The Top Five... Tips for collecting rare military medals

The acquiring of medals can be one of the most satisfying areas of collecting, with the pieces often linking back in a direct way to brave individuals who earned them in battle, sometimes through quite extraordinary acts of bravery.

As an investment, the medals market is also strong one. Regardless of other financial conditions, antique and rare military medals have retained or increased their substantial value with careful collectors. For those relatively new to the field, here are some ideas to get you started:

Find your focus

Whilst all medals come with a degree of interest with them, it will prove much more satisfying to you if you pick a particular theme - as with any collection. You could pick a type of medal - but unless you have extremely deep pockets, collecting the highest awards, such as Victoria Crosses may be beyond your means.

For most collectors, a more sensible route will be to focus on a particular war or even a particular battle. There may be a substantial number of service medals and several minor gallantry awards in existence from both sides in some cases.

Become a student of history

Collectibles often come with an insight into history and nowhere is this more true than with medals. It's well worth becoming a real expert in the historical period and the battle(s) on which you have your eye.

Viewing medals as an investment, this is important at auction as even a medal of a relatively rare kind which appears infrequently in an auction will not necessarily be as interesting to a medal collector as a more common type with a stronger story.

The Distinguished Conduct Medal of Winston Churchill's saviour
The medal set of C R Roberts, who saved Winston Churchill's life during the Boer War(Click to enlarge)

For example, a soldier's medal set could multiply in value several times over if an account exists of their experience in the battle(s), or in they were placed in the company of a leader at a crucial time. Such information makes your collection much more satisfying, even if you don't wish to sell.

Know what you're paying for

Following on from that idea, it's worth bearing in mind the sort of factors which will mean you're paying more for a medal or set. Gallantry awards rise significantly in value as each grade rises. As mentioned, there is also the question of the medal's story and historical significance.

After that, there is the matter of simply how rare the medal is - both in terms of its type alone, and also those awarded in a particular battle. Rarity and history come together for service medals in certain battles - everyone would like a medal related to Waterloo, for example.

Double Dragon Third Class
An Order of the Double Dragon
(Click to enlarge)

Finally there is the condition, and the materials involved. Some Chinese and Russian medals in particular are incredibly beautiful and ornate pieces utilising gold and jewellery. That said, if you're in the presence of a simple bronze Victoria Cross and are disappointed it isn't studded with rubies, you shouldn't be collecting medals in the first place.

Treat them with respect

Whilst condition is not the very most important factor in the value of a medal, it is important nevertheless and should be borne in mind when storing them. Much of the advice is obvious: avoid getting them damp or bruised from impact. Handle them with clean hands.

Likewise keep them in a secure place - away from fire, burglars and children. If you're thinking about how to clean them, the short answer is: don't. If they really need cleaning, ask a medals expert to do it.

Be on the look out

The finest medals will be found at auctions run by specialist companies such as Spink and Dix Noonan Webb. These are where you are likely to find the most valuable, excluding a few by private treaty (we currently have the first Victoria Cross awarded to a soldier available).

However, it's also worth keeping in mind that some people show a startling disregard for the value of medals won by their ancestors as they are not valuable to an untrained eye, so everywhere from antique militaria shops down to garage sales may have valuable pieces on offer.

Above all, listen out for information regarding the events that fall within your field. Perhaps it's worth subscribing to Medal News, and of course keep up to date with our medals stories here. Happy hunting!


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