Volume 57, Number 9, October 2019
Well what do you know? MEDAL collecting is different from coin collecting in one very important way. Whilst the subjects of both hobbies are (generally) little circular metal disks, often made at the same place, there is one crucial difference. A coin is collected, is appreciated for itself, its aesthetic appeal, its rarity and whilst those things may indeed be relevant in our hobby we all know that the majority of us collect not medals but the men behind them. The disk is the tangible record of the man, his service, his deeds and whilst condition and eye appeal may well be a factor when we are purchasing, the real reason for us to add a medal or group to our collection is because it once belonged to someone who was in a particular regiment, held a particular rank, fought in a particular battle or campaign, had a particular name, lived in a particular town or performed a particular action. The medal is a representation of all of that and not just a piece of metal. Of course, you all know that so why am I saying it here and now? Well, at the recent Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS) Convention in Nottingham I had an interesting conversation with a collector who was rather delighted with his recent purchase. It wasn’t an expensive group, just a World War I trio with Territorial Efficiency and Defence Medal for WWII home service on the end, but he was over the moon as he had discovered something that the dealer had missed—apparently the soldier’s brother in law’s pigeon had been recommended for a Dickin Medal and amazingly the dealer hadn’t known when he sold the group on! OK this is actually untrue but the story was similar, the dealer had missed something which this collector had felt was of interest and was delighted when he discovered it. When I pressed him further I discovered that it had actually taken the collector the best part of a day trawling through The National Archives, Ancestry, Forces War Records, Find My Past and various censuses (censi surely?!) before he discovered the missing facts and even then he was only able to do so because he had local knowledge and had, years ago, heard that a man from his town once owned a famous pigeon (again untrue but the principle remains!). I tried to explain to him unless the dealer in question had been given that fact by the person who sold him the group in the first place there’s no way he would have uncovered it himself, he simply wouldn’t have bothered spending hours trawling through all the resources that the collector had in order to sell a group costing less than £200, it wasn’t worth his while. The collector remained undeterred and was insistent that the dealer should have done more, and that had he done so he could have increased the selling price of the group. He then went on to tell me about the number of times auction houses had missed such things and no matter how hard I tried to persuade him that no auction house in the land could be expected to spend hours researching a single Victory Medal he wouldn’t have it, telling me of the times he’s bought things only discover that the recipient went to school with a VC winner or who once shook hands with Lord Kitchener etc. His view was that now everything is “readily available” every medal for sale on the open market should come with the same amount of research as he was prepared to do on it and that any dealer or auction house that wasn’t providing that was either asking to lose money or not doing right by their vendors. I tried to explain to him that simple economics wouldn’t allow it but he was, for a while, adamant. It was only when I asked him how much enjoyment he got from researching medals that he bought. He paused for a second and I watched it slowly dawn on him that half of the fun of the hobby, for him at least, was the research, was finding out things about the recipient that others had missed and finally he relented, finally admitted that were every medal that came on to the market be researched to within an inch of its life he would get half the fun out of his hobby as he does today—and he wouldn’t be able to regale listeners with tales of what he had discovered. Personally I was always a bit lazy, I liked the research done for me and whilst I would always do a cursory check to make sure I hadn’t been sold something under false pretences I was, in general, happy with whatever was included with the group. Others, like the OMRS collector, love doing the research themselves and would be very disappointed if it was all done for them. Into which camp do you fall? Would you rather dealers and auction houses did more research or are you happy to do it yourself? I think most will fall into the latter camp but I’d be interested to know, do drop me a line!
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