Medal Collecting 101

royal-navy-medals-campaign-blue-peter

Interested in medals but don’t know where to start? Here are ten tips to help you earn your stripes:

  1. As with stamps, or currency, collectors tend to focus on the medals of one particular country.  Fortunately, the field for British awards is particularly wide and a named medal allows for research. Being able to verify a medal’s origin (with Army records, citations or personal letters) can add much to both its significance and its value.
  2. Condition is of huge importance. A mint condition piece in its original box with original documentation and/or photograph is the ideal.
  3. Medals should be stored carefully as many materials, including cloth, paper and plastics, actually leach corrosive gas over time. Never store them in a sunlit position.
  4. There are generally six types of medal: decoration, campaign, long and meritorious service, commemorative, unofficial and foreign ones. Those awarded to individuals who distinguished themselves in some way are much more prized by collectors than campaign ones given to people who took part in a particular conflict, battle or theatre of war.  
  5. The first medals were issued in 1810 to officers during the Peninsular War against Napoleon.  Generally, officers’ medals fetch higher prices than those of ordinary soldiers.
  6. Wearing the medal of a deceased relative as a way of remembering them is fine but pretending to be the recipient is an offence.  It’s also illegal for a serviceman/woman to sell their medals while still in the armed forces.
  7. Medals associated with famous engagements, like the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of Britain and the Zulu War, fetch particularly high prices.  A clasp or bar might be attached to a medal’s ribbon show the recipient’s participation in specific (named) campaigns. 
  8. A Great War Victory Medal is an affordable first piece for your collection – they start at about £12, depending on condition.
  9. The Victoria Cross (instituted by its namesake in 1856) remains Britain’s highest military decoration.  Tradition had it that these medals were struck from the bronze of Russian cannon captured during the Crimean War. With just 1,538 awarded, prices regularly exceed £100,000.
  10. As with all other collectables, fakes are sometimes offered for sale so it is important to check an item’s authenticity as thoroughly as possible before parting with any money. 
The reverse of a nice group of Royal Navy medals: a Great War campaign trio and, far left, a long service medal known in the service as a ‘Blue Peter’.

We’ll be covering all of the major categories of medal mentioned in point 4 over the next few weeks so this is a great opportunity to get started in a field which is becoming ever more popular.  Our thanks to Michael Burroughs, one of our leading militaria dealers who will have the featured pieces for sale this Saturday at Charing Cross Collectors Market.

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