Volume 61, Number 7, August 2023
Local knowledge AS some of you may know, after my Chaplains collection was sold I struggled for some time to find a decent “theme” to base my collecting on; after a while I settled for two themes, both tried and tested ones—surname and town. Very simple, very straightforward, I’m collecting any medals named “Mussell” and any medals whose recipients were born in Exeter or can be traced via the census to having lived here for a decent period of time. I’m avoiding medals to people who simply retired here (it’s Devon for goodness’ sake, so many people retire here!) and I’m very particular about where they lived in the city. There are areas south of the river that I just don’t know and if I was to collect medals to men from there I may as well collect to those who lived in Plymouth or Bristol—I’m as familiar with those two cities as I am with that part of mine! Now you may think that those two themes would keep me busy, would prove conducive to me building up a decent collection once again. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Mussell is not a common surname and medals thus named are few and far between— I have 20 or so singles and groups but the last one I acquired was last year, eight or nine months ago, hardly enough to keep my interest piqued. And “Exeter” is proving similarly elusive—but why? It’s a big enough city, has been around a long time, has a decent military (and Naval) history so you’d think tracking down medals to recipients who lived here would be easy. Apparently not. Ok, so my insistence that the medals have to come from “my side” of the city will have curtailed me a little but even if I were to broaden my horizons and include south of the river I wouldn’t have a much bigger collection than I do now—in two or three years of looking for “Exeter”, I have probably only turned down six groups because of location and have been outbid at auction on only four occasions. There have, of course, been groups to Exeter recipients that I’d simply never have considered because of price (I’m a mere publisher after all) but not many. I estimate that there have only been in the region of eight groups I’ve been unable to even look at—so all in all just 18 extras I’d have if I were richer/less picky. That’s an average of six a year I’ve missed out on, one every two months, that’s not a lot. It was at the Stratford show in July that I realised one of the reasons why this might be—as I wandered from table to table, the dealers all had the basic biographical details of the medal recipient in evidence—the name, rank, serial number, regiment, whether they were killed or wounded etc., but rarely was there anything about their origins. Well of course there wasn’t, dealers don’t have time to write up full biographies and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the room to display them on their table! When I’m buying from a website or at an auction, I generally have a fuller description of the recipient and thus can tell if he’s from “my side” of Exeter or not—the cursory description on tickets at shows can never relay that kind of information and nor can I expect a dealer, with a vast and ever changing stock, to remember whether they have anything that suits me. Perhaps if I had the time to fully peruse each stand I might find more, but as I too am stalling out at such fairs and have to man my table, I just cannot spare the time to investigate as I should. When I was collecting Chaplains’ medals it was easy—the rank “Rev” “Chapn” or in the case of Canadians “Hon Capt” or similar told me straight away whether the medal would suit my theme or not, all I then had to do was to try to remember if I already had a similar example; it’s the same with “Mussell” groups, I can see instantly if there’s anything at a show for me— but when you’re collecting to specific area of a specific town it’s not so easy. And yet lots of people do what I do, lots of collectors are looking just for items related to their town or village—so how do you do it? How do you, when you go to a medal fair, find that one man who lived in your street or whose name appears on your local war memorial? How do you manage to find the all-important information when I struggle so much? Is it simply a matter of time? That you have the luxury of being able to look through stock at your leisure? Or do you perhaps do your research first and go armed with a list of medals you’re looking for on that day? I’d love to know otherwise I fear I’m going to be looking for another theme soon, one I can actually collect to this time!
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