Forty years a Tiffie
Volume 59, Number 9, October 2021
Home is where the medals are MEDAL NEWS author Dan Lyon wrote to us earlier this month outlining a recent positive experience, and wanting to thank those involved. Some time ago whilst writing an article on one William Percy Lyon, Dan managed to track down the man’s great-granddaughter in Canada and, still having her details, contacted her the moment he saw the medals to her relation come up at auction at DNW in August. The medals, a pair named to Honorary Captain W. P. Lyon (Honorary Captain is the Canadian Army title for a chaplain instead of Reverend) along with the recipient’s British Empire Service League Medal and Canadian Legion Medal, were sold with a trio awarded to one of William’s sons. They were estimated together at a conservative £120–160, so Dan suggested to his contact that she should put on a hefty bid of double top estimate to ensure she secured the lot, but she didn’t, somebody else outbid her, and the medals hammered at £360. Dan goes on to write: “That would have been the sad end of this adventure in other spheres, but some medal collectors are made of different stuff. DNW let the successful bidder know that he had just pipped a member of the family, and he immediately offered to sacrifice the cherished addition to his collection and withdraw in her favour. A gentleman, who made my day as well as hers: WPL’s medals are now on their way back to Canada, where they belong, and the buyer and DNW should accept the collecting fraternity’s kudos that they have both earned”. We were asked to highlight this story both as a thank you to the anonymous bidder and the auction house and to encourage others, perhaps, to do the same, to return medals to families wherever possible. Now whilst I am happy to pass on thanks to all those involved and agree with the sentiments to a certain extent, (and am delighted that in this case William’s great-granddaughter seems very pleased with her acquisition), I wouldn’t necessarily be as eager as Dan, or the original buyer, to return medals regardless simply because they are going back “to the family”; after all how do you think they got to market in the first place? Generally by somebody in the family deciding to part with them! Certainly everyone is different, and one grandchild may desperately want to keep something in the family when another one simply doesn’t care, hence the appearance of medals for us collectors to buy and the angst when others discover them gone. So it is, I fully accept, unfair to simply state that the family sold the medals therefore don’t deserve them back. That said, we have all heard those stories, apocryphal or not, of collectors selling (or in some cases even giving) medals back to the family only to see them appear on an auction site or dealer’s list a few months later. I’m sure it does happen, and thus I would always treat a request “from the family” with some degree of caution. I’m not saying I would never return a group, after all I’d be absolutely over the moon if the medals of an ancestor of mine came back to me. But I’m a cynic and I think I’d only let something go if it was easily replaceable. If it was a unique group, something I’d had for a while and had become “attached to” or something I’d been trying to get for ages, then I’m not sure how I would react. I can tell you this, I would have to think long and hard about my actions: it wouldn’t just be an automatic “the family must have them”, that’s for certain. I accept that there may well be those of you horrified by the suggestion that a collector should hold on to a family’s medals if said family wants them back, but like I said, I’m a cynic. But also it’s more than that. Whilst I accept many family members will indeed cherish medals should they get them back, I know that there will be others who, after the initial rush has worn off, will simply throw them in a drawer never to be seen again. Collectors on the other hand generally cherish their acquisitions too, they research them, care about them and, as a rule, won’t simply set them aside just to gather dust. So whilst yes, families can and do take very good care of their ancestor’s medals, as I’m sure William’s great-granddaughter will do, I don’t necessarily think they should automatically be considered better custodians than collectors. To my mind we do a pretty good job as well! Am I being harsh? Am I wrong? What are your thoughts? Would you automatically relinquish a medal or group because a family member requested it of you? Do you eagerly seek out families to return to them medals you currently own? (There are some who do just this.) Or would you be a little more circumspect and consider yourself just as worthy a keeper of the medals as any distant relative of the recipient might be? Do let me know your thoughts; I’d be interested to know if I’m alone in my cynicism here!
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