Medal News

Volume 36, Number 9, October 1998

From the Editor's desk

Volume 36, Number 9, October 1998

In March 1994 MEDAL NEWS published an article entitled: “A Cautionary Tale”. This dealt at some length with the extraordinary case of the R. Alexander Montgomery collection, recently sold by Spink & Son at their auction on July 21. Without wishing to tell the whole story again, I can outline the main facts. Mr Montgomery, an American collector, bought, over a period of years, a large number of European orders and decorations which were “valued” at over $4 million in 1985. As a result of pressure to repay a loan, he decided to sell his collection; calling on the services of Sotheby’s, he was subsequently informed that the collection mainly consisted of recently-manufactured copies worth a fraction of the original price paid. Instead of pursuing his supplier for redress, Mr Montgomery sought unsuccessfully for five years to sell the collection through various auction houses. Finally he submitted a claim to his insurers on the basis that $1.8 million worth of Imperial German orders had been stolen by the original supplier. This claim, refused by the insurers, eventually came to court, and Mr Montgomery’s case was dismissed by the judge because of “material concealment’s and misrepresentations”. The Spink catalogue introduced this collection of awards as being”…of fine workmanship…’made to order’ within the last two or three decades”. Although Spink say they have received only one letter containing adverse criticism of their decision to sell the collection, it would appear superficially to be an unusual course of action for a reputable firm to take, knowingly to sell acknowledged forgeries back to the medal market. However, Spink makes a very good case for their decision. The firm intervened when it was discovered that this collection was to be sold by a non-specialist auctioneer, and, with the company’s resources at their disposal, photographed and “marked” every piece. This sale at last publicly accepted that these items were not what they purported to be, and ipso facto has hopefully drawn a line under the whole sorry episode. Spink have offered to adjudicate in future disputes if anyone attempts to re-sell these items as genuine, and collectors can therefore feel assured that they need not be misled again. I believe that this affair reinforces the admonition Caveat Emptor- let the buyer beware: it is our responsibility as collectors to take as much care as possible when negotiating a purchase. However, the affair also exposes the lengths to which determined criminals will go to prey on the collecting community in order to make large gains. With modern computer technology artefacts like medals and decorations can be reproduced to a highly authentic standards, and few of us will always have the experience to spot the forgery. It is therefore crucial, for the health of our medal-collecting activity, that both dealers and collectors are fully committed to fair trading and to the exposure of fraud.

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