Still in the wilderness IT has been over a year since I reluctantly bid farewell to my collection of medals to chaplains and men of the cloth. Financial necessity was the only reason behind the sale: a desire to secure the building in which Token Publishing Ltd now resides (for the next 991 years anyway, goodness knows what we’ll do in the year 3010) overrode my love for my collection. And it was a love. I had built up the collection over more than a decade and had spent many hours researching the men whose medals I now cherished and spent just as long searching for those medals I didn’t have represented. My aim was to try to get an example of every medal and clasp ever awarded to a chaplain, the only criteria being that the naming had to include Reverend, Chaplain or equivalent (the Canadians use Hon. Capt or Hon. Major etc. for their chaplains—it confused me greatly at first!). I did pretty well, I had a couple of NGSs, a “Zulu”, numerous Indian Mutiny medals with a variety of clasps, QSAs, GSMs and modern medals too. I had gallantry medals, campaign medals, lifesaving medals and those wonderful miscellaneous things we all have but can’t quite categorise—as long as it said “Reverend” on it it would go into the collection; but there was still more to do. I knew I couldn’t get an MGS (I was heavily outbid on the one that came available and know the collector who was successful—it won’t come back on the market for a while!), but there were other things out there I needed and I was happy to try and find them, I was content. But the long lease on the building came up and that was that, I needed the cash. The back of my sofa yielded very little, so off to auction I went. But that was OK; I’d start collecting something else. Of course I would. Except I haven’t. Yes, I still manage to find the odd medal to a “Mussell” but they are few and far between (we weren’t a brave bunch or much for volunteering) as are medals to Heavitree recipients (Heavitree being the area of Exeter in which I live). I could broaden my scope and start collecting the medals of those who lived across Exeter but, to be honest, there are parts of this city I don’t know at all—“south of the river” is like a different country! And besides, whilst I live here now I have no special attachment to the town, I wasn’t born or raised here and whilst I very much enjoy living in the South West it doesn’t tug at my heart strings in the way some “hometowns” do for others. The reason, for me, that the chaplains’ collection was the perfect theme was twofold. I came to it partly because of my degree in philosophy and theology; I was also fascinated by how men of religion can justify their place in the armed forces. I stayed collecting because I soon realised that the research possibilities were vast. Chaplains got everywhere: they were attached to regiments and ships, served across the globe and in every conflict and I learned much. If you collect to a single regiment you are limited to collecting the medals awarded for the areas in which they served. If you collect to a particular conflict or campaign you are naturally limited by that. The chaplains had no such limitations, they were everywhere, and across history, serving in every theatre of war and where there was no fighting they served as missionaries, in hospitals, as teachers. More than that, I found that I could also learn about what happened after they left the armed forces. I visited churches where they went on to preach, read books they had written, researched parish records to learn far more about their lives than is usually possible with your “ordinary” soldier, for whom we are often limited to a census record and maybe a newspaper cutting or two. In short I found that chaplains were the perfect theme for me and that’s the problem. I can’t replicate it. Every time I start thinking about a new theme I find myself criticising my choice, finding reasons why I shouldn’t go down that route—and it’s annoying me. I miss serious collecting, I really do (the odd acquisition here and there is NOT collecting) but nothing grabs my interest in quite the same way and, to be honest it saddens me. I have been hoping something will suddenly jump out at me, that I’ll stumble across a new theme one day and never look back, but a year on and it hasn’t happened yet so I’m making an appeal to all of our lovely readers—how did you come up with your themes? And if, like me, you have sold your first collection how did you decide what to collect next? I really would like to know, and perhaps there are others out there who are in the same boat and want advice too. I for one am eager to get collecting properly again.