The Operational Service Medal

operational-service-medal-afghanistan

Continuing our series on the different types of UK medals, this week we have a campaign medal. These denote participation in specific military operations since the early 19th century but this particular example is for action in Afghanistan since 2001. Its forerunner would have been The Afghanistan Medal of 1878-1880.

The changing nature of warfare has seen a marked increase in the role and significance of support services, some of them civilians. This campaign was the first time that a different version of the medal was struck for combat personnel – shown here with plastic presentation box.

The recipient’s name is shown on the edge of the medal. Since 2005 machine lasers have been used to do this so, regrettably, it’s important to be on the lookout for forgeries.

This is not a military medal

This is the Military Medal. It comes under the category of a decoration, a medal awarded to an individual “for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire”. The Military Medal was restricted to bravery shown in land battles although members of the navy and air force who found themselves contributing in these unusual circumstances were also eligible. Recipients included women from 1916 onwards and anyone so decorated can add MM after their name. Chris Ryan and Andy McNab generally don’t though.

In one episode of Dad’s Army the platoon fell out with Private Godfrey when he revealed that he was a conscientious objector. When it later emerged that he had won the Military Medal for his bravery as a stretcher bearer he was feted as the unit’s most decorated member.

Usually, anyone in receipt of this award would also have earned other medals. Sadly, many families who fell on hard times in the 1920’s had to sell it simply for the weight of silver it contained. For this reason, single Military Medals usually start in the £250 – £450 bracket. Values double if the medal is complemented by the soldier’s full entitlement group. Military Medals awarded to support corps personnel are usually worth less – not because of any slight on their contribution, simply because many more people worked in that role.

Medal Collecting 101

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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.

New Year’s Resolution: Check Your Change

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Without knowing it, you could have a nice little windfall hiding amongst your change right now. And if you don’t check it out, someone else surely will.

Top left is an early version of the 50p coin released by the Royal Mint in 2011 to celebrate the London Olympics the previous year. Nearly all these coins have no lines going over the swimmer’s face but an unknown number of the coin’s original design (with lines shown here) were released in error. One was sold in May for £590.

The Kew Gardens 50p shown top right owes its value of roughly £100 purely to the fact that it was minted in fewer numbers than any other – just 210,000. Most of these are already in the hands of collectors so they should hold their value well – in spite of the fact that the Royal Mint reissued it as part of a limited run earlier this year. It sold out in seven hours….

You might think that a run of 1.8 million 50 pence coins would be plenty but apparently not. The 2017 coin commemorating the 375th anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton’s birth is now much sought after. Prices vary wildly though so this is a coin to keep as a long-term investment.

Finally, this humble 20p coin in the bottom right may look like any of the others in your change. But if yours has no date on either side then it is one of just 120,000 minted in error in 2008. Congratulations, it routinely sells for over £50.

It takes just a few seconds for this spot of homemade alchemy to see if you’ve turned base metal into gold but please beware: there are plenty of fakes out there, especially online. If you want to check on a coin’s authenticity you can always bring it down to the Home of Collecting itself: Charing Cross Market. We’re open every Saturday from 7am to 3pm.

Either way, while checking your change is always a good habit, keeping an eye out for these particular coins might be a profitable resolution for 2020. Happy hunting.

Win at Christmas

Make your festivities stand out this year with a genuine sixpence for your Christmas pudding. Traditional, authentic and a real talking point when you consider the following facts:

• The Victorian tradition of putting it in Christmas pudding saw every member of the family taking a turn to stir the mixture with whoever found it in their serving getting good luck for the coming year.
• Minted under every British monarch since Edward VI in 1551, the last (non-commemorative) ones appeared in 1967.
• Also sometimes called a tanner, it was worth 2 ½ pence after decimalisation until it ceased to be legal tender as recently as 1980.
• Some guitarists, notably Brian May, prefer to use sixpences as plectrums rather than the flexible plastic ones. May even had some bearing his head made by the Royal Mint.

The particular sixpence pictured here has a special relevance to the market since it features Charing Cross itself with the equestrian statue of Charles I on one side and the coat of arms of the City of London on the reverse. This was a ‘token’ sixpence issued c. 1810 at a time when official coinage was in short supply so copper and silver ones were produced featuring places and companies.

Unless you feel particularly generous this Christmas, you might want to keep a coin like this since they are quite valuable. Whoever finds it gets the good luck and your whole family keeps a live a great Christmas custom. More modern sixpences are very affordable though and there is always a wide choice of them every Saturday at the market. See you there!

