News & Blog

Bomber VC sets new auction record

Posted on Fri, 4 December 2009 by Phil Mussell - Medal News


Keeping everyone happy AGAIN I’m afraid I have to split this Editorial in two—I was all ready to talk about our Britannia medal fair and our ideas for the future when suddenly not one but two Victoria Crosses sell for incredible money. The first to Flight Lieutenant Bill Reid, a Lancaster Bomber pilot, sold at Spink for a staggering £348,000, bought, apparently, by the late Chris John’s sister as a tribute to him. A fine tribute indeed and a record for a VC group to a British recipient. No sooner had we digested that incredible piece of news (for more information see page 6) but we learn via the Daily Telegraph that Lord Ashcroft has paid an astonishing £1.5 million (or thereabouts—the exact figure is unknown) for the wonderful VC and bar awarded to Captain Noel Chavasse, one of only three “double VCs” ever awarded. The medal had, some time ago, been bequeathed by the Captain’s family to St Peter’s College, Oxford (founded by Captain Chavasse’s Father, the Reverend Francis Chavasse, in 1929). It now rests in the superb Ashcroft Collection and no doubt will form the centre piece to the Ashcroft Victoria Cross Gallery that will open in the Imperial War Museum next year. Now regular readers will know that we are firm supporters of Lord Ashcroft’s endeavours, believing his quest to form the largest collection of the ultimate gallantry award and then display them in London for all to see, to be an excellent idea and one that ultimately benefits us all—public and collector alike. However, in this particular case we are somewhat more reticent with our enthusiasm. In the main Lord Ashcroft’s acquisitions have, until now, either come from public auction or from private treaty—often with the family or, in some cases, the recipients themselves. In this case, however, he has bought the medal from those to whom it was donated and that begs a few questions. To my mind when a medal has been bequeathed or donated to an organisation, be it a museum, regiment or college, it has been done so because that is the will of the recipient or their next of kin. Is it therefore wrong for that organisation to profit at a later date from that item’s sale? After all, if profit were to be made shouldn’t it have been made by the recipient or their family in the first instance? Of course, I don’t know the full details of this transaction and the current descendants of Captain Chavasse may have been consulted at every turn (although I do not know whether the family is still involved with the College at all today) but nevertheless, I feel that even if this were the case they are not those who made the bequest and therefore cannot really speak for them. While I am sure that the money received from the sale will be put to excellent use, and will carry on the educational work that Reverend Chavasse intended the college for, I’m still not entirely convinced. To my mind if something has been donated it is not for the beneficiary to later make money from that act of generosity and whilst I do not begrudge the Ashcroft Collection this fine piece and can understand why Lord Ashcroft wanted to acquire it, I can’t help but feel a “permanent loan” to the gallery and perhaps a donation to the college by Lord Ashcroft may have been a more palatable way of doing things. The outcome would have been, to all intents and purposes the same, but somehow there’s a moral difference. Maybe I’m just being old fashioned but if I were the owner of a high end gallantry group I think I might now fear to donate or bequeath it, believing that it too could, in time, simply be sold on. I think I’d rather have the money myself! On a completely different note, I would just like to thank all who attended an incredibly successful “Britannia” on November 22. We had 34 dealers taking a total of 54 tables and that attracted over 500 collectors through the door throughout the day—with 124 queuing before opening at 9.30am! From what we can ascertain, most people had a very enjoyable time and a great many of the dealers and collectors alike took the time to congratulate us on making the day such a good one. A full report, and pictures, will appear in the next issue of MEDAL NEWS. This, of course, was the second of our shows and we have now proved, beyond doubt, that we can get the dealers in and the public in. However, of course, there will always be the potential problem that the former don’t have what the latter are looking for—if that’s the case then simple numbers mean nothing. To counter this age-old problem we have decided to launch a “Britannia Wants” list. Quite simply, if you plan to come to the next Britannia (March 21, 2010) then let us know, before the beginning of that month, what you collect and what you’d like to see on offer. We’ll circulate that list to all dealers attending and they will do their best to bring stock that suits your needs—or maybe source it if they don’t have it. There will be no obligation to buy, your name won’t be passed on, all that will happen is that the dealers will know that there will be people attending the fair who collect X, Y or Z—all you then have to do is check out their tables and hopefully they will have brought something of interest along and you can make your decision whether to buy or not! Dealers would always rather bring things they have a good chance of selling and collectors would rather see things on tables they’d like to buy—the answer is simple—tell us what you want, and we’ll pass it on. Look out in the February issue for more details and a “wants” form, but in the meantime write to us or email us (we’d like your wants in writing please so don’t call in with them) and we’ll start compiling that list now. We will then circulate it to the dealers stalling out in March and, with luck, everyone is happy. That’s the theory anyway!