World's largest collection of Victoria Cross medals displays in London

The world's largest collection of Victoria Cross medals goes on display in London, this Friday, as part of the London Imperial War Museum's new Extraordinary Heroes exhibition.

Renowned collector Baron Michael Ashcroft has funded the exhibition to the tune of £5m. His own legendary collection of VCs numbers 152 medals, to-date - which is 11% of all of those ever awarded.

The VC remains the highest honour for gallantry available to British and Commonwealth forces, awarded for actions in the face of the enemy - and it is also the most coveted on the markets.

Forty-eight VCs already owned by the Museum will be publicly displayed, alongside another 162 awards ranging from the Crimean to the Falklands wars.

Also appearing from the Museum's own supply are 31 George Crosses, Britain's most prestigious civil decoration.

First awarded by Queen Victoria following the Crimean War, the Victoria Cross is today the most sought-after and valuable medal among collectors.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse's 'double' VC, bought by Lord Ashcroft for
£1.5m, will feature in the Imperial War Museum's new exhibition

This is reflected in the medal's rising value. For example, a Victoria Cross was worth around £100,000 in 1990. Today, the record price for a single VC is £491,567.

What's more, while a single VC sold for nearly £0.5m, the VC and bar - equivalent to two VCs - awarded to Liverpool-born British Army officer Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884-1917) brought nearly £1.5m at auction. The buyer? One Lord Ashcroft

"I always felt that [my] collection would never be compete unless it had a VC and Bar in it - and this is the ultimate VC and Bar," he told the Sunday Telegraph.

"It has a spectacular story to it in terms of sustained bravery. Day after day this man was risking his life in the trenches to save his comrades."

Of course, Lord Ashcroft is more than an investor. Like most collectors of medals, he is passionately devoted to the stories of bravery behind these awards.

It is this passion among collectors and institutions which continues to fuel the buoyant markets for collectible medals, and causes their values to rise.

Growing demand among collectors met with finite supply is another factor. For instance, only 13 Victoria Cross medals have been awarded since World War II.

But Lord Ashcroft doesn't own them all... Most notable among the VCs currently for sale on the collectors' markets is the medal of Lieutenant (later Brevet Major) John Simpson Knox.

The Scotsman's medal is dated to "20 Sept 1854 18 June 1855" and was awarded for his actions in the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade at the Battle of the Alma, considered the first major engagement of the Crimean war.

The brave Scottish soldier (top right), his VC and a cannon ball...


Knox's VC is also significant for being the first-ever awarded to a member of the British Army (all the prior recipients were members of the Royal Navy).

The medal commemorates his prominent role in the Scottish Battalions' advance against the Russian army, which was crucial to the Anglo-French forces' victory at the Alma.

Yet Knox's bravery cost him his arm, which was cut-off by a cannon ball during the conflict. Remarkably, the cannonball was retrieved by a fellow solder and is actually for sale with Knox's VC.

This is just one of many extraordinary tales of bravery which accompany each VC medal - stories which collectors have a responsibility to preserve.

For this reason, medals like the VC are among the most coveted historic artefacts on the collectors' markets, offering every opportunity to mix historic interest with a valuable investment.

The Extraordinary Heroes exhibition opens on November 12 at London's Imperial War Museum.


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