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Collecting Military Medals

PUBLISHED: 17:31 20 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:02 20 February 2013

Collecting Military Medals

Collecting Military Medals

Collecting military medals provides a tangible and intimate link to the past, as Rick Hall explains

Collecting military medals provides a tangible and intimate link to the past, as Rick Hall explains

Devon has long hosted all three services, with a major naval base in Plymouth, an RAF airfield (now Royal Marines Base) outside Barnstaple and army units based in both Plymouth and Exeter. At the same time Dartmoor continues to provide a military training area.
With these historic connections, it is not surprising that Devon men and women have represented their county in serving their country wherever our ships, troops and aircraft have been deployed over the years. To appreciate this contribution, one only has to glance at any of the dozens of war memorials across the county which pay tribute to our fallen.
War memorials are one means of recognising the sacrifices of our service personnel; a far more personal gesture is the issue to an individual of amedal to mark his or her efforts. These symbols of service and sacrifice are becoming increasingly collectable with the growing interest in family history.

It is the story behind the recipient that brings a medal to life and allows it to sing about its past

The beauty of military medals as antiques is that the majority are engraved around the rim or on the reverse with the name, rank and number of the individual who earned them, and it is this connection to a serviceman, that built-in provenance, which makes them such a direct link with the past, quite apart from the aesthetic pleasure to be gained from these attractively designed discs of silver or bronze.
As medals are individually named, they can be quickly and easily researched using the resources of the National Archives or through genealogy websites like Ancestry. It is the story behind the recipient that brings a medal to life and allows it to sing about its past, whether it be a brisk regimental march celebrating the deeds of the time, or a lament for the life of its owner, lost at sea perhaps.
For families and novice collectors the good news is that First World War Medals are very affordable, with individual medals available at auction starting at around 15. Indeed, medals from WWI make an ideal start to a collection, especially as there are so many still connected to existing families. More than six million British War Medals were minted and many thousands still exist on the market.

These medals (left), which form a typical WW1 group, were bought recently at Eldreds Auctions in Plymouth for a little over 100. They comprise (left to right) the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, all issued to Harry George Dinham, born in Devonport on 29 July 1872. Harry joined the Navy on his 18th birthday and served as a regular until 1912, then was called up with the Royal Fleet Reserve in October 1913. During the war he served on the battleships HMS Jupiter and HMS Canopus, the latter earning a footnote in history for firing the first shot in the defence of the Falkland Islands in 1915.

Harrys son, Albert, served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was Mentioned in Dispatches in May 1943 for distinguished service on board HMS Lotus. His medals, below, sold for 330 at the same auction.

Second World War medals struggle as collectables and for family historians on two counts: firstly, the service records have not yet been released by the Ministry of Defence, except (at a cost) to family members; secondly, they are unnamed, so the only way of attributing them, and therefore unlocking their history, is when theyre grouped with named medals or other forms of evidence. What lifted the value of this Long Service and Mentioned in Dispatches group was the plethora of paperwork and photos accompanying the lot which detailed and confirmed Alberts Dinhams service career.

The third group (left) was also sold with supporting information. Itincludes the recipients Territorial Efficiency Medal, named to Corporal Victor Fice of the Royal Army Service Corps, his Defence and War Medals and 1939-45 Africa, Italy and Atlantic Stars. Victor may have been only a lowly storeman but, as a small cog in a large machine, his contribution to the war effort of 1939-45 was just as important as anyone elses in the crucial battle against the Afrika Korps.

Collecting military medals in Devon:

If you are interested in starting your own collection, Rick recommends the following auction houses in Devon:

Eldreds in Plymouth -

Piers Motley in Exmouth -

Torridge Auctions in Bideford -

Rick also recommends local dealer Toad Hall Medals, Newton Ferrers, Plymouth,and the research site

Alternatively, if you have any questions for Rick about collecting military medals, or want to know more about where to find them, please leave a comment below and Rick will endeavour to answer it!

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