THE BEST IS STILL TO COME
Volume 37, Number 6, June 1999
I HAD already intended to devote this page to a discussion of the role of books and sources of reference in the field of medal collecting when I came across an internet discussion on which is the "best" of the six editions of British Battles & Medals, otherwise known as "Gordon's", a work which all medal collectors will (or at least should) know well. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of each edition, which would, of course, be useful for purposes of comparison. The first edition appeared as long ago as 1947. The second edition was published in 1949, and this was followed by the third in 1962. The fourth edition was revised by Edward C Joslin and was published by Spink, as was the fifth edition (1979). I have the latest edition, the sixth, which was published in 1988, but I also bought, some years ago, and for sentimental reasons (largely because it had a splendid reproduction of an India Medal 1895-1902 on the front cover), a copy of the third edition. There is no doubt that the latest edition, edited by members of staff at Spink & Son, is completely different from the editions produced by Major Lawrence Gordon himself. Apart from the obvious change of format, one correspondent on the internet drew attention to the different style of the Gordon "originals", and the scope of material covered. As to the scope of the content, the editors of the current edition stated clearly in their introduction that "much merciless pruning" was involved in order to "keep the work down to a manageable size". I see no problem with this. The fact that the original was limited to campaign medals, and excluded gallantry, long and meritorious service etc, always made it only one part of the reference material needed by collectors. It would clearly be impossible to include information about all medals in one book in the detail that British Battles & Medals deals with campaign medals, and as there are excellent specialist works on gallantry and long service easily available, this should present no problems for collectors. The second aspect of difference related to what was described by the correspondent who made the point as Gordon's "refreshing willingness to editorialise . . . His opinions about matters such as the quality of a fastening device, or the terms under which an award was granted, or even the colours of the ribbon, etc, were all well-worth hearing. . .". I am afraid that I have to disagree with this statement. It is fair enough to comment on these matters in an appropriate context, but in a work of reference readers are not usually looking for the opinions of the compiler; these can be at best misleading, and at worst confusing, for those new to the subject, who may take them as established fact rather than the value judgments they are. In fact, in the Preface to the first edition, Gordon himself explained why he had restricted his extremely useful work to campaign medals: "I have never collected decorations or made a study of them. Whilst possessing many Long Service Medals, I cannot agree that they are particularly interesting, as they have no historical background as regards the winning of them, neither are they peculiar to certain units. They have been left out of this book for that Reason". I personally find such eccentric views about decorations and long service medals, which are certainly popularly collected today, less than intellectually convincing. Although the current edition of the book is not perfect by any means, it is a great improvement on the fifth edition (which was riddled with spelling and typographical errors), and much better presented than Gordon's third edition (which also contained factual errors). I am confident that when Spink publish the next edition it will be the best yet.
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