The Centre of London, the Home of Collecting

Long regarded as the very centre of London, Charing Cross also enjoys a distinguished position as the only weekly Collectors Market in the UK. Stamps, coins, militaria, postcards, ephemera and antiques of all kinds can be found here every Saturday from 7am till 3pm. Experienced collectors, dedicated amateurs and curious first time visitors all rub shoulders in the exciting hunt for their next big find. Come along this weekend and discover your passion!

Perfect Imperfections

inverted-jenny-stamp

This is the Inverted Jenny. Printed in May 1918, it feaures a Curtiss JN-4 which is performing a quite unintended aerobatic manoeuvre. Buying one would cost at least half a million pounds today. It owes its extraordinary value to two factors: the obvious printing error and the fact that only one hundred exist. The location of all but two had been known for many years but in May 2016, one of the missing ones turned up. It sold at auction for $1.5m. The final one (known simply as ‘number 66’) is still out there somewhere.

In fact it’s worth keeping an eye out for mistakes on any postage stamp though – even modern ones – just in case you have a rarity on your hands. A recent article catalogued 32 different errors including colours, watermarks, perforations (or the lack thereof), paper, offsets and unprinted areas where a foreign object becomes embedded on the stamp. And in case you thought modern technology would make such mistakes even rarer, you might be surprised to learn that our current Queen’s reign is something of a Golden Age for stamp errors….

A 13p ‘Sweet Briar’ stamp issued to celebrate the Royal National Rose Society in 1976. A small number were printed without the price and all but three were destroyed before they reached the point of sale. One was sold in 2010 for £85,000.

Paper Money

Ephemera (n) items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity”. As any baseball card or pulp fiction collector will tell you, those expectations were sometimes very wrong indeed and the market for newspapers, advertisements, football programmes, tickets, mail order catalogues etc. is alive and well. Take this full season’s worth of home programmes from Chelsea’s 1972-1973 season for example. Let’s just say that you won’t get them for 5p each in 2019! The original prices of classic paperback fiction by Zane Grey, Ian Fleming or Edgar Wallace have also risen considerably.

John Barrett is one of the market’s veteran ephemera dealers and his stall is a fantastic snapshot of just how varied this field is. He has a particular love of press photography of the 1930’s and 40’s but keeps track of a wide range of printed material. So what should we be keeping hold of today as a potential windfall for our grandchildren? “Anything and everything” says John, “it’s almost impossible to predict. Although I should think that there will certainly be a strong market for women’s football programmes as the sport continues to grow”.

You heard it here first.

Buoyant Market for Titanic Memorabilia

Titanic-postcard-authentic

Hailed as ‘unsinkable’ before its maiden voyage on 11 April 1912, the Titanic retains an iron grip on the popular imagination. This is reflected in high prices for any contemporary postcards featuring the ship and, in particular, ones printed or posted before it sank. Most coveted of all is a card written on board and posted at the layover in Cork (then Queenstown) before it left on the ill-fated journey to New York. One such card written by a maid who wrote “I wish you were here, it is a lovely boat and it would do you good. Am just going on deck” fetched £8,500 at auction last year.

reverse-titanic-postcard-1912

Inevitably, unwary buyers (particularly online) can be caught out by fakes but this is the real thing: a Rotary Photo card posted just six weeks after the sinking and is signed by someone we know only as ‘J.H.’. His wry comment “I thought you would like this card” highlights just how dramatic this event was for people at the time and there was a huge demand for Titanic postcards immediately after the sinking. Some studios even used images of Titanic’s sister ship Olympic to cash in on this.

Photographs of the real Titanic show that the lower deck promenade is enclosed along the length of the ship while only the front half of the upper ‘A’ deck (circled) is similarly enclosed.

West Africa’s ‘red gold’

copper-african-manillas

Such was the value accorded to copper in early African civilisations that it came to be known as ‘red gold’. This was the prinicipal currency along the West African coast for hundreds of years and these ‘manilla’ or bracelets were worn by women to display their husband’s wealth. While some wore them on their wrist or ankle, a more ostentatious wife might wear a ‘King’ manilla (top right) as a necklace.

Other forms of exotic currency regularly traded at the market include katanga crosses, bochies (both also of copper), cowrie shells, silver Tok coins and base silver bar monies from Thailand in the shape of leeches, boats or a tiger’s tongue (with characteristic serrated texture).