COLLECTABLE: GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

As the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War ap­proaches, prices for mem­o­ra­bilia are ris­ing.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY GLEN WATSON

As the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of WWI is ap­proach­ing, prices for mem­o­ra­bilia are ris­ing

The First World War, also known as The Great War or WW1, be­gan in 1914 on July 28 and ended in 1918 on Novem­ber 11. Mainly fought on Euro­pean bat­tle­fields, the con­flicts be­tween the Al­lies (Rus­sia, France and Great Bri­tain and Ire­land) and the Cen­tral Pow­ers (Ger­many and the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian Em­pire) also ex­tended as far as China and the Pa­cific Is­lands, as well as the coasts of South and North Amer­ica, the Mid­dle East and in the In­dian Ocean.

Coun­tries such as the United States, Canada, Italy, and Ja­pan sided with the Al­lies, while the Ot­toman Em­pire and Bul­garia joined the Cen­tral Pow­ers. It is es­ti­mated that 70 mil­lion mil­i­tary per­son­nel fought in the war, re­sult­ing in the deaths of about 16 mil­lion com­bat­ants and civil­ians.

“The First World War sig­nals the start of ‘mod­ern war­fare’ for most mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans. It was when fac­tors such as mