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British Medal Collecting

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    British Medal Collecting

    The (few) forums that deal with British awards & medals certainly seem to buzz less than those that deal with other areas of collecting. The Third Reich oriented boards certainly have a higher usage - which is probably due to the endemic fakery inherent with collecting such items.

    British medals are pretty self-explanatory and there are a wealth of publications that cater for such collectors - and they're [usually] named and made from silver - which sets them apart from the above and makes them harder to fake. People who collect to the 2/3rd Wolverhampton Foot Dragoons don't really need extensive on-line discussions about construction methods & black light technology and they're probably too busy down at the PRO anyhow.

    You find the posts on forums that deal with British medals go something like this: Looking for information on Pte. Smith of the Strathmuir Railway Muleteer Vols. Really, how specific? Inside leg measurements, sperm count? It's all a bit 'anoraky' really, and each to their own. But it does take the 'fluidity' out of forums, because the chances of anyone even knowing anything about such an obscure unit is... zero.

    I personally am a 'generalist', but does being a 'generalist' make me any less of a collector [hoarder] than a 'research head'? We all do what we do for different reasons. I personally am not too bothered with Pte. Smith's fertility as I'm more interested as to why someone bothered to send the Muleteer Volunteers to Alaska in 1872, i.e. the grand historical scheme of things. I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm an ex-soldier that I can't see why anyone should be interested in my waist size in a hundred years time!

    I tried getting all 'serious' & joined the OMRS once. All very nice it was, albeit slightly 'anal'. Maybe I didn't have a research project large & complex enough to really benefit from the brain pool? I do know this though. I've had more fun with the Internet and my mailbox is regularly full of queries. Most of the queries are of the 'what medal is this' or 'what medals would my grandfather have had?' And the inquirers usually go away happy - some are even 'cyber-friends'.

    I started collecting when I was eight years old. My father wanted me to have a decent hobby. Little did he realise the monster he'd created! My collecting got shelved whilst I was in the forces - much nicer things to spend money on... beer! Fortunately, I have returned to the fold and regularly make up for my years of neglect.

    I used to trawl around the tables at fairs, but the Internet allows me to be more selective in hunting down the more obscure medals, although I do not actually purchase 'direct' over the net. Of consequence, I have a reasonably large collection of [British] medals that cover virtually the whole range of awards. Although I have a passion for Victorian campaign medals, I also have a soft spot for LS&GCs and Coronation & Jubilee medals.

    My collecting is non-specific. i.e. I don't collect to unit/name/theatre. Of consequence, I've aquired some scarce medals that I [otherwise] would not have encountered had I specialised in one specific area. Collectors of British medals tend to fall in to these following categories:

    i) Unit specific. Taffy collects medals to the Monmouthshire Mounted Volunteer Fencible Militia - and nothing else. It's a noble attempt to reunite the entire regiment via the medium of his obsession, but to someone who doesn't share his passion for the regiment, it does look rather uninspiring, considering they were disbanded two years after being raised - and never left Wales.

    ii) Medal specific. Bob trawls the tables looking for Canada General Service Medals. So far he has over one hundred to various units - both British & local Canadian units. He has no friends and wears womens' panties. I have seen a tray-full of someone's former collection of CGSs - all to the same ship. See above.

    iii) Campaign specific. Charles just luuuurves African campaigns and he takes great pleasure in getting his extensive collection of Ashantee Medals out and any given opportunity. Unfortunately, he suffers from Halitosis and also has few friends.

    iv) Gallantry Medals & Groups. Roger is a Chartered Accountant. He is married to Marlene and is seriously loaded. He drives a Jaguar and his wife is having an affair with his business partner. All his medals are thoroughly researched - but not by him.

    v) The groupie. Single medals? Pah! Barry has a table-full of trios & pairs. Well... they look good, don't they?

    vi) Category specific. Now I suffer from this. I just love those Coronation & Jubilee medals, but I also have a soft spot for Long Service medals too, so I'm not that focused. See below.

    vii) Freddie Mercury. "I want it all! I want it all! I want it all... I want it NOW!"

    viii) The researcher. "I'm sorry, I havn't got time to talk, I'm too busy researching!" That's Jonathan, and he comes in very handy indeed. He lives in the PRO.

    ix) The investor. "Well, it's an investment innit guv?" Sometimes confused with (iv).

    x) The muppet. See above.

    All in all, it takes all sorts and it certainly makes life and the hobby... erm... interesting, if not rather frustrating at times.

    I was stunned-- literally-- at an early age by what seemed then like the Galactically Vast Nature of British Medal collecting, which while all neatly named etc led to the sort of

    "(snort) Wudjurmean you've got a Bogshire Ancillary Clerical with bar "Pekin 1860," they wuz miles away!" and it seemed-- it really, really did,

    so much EASIER in the halycon 1960s and 1970s to collect all that wonderfully anonymous German Third Reich stuff... which led me into the bottomless pit of Traceable Imperial, which is ALMOST British, innit?

    I now appreciate the RESEARCH end of things, and from looking on, I wonder about a couple of things

    1) are groups split by "sharpies" who toss the "common junk" because All They Are Interested In is the Rare Bits? (or the I Only Collect "X" bits)? This seems a large problem to me. I always see the Rare Piece, all alone-- where'd the rest of that group go? I cannot recall EVER seeing "researched at the regimental museum, and while these are all worth only £14/6, he HAD this really great medal...whhhuuhhuuhhhh!" How does it "improve" that Special, Sparklin' Little Dworlink to toss the rest of the Valiant Tommy's group away?

    2) I seem to recall some years ago and then again recently that somebody was faking with what rumor bruited was frightening exactitude (original dies being abused?) a vast array of Napoleonic-Victorian stuff, and that "blanks" could be "officially named" to order. Is this in any way as bad as with Third Reich (and increasingly, some aspects of Imperial German)?

    3) Back in the mid-'80s sometime (I don't remember exactly) there was an enormous global silver "bubble," with the Hunt brothers of Texas trying to corner the world market. All of a sudden, all those Lowly Gunga Din medals to "natives" (the frontier Roman Legions of Britannia Rules)... all got turned into Marilyn Monroe Commemorative Medallions and the like. True?

    4) What about this Mysterious Nutjob who is apparently buying up every single VC that comes onto the market? One dreads that his heir turns out to be one of those nutters like the gleefully untalented Earl of Wuzzit who is cheerfully spray painting doodlings all over the inside of Is Ereditary Carstle ("I wikes thot Holbein wit cwayon accents and jam tin appwiques, wot?") when not mugging for fawning Murcan film crews. One dreads Junior, an Affable Loonie, deciding to melt down Late Pa-Pa's treasure trove of the Nation's Military History for an Enormous Symbolic Turtle Of Peace to be stuck in a park between the the performance art section and the Free Needles Distribution Point somewhere.


      Split Groups

      I've relocated this post on this thread because it makes more sense.

      Certainly with Great War pairs & trios, a lot of soldiers (and no doubt Next-of-Kin) simply discarded their medals out of disgust following the Armistace - just as many WWII veterans couldn't be bothered to claim their medals in time for the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Many groups were split due to the British War Medal being silver, whereas the '14-15 Stars & Victory medals were bronze - and therefore worthless when being pawned.

      Apparently, following the Great War, pawn shops were brimming with BWMs, MMs and not an inconsiderable number of DCMs - good ol' working-class contempt kicking in. It seems (unsurprisingly) that spending four years in rat-infested mud pits whilst Jerry tries to kill you dulls the pride in one's King & Country. This, however, doesn't seem to extend to Officers' groups, which are often more intact due to the different mindset of the upper classes - whether Percy survived the war or not.

      There are trios & pairs still a'plenty - but seldom found complete with Memorial Plaques (should the medals' recipient have met his demise). In a nutshell, there's so many reasons why groups get split: Over-zealous 'collectors' who want an MSM, but not another trio of Pip, Squeak & Wilfred; pawning, theft, etc. It should also be remembered that the medals were issued loosely, albeit with pin brooches, mounting being left to the recipient (and costing). Many medals were left in kitchen draws and simply got seperated or lost in moves & house clearances following deaths.

      There was also the propensity for certain unscrupulous individuals to award themselves DCMs & MMs (purchased in pawn shops and renamed in the [then] many silversmiths) for their own reasons - usually free drinks at the bar, and I have encountered a few MMs that have been re-named to people who are not on the MM roll - research being non-existant in a 1918 corner pub.

      With millions of men entitled to medals in a country decimated by war & Spanish Flu, it's not hard to understand why they didn't view them with quite the same reverence as we do now - their priorities lying elsewhere. So whether the medals were given to the kids 'to play with' (as some of my relatives' were) and being lost forever, or split up by con men out for a free ale, the fact that they were is in itself testimony to the mood of the time and is part of the social history of the day.


        Your questions answered

        In addition to the above, groups do still get split due to the warped & evil way of thinking by certain individuals who think of themselves as dealers. Just look at the obviously split Imperial medal bars on eBan. Collectors don't help either. I saw a rare RAF MSM in a shop in Chelsea a few months ago. Chappie said that he could've sold it ten times over if it hadn't been attached to a BWM - thereby constituting a group.

        I have seen people in regimental museums doing research, but it's usually bloody noisy school parties whenever I visit. You do, however, regularly come across medals for sale with the 'comes with paperwork/entitlement to x medal or x clasp' tag. So all is not lost. I've been down this road myself and it is frustrating when you find the single BWM you have belonged to a DCM group. The group could've been split deliberately, or... see above post.

        As for the fakes? Well, yes it is happening unfortunately. Laser technology means that dies are actually being manufactured from scratch and medals are being struck from other melted down medals - probably the still prolific & cheap BWMs. They seem to be concentrating on Waterloo & Zulu medals (almost certainly marked to the 2/24th). I know of someone who was offered one and as 'many as you can get rid of guv!' They were frighteningly 'real', right down to ageing.

        Thankfully, this sculduggery isn't quite as widespread as it is in Third Reich circles, and a practiced collector should be able to spot dodgy gongs. Rule of thumb: Waterloos + 24th Foot + Light Brigade chargers = alaaaaarm! Also, watch out for re-named or wierd clasp arrangements on any medal.

        TEXAN OIL MAGNETES MELT GUNGA'S GONGS! I'm not too sure whether this is an urban myth or not. Prices to Indian units are still very low and don't seem to have jumped over the past few years, but there may be substance in it.

        As for the 'mysterious nutjob', well, I'm glad to announce that Lord Ashcroft CMG* is nothing of the sort. True, he's been hoovering up VCs by the dozen for some time, and is rumoured to have 100+ in 'storage'. Apparently, although he funded the purchases, he's placed them in a trust. I think his motives are to prevent them going abroad, as he holds the VC in awe - and has done so since childhood. There are plans to have them placed in the public domain I understand - but at a later date.

        There is, however, a real mysterious nutjob. He's a mad Chinaman who buys up as many China War medals (Opium Wars & Boxer Rebellion) as he can & renders them down for reasons best known to himself. If I ever meet him....

        As for an 'Enormous Symbolic Turtle Of Peace to be stuck in a park between the the performance art section and the Free Needles Distribution Point'? Well, that is the stuff of nightmares. But I wouldn't be surprised if 'Red' Ken Livingstone sanctions the use of the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square.

        *Michael Ashcroft, the Belize & Floriduh-based billionaire, is Tory Party Treasurer and Britain's 14th richest man. And good on 'im!
        Last edited by Tony Farrell; 11-17-2002, 01:46 AM.


          Reliving old memories

          On Tonys list I guess that I was number iii

          I primarily collected Indian Mutiny to Boer War. . .also IGS's into the 1930s

          Unless you were an officer all you came out with after a twenty-five year career was a couple of campaign medals. . .if you were lucky a DCM or VC might come your way, not likely though !

          I was introduced at an ealy age to Kipling. . .I was absolutely fascinated by the service in far off places. . .

          I belonged to the proper organizations so I had a slew of alphabet soup (ASMIC, OMRS, OMSA, OMSNC,OVMHS) . . .

          These organizations have outlived their usefullness to me, the Internet has introduced me to much more knowledge

          In the words of Groucho Marx . . . I would not belong to any club that would have me as a member


            The Hunt Bros melt down

            this happened. I know for a fact that BWMs went to the local jewelers in Newmarket and Cambridge by the shoebox full when silver hit $65 an ounce 20 years ago-I watched 'em go from stalls and other collectors who wanted an Atari more than a complete Pip,squeek and Wilfred. Of course, in those days-when I started, the medals went for 50p (Victory), 1.50 (BWM) and 75p-1.00 for a 1914-15 star.
            I would assume that the same happened to Indian gongs.
            p.s. Tony-I am a generalist, Did you see the latest Spink catalogue?
            ps. See the British medals forum for a link to the OMSA article on faked Waterloos.


              Indian gongs

              "TEXAN OIL MAGNETES MELT GUNGA'S GONGS! I'm not too sure whether this is an urban myth or not. Prices to Indian units are still very low and don't seem to have jumped over the past few years, but there may be substance in it."

              Well, yes, I was first in India -- dating clue coming -- in 1973/74. That was when the silver crunch hit. The place where much of my research was based was and is and has been since the 15th century a major silver-working venue. Village women were bringing in bedsheets filled with silver stuff to be melted down. Mostly jewlery (guess where THAT silver came from!), but some medals. They were selling it by weight and, within a day or so, it went into the melting pot. And, yes, to make crap jewlery for the gora tourists.

              Got some gems. 2nd Punjab and Mutiny pair; but I got to watch the guy's IGS54 "NWF" dissolving in the melting pot.

