Custodians of History
Volume 44, Number 1, December 2005
There can be no doubt that one of the major changes to affect our hobby in the past few years has been the internet revolution, in particular the advent of the auctions sites that have enabled us to add to our collections as never before. No longer do we have to wait for the latest dealers’ lists only to find that the item we so eagerly sought had already been sold; no longer do we have to get up at the crack of dawn to queue outside the medal fair so that we may be first to peruse the tables in search of that elusive piece; no longer do we have to ensure we are in a sale room, or at least on the phone, at the right time for fear of losing our coveted lot by just one bid. Of course those things are still part of the hobby and will be so for a long time to come – after all if you want that elusive QSA or BWM to complete your group then it might well appear on a list, at a fair or at auction and simply sitting at home staring at websites all day won’t guarantee you’ll find it, however for those of us not just searching for the one offs, the “last pieces” then the internet, the auction sites in particular, are a good way to add to our collections and, if you get the timing right either with early bids or “snipes” there are bargains still to be had. Of course there’s no logic to the internet with some ridiculous prices being made (anything remotely emotive – such as a First Day of the Somme casualty - seems to fetch crazy sums where equally interesting pieces, each with a good story behind them, often go for a song) but whilst the anomalies of trading in cyberspace are a side to this new form of commerce that wasn’t necessarily expected they don’t do our hobby any real harm and indeed are often the hot topic of conversation amongst medal groups, discussion fora and the like. However there is another side to the internet, and the auctions sites in particular that could damage the medal world and whilst it is probably naïve of me to say it wasn’t expected it does sadden me to see how often it occurs. All too often these days we see lots appearing on the internet (not necessarily on the specialist sites where both buyers and sellers are more knowledgeable but certainly on the more “public” sites) that are in fact broken up from what should be a single lot. The most obvious example of this is when miniatures are separated from full size medals – not a major issue as after all miniatures are relatively easy to replace but it is a shame to know that the actual “dress” medals the recipient wore might no longer stay with their larger counterparts. Far worse is when original paperwork, photographs and such like is separated from groups in order to make a double sale, to most collectors the “group” isn’t just the metal and silk but rather comprises everything available and to see original, often irreplaceable, items split up is a tragedy. Worse still of course are those who seek to blatantly profiteer by splitting up entire groups in the hope that those of us who are serious collectors will all outbid each other in an attempt to keep the medals together. Some may say that such splits are the work of those who don’t know what they’re doing, sadly that isn’t always or indeed often the case, on more than one occasion I have heard of collectors who have emailed the “offender” telling them that the group ought to be kept together only to receive the reply that the vendor could “get more money this way”. Yes the vendor might indeed get more money that way, might indeed enjoy the spectacle of watching frantic collectors trying to save the entire group for posterity but if that’s all they are interested in then do they really deserve our custom?. Of course such actions as these are not new, as long as there have been people buying and selling there have been new tricks devised in pursuit of the “fast buck”, but there are limits and unfortunately those limits are all too often exceeded these days. Thankfully such goings on do not happen with the main-stream dealers, most of whom recognise that were they to split a group to maximise profit they would be given short shrift within the trade and would find their reputation diminishing as fast as their profit margin. However with the onset of the internet age everybody now fancies themselves as a dealer and whilst the vast majority are perfectly straight forward and honest, seeking only to increase their collections or dispose of unwanted items, there are those whose only consideration is the money and the sharp practices in pursuit of the that extra pound or two are to be found everyday. It is worth remembering, I think, that we are merely the current custodians of the items we hold, not their true “owners”, and whilst no-one will begrudge a dealer making the profit he needs to continue in business or indeed a collector benefiting from an increase in demand, those who seek simply to make money out of the medals they have, with no thought to the history behind them, those who would happily break up groups and part photos and papers from the medals they relate to simply to make themselves more cash have no real place in our hobby and, whenever possible, are to be actively discouraged. So next time you are searching the auction sites and find a broken group sold as separate lots let the vendor know that the medals/papers belong together – it might have been a genuine error – however if he was aware of what he was doing then don’t bid, don’t try fall into his trap, instead hit him where it hurts, in his pocket – he’ll be less keen to repeat his “mistake” next time.
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