On display at Charing Cross Collectors Market last Saturday was this headturning display of antique helmets. The two buffed ones on the left are French fireman’s helmets – the furthest left dates from 1880 / 1900 while the one below it on the table is from 1900 / 1920. Cutting a dash in the middle with its distinctive Pickelhelm spike is a German lobstertail cavalry helmet from WWI while on the right is its gloriously plumed French counterpart from the second empire period (1852-70). Come along this Saturday and see our latest range of wonderful antique collectables. 8am – 2pm.
Completing our brief overview of the six major types of medals is a look at France’s croix de guerre. Although it has no direct equivalent in the UK medal hierarchy, it falls somewhere between the Military Medal and Mentioned in Dispatches. Also issued by the Belgian government, it was awarded in both world wars and French examples are dated on the reverse by means of a fitted disc.
Interestingly, this was awarded by both the British and collaborationist Vichy regime during WWII. As ever, sold as part of a group with relevant documentation identifying the recipient add at least £50 to the value of the piece (and possibly even many hundreds depending on the action) but single original medals can be bought from just £15.
Famous recipients include the writer Samuel Beckett, several daring SOE agents like Violette Szabo and Yvonne Baseden and the mainly African American 396th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, for their tremendous valour in the Great War.
Although they obviously don’t attract as much interest as official medals awarded by the sovereign, ‘tribute’ medals like this one are nevertheless an important part of the historical record. The earliest ones were struck after some of Britain’s nineteenth century wars but they were issued in great numbers following World War I. Many towns and even villages had a committee which raised funds to send Christmas gifts and treats to soldiers in the trenches. When the war ended the leftover money was often used to buy a permanent mark of gratitude for returning soldiers – and even the widows of those who didn’t. There was no standard design for these so the range is very wide but the town crest will usually give a location at least. Unfortunately, many bear nothing which could indicate who the recipient was.
However, the tribute medal shown here is rather different. In the first instance, it was paid for by a private individual, Mrs Cunliffe-Owen. In 1914 she had been instrumental in raising the 24th (Service) and 2nd (Sportsman’s) Battalions in London. They trained in Romford, Essex. Her signature is on the back of the medal (dated 1915) and the man’s service number (2656) allows us to trace his war record. Private George Joseph Burge of Portsmouth of the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was later awarded the Military Medal for bravery in 1918 before being killed in action just a month before the armistice.
The wide array of commemorative medals is matched by the metal used to make them. Everything from gold to tin based pewter has been used and this is reflected in the variety of recipients – servicemen and women, civilians and even children at parades or street parties. Some were allocated by lottery. One such was Queen Elizabeth’s coronation medal (above). There is a story of a guardsman who trained for weeks to take part in the whole parade and ceremony. He didn’t get a medal but his ex-guardsman father who watched it all on television did.
Some commemorative medals were given away at street parties and local events. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the ones to look out for are those of gold or silver but in particular if they are named. Ones awarded to smaller towns normally bear the mayor’s name. Commonwealth medals were made in fewer numbers so these are also worth keeping an eye out for. It’s worth noting though that many of these medals originally had no ribbon attached. Either the body awarding them or the recipient might add them later so they looked better. For this reason the ribbons are far more varied than the medals!
This last group (of three medals) is (from left) a Northern Ireland General Service Medal, a 2003 Iraq medal (both of these are named) and a 1952-2002 Golden Jubilee medal. Although it was issued unnamed, the Jubilee medal adds more value to the group than it would on its own. A safer way to avoid being landed with a fake is to buy one boxed with its issue card though.
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 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.
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.
Interested in medals but don’t know where to start? Here are ten tips to help you earn your stripes:
- 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.
- Condition is of huge importance. A mint condition piece in its original box with original documentation and/or photograph is the ideal.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Great War Victory Medal is an affordable first piece for your collection – they start at about £12, depending on condition.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!