              I'll go sit in the corner and sob softly now .....

              Ed Haynes


                Oh my God! That is the stuff of nightmares! What happened? Not enough Rupees to save his '54 IGS? I think I'd have attempted to trade anything to prevent a trio like that being destroyed. Bloody criminal it is.


                  No, it is was a true horror image that still gnaws on me.

                  Literally melting before my eyes, like chocolate. He had the Mutiny in his hand and was about to chuck it in as well. Who knows what else was souping-up there.

                  The horror, the horror!!

                  Ed Haynes


                    Would it be a just form of revenge to hold a 2003 Medals year book under their noses and say "you poor bastard... do you know how much money you melted away... you could have been rich...your poor bastard!"

                    I guess not...sigh....


                      The same village silversmith now has the MYB. He got the 2003 edition before I did. In very rural India!

                      Then, the value was silver value. Now, the value is MYB prices.

                      Both are wrong.

                      Ed Haynes


                        That would make me a number i).
                        I only collect to one unit, which only existed from 1915-1919, The 102nd. Bn. CEF, "North British Columbians".
                        I have two reasons for this...One is limited funds. If my wife knew how much I have invested, she would kill me. Imagine what trouble I'd be in if I collected all and sundry!
                        The second, and more important reason is that the 102nd was my Grandfather's unit, and indirectly, my reason for being here. My Grandfather had emigrated from Britain to the U.S. and came to Canada to join the 102nd to fight for King and Country.
                        He was wounded in June 1917 and while convalescing in England, met my Grandmother, and to make a long story short; Here I am!
                        The 102nd was dispanded after the war, the unit that was assigned to perpetuate their memory was dispanded in the 1950's, so I do my best to keep a small part of their story together.
                        As for my Grandfather, he was living in Worthing Sussex in 1941, in a house on the beach where the smoke from the fires in Dunkirk could clearly be seen, and where his oldest son, A sergeant in the 1st. Bn. Grenadier Guards was.
                        The old man was disgusted that they were doing it all again, and dust-binned his medals. God, I wish I could find that group!

                        Cheers to all of you in Category i) and all of the others!


                        BTW: It may be a fluke, but of the singles in my collection, I have quite a few more BWMs than BVMs, in spite of the Hunt brothers.


                          May I humbly interject and pay due and correct tribute to dear old Auntie Val Singleton and her somewhat lass fragrant accomplices (who for some reason are less memorable)...who else faintly remembers the days when the annual Blue Peter appeal hoovered up thousands of badges,buttons,medals etc etc....I vaguely recollect them showing a 'rare' medal that was being auctioned off rather than the fate that BWMs met at the foundry.Anyone out there collecting (or even born) back then ? Anyone like to explain how they actually turned 2.5 tons of silver into a guide dog or pony? Any of you pick up a few bargains at their auctions ? And I wonder just what they DID have pass through their hands ?


                          Ian Hulley
                          Last edited by Ian Hulley; 03-19-2004, 09:15 AM.


                            I remember it all too well, but I've never given it a second thought until now! Imagine sending your great grandfathers Boer War DCM, QSA & KSA group to a bloody Blue Peter appeal? (three 'eek's... that's scary)


                              "Imagine sending your great grandfathers Boer War DCM, QSA & KSA group to a bloody Blue Peter appeal? (three 'eek's... that's scary)"

                              Tony,my Auntie Dorothy threw her fathers cap,Victory Medal and BWM on the bonfire when my Grandma died and we had to clear the house out....guess who got burnt fingers !? BUT,just to add a 4th 'eek' (exceptionally scary) she also threw on her late husbands Cap and No.2 Tunic (WWII S.Rhodesian Air Force) along with...Deep Breath...his 39-45 Star,War Medal,Defence Medal AND...Air Crew Europe this time the flames were virtually extinguished by me rummaging around,so they escaped without damage.The only thing I think was lost was his Flying Log Book...back then I was only interested in saving things of value....and to quote Baldrick "The papery thing tied together with string" was of no real interest..or too much ablaze to bother with. A shame really he was a Lancaster pilot,(Pilot Officer William Eales) born in Derby,found himself working in Bulaweyo when war broke out.He joined up to get home and ended up at Conningsby bombing the Fatherland,he went M.I.A. returning from a jolly over Duisberg in December '42 and they found him and the navigator still in the wreckage in Holland when they were digging a dyke 20-odd years later.The other crew were accounted for as P.O.W.
                              Strange how the uniform and medals held no value to her (my auntie) what-so-ever...probably the same mentality that sent Great-Uncle Herbert's V.C. to the Blue Peter appeal !



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