Volume 59, Number 1, January 2021
A nice place to be A RECENT telephone call to the MEDAL NEWS offices alerted us to a “non-specialist” auction house that was recently offering a number of medal-related lots. That’s nothing new, many auctioneers will have little gems nestled amongst the brown furniture, silverware, pictures and other staples of the general sale; indeed we often hear of some absolutely stunning finds that have come, not from the “big boys” well known in the hobby, but from a small sale in a market town that few people might even have heard of. Of course, when we talk about “stunning finds” we usually mean rare items that went cheaply, probably because they weren’t in a specialist sale that had been advertised to the hobby and thus had slipped under the radar of most of the trade and collectors. There’s no doubt that to fetch the best price at auction you need to sell through people who are going to market their sale, and market it to the people likely to be the buyers! Now if you’re a collector looking to buy, you will, I am sure, welcome the idea of people consigning to their local sale, with their Granddad’s Battle of Britain DFC group nestling neatly between a nearly complete Indian Tree tea set and some watercolours of a lake; you’ll be hoping that nobody else in the hobby has noticed the group and that you’ll be able to pick it up for a song. Of course you will, its human nature, we all love a bargain and a small general sale often offers that opportunity—however, there can be a problem and it was that very thing that the ‘phone call was alerting us to. In short a specialist auction house, or an auctioneer holding specialist medal and militaria sales will, in the main, know what they are doing in terms of what item is related to what, what should be kept with what and so on. Thankfully today it is very rare to find medal groups split or to find paperwork and diaries 20 or so lots from the medals to the same man. The specialists, with knowledge honed over many years, will know what belongs where and whilst inevitably really large lots are occasionally split, mainly to enable more than just one or two people the opportunity to bid on them, we generally don’t have too much of an issue with archives and memorabilia being dispersed to the four winds and certainly never find a DSO and British War Medal being split from its Star and Victory. The specialist auctioneers know that to split up things isn’t only to incur the wrath of the hobby in general but also know, instinctively, that it’s somehow wrong, that items that have managed to remain together for decades should stay together now. Unfortunately not everybody thinks like that, or realises the implications of breaking things up, and so we have the problem highlighted to us recently. In this particular instance a small collection of medals and memorabilia was being sold in a number of separate lots, with seemingly no connection between them, certainly nothing to say they were related. Now the generous side of my nature says that this was done by accident, that the auctioneer, more used to selling other things, simply split up the collection by “weight”, dividing it up into equal parts, each of which would fetch similar money. The cynical part of me wonders if he split it up to watch others push up the prices as they vied to put it all back together again. But then why shouldn’t he do exactly that? After all an auction house’s contract is with the vendor, they’re charged with getting the best price for their seller and if that price is achieved by splitting things up and hoping lots of people will be bidding in order to ensure they are brought back together then is there really anything wrong with that? Well of course, the collector in me screams “yes”, but am I right? There’s no reason at all why groups and memorabilia, photos, diaries, uniforms et al should be sold together is there? The only reasoning come from us, the collectors—we are the ones who like to see things sold in one lot; we are the ones who will do our utmost to ensure what has been together for years stays that way; we are the ones who balk when family groups are sold separately and weep when gallantry medals are split from campaign groups. An auction house or dealer has no legal duty to ensure everything is kept together and whilst they often will, simply for the sake of an easy life, there is no actual obligation to do so; they don’t really have a moral duty either, only in our eyes, and so we shouldn’t really be surprised when those who don’t know the hobby as we do, who don’t view medals and their recipients in the same way as we do, do things differently. We might not like it, might hate to see it, but there’s little we can do about it, not really, especially when faced with those who just don’t understand what we’re talking about! What we can do though is thank our lucky stars that the vast, vast majority of dealers and auction houses we deal with on a regular basis do think like us and that they care as much about the hobby as much as we do—we’re very lucky like that, it’s one of the things that makes the world of medal collecting as nice a place as it is.
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