SAS hero defeats Russian dentist in rare medals auction at Bonhams

Bonhams' recent For Valour sale had a lot to live up to in order to make it one of the major players in 2010's powerful showing in the medal market.

Spink and Dix Noonan Webb in particular have had great sales with the former offering Victoria Crosses earlier in the year, and the latter offering a George Cross and the medals of a legendary founder member of the SAS, Jack Byrne, just last month.

Morton and Eden even scored a world record price for a Russian award, whilst Baldwin's achieved some startling prices for Chinese medals over the summer.

Nothing daunted, however, Bonhams had some excellent pieces of their own on offer. Here are three of the best which span a century:

Firstly, we can't ignore a truly unique piece in an Order of St.Stanislaus, Second Class neck badge awarded to a Mr Arnstein. Looking at the very fine piece displaying swords and a crown in gold, silver gilt and enamel, the marks of which include Julius Keibel, you might assume Arnstein was a top general.

Order of St Stanislaus for the Tsar's dentist
Order of St Stanislaus awarded to the Tsar's dentist

In fact, he was a dentist who performed an operation on the Tsar. Dentists are often familiar with pressing gold into enamel of course, but it's a rare patient who feels so grateful after their operation that they offer a gift, let alone a medal. The piece sold for £37,600.

Ten medals including the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross belonging to Group Captain A H Donaldson were offered in Bonhams' sale. They, and the Captain's log book and helmet, were expected to sell for £15,000-20,000.

WWII Group Captain A H Donaldson
Captain A H Donaldson WWII medals group
(Click to enlarge)

However bidders thought them to be worth still more, impressed by his stories of being shot down twice, then miraculously surviving a third plane crash into the sea of Gibraltar as he was being flown out of Malta on a stretcher.

He was one of only three survivors who lived to tell the tale, and went on to have a highly successful career in the Royal Air Force. The medal group sold for £29,375.

However as expected the top lot was a group of medals belonging to another SAS member, specifically the Iranian Embassy Siege Queen's Gallantry Medal group to Sergeant Tommy Palmer. The medal was sold as a group with Sgt Palmer's other medals from Northern Ireland, Dhofar, and the Falklands.

In desperate hand-to-hand fighting during the siege of the Embassy in 1980, Tommy helped to subdue the terrorists in a building that was in darkness and on fire in places, despite his machine gun jamming at a crucial moment. The set sold on target at £98,750.



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