail term for selling them?” The answer to that lies in intent. The gentleman in question, it seems, was buying paperwork or broken groups, adding medals he made himself and then selling the completed groups AS ORIGINAL, and that’s where the problem lay. Had he been taking broken groups and adding original, correctly entitled medals to it, then, in the eyes of the law at least, he would have been doing nothing wrong. After all, in the case of many groups, especially World War II medals, who is to say that the missing DFC added to the group wasn’t the actual one the recipient was awarded in the first place? There’s no proof either way, but when the medal is a modern copy then you know absolutely it wasn’t the original one and to say that it is a criminal offence. It is when you try to pass something off as original that a copy becomes a fake. The adding of “replacement” original medals to groups always causes controversy, some say it must never be done, others say it can be done as long as a note is made that the medals have been added later, whilst others have no problem with it whatsoever. Similarly the addition of copies is something that some will not do at all, whilst others have no issue with it and it is because of the latter that the practice has become quite widespread and we collectors have learned to become wary. It’s not that we don’t trust fellow collectors, we know that they, being the upstanding citizens that they are, would never try to fob us off with a copy but it isn’t always the collectors or even recipients who are parting with their medals; often, after a collector or recipient is no longer with us it is their next of kin that are disposing of the medals and, if they aren’t doing it through a dealer or auction house, then we have to be very careful that all is correct. Not because the seller will seek to deceive but simply because they won’t know. As a consequence we have all learned to be on the lookout—it’s not so bad buying through the trade as the dealers or auction houses don’t often let a copy get through and if they do they will usually reimburse you, but with private sales you always have to be on guard. So it is that we develop this sixth sense, this “feel” for what is right and what is not, and so it simply isn’t the case that we are now “reeling” at the discovery of this medal factory. We’ve all known about fakes/forgeries/copies/call them what you will for years, we are always on the lookout for them—so the removal of someone who was actively trying to deceive collectors won’t worry us in the slightest, it will however, please us very much indeed. With this in mind I would like to propose my own, alternative, headline to replace that of the ATG—how about “Market rejoices after medal factory raid finally foils forger”? There, much better, and I got the alliteration in too. Fabulous.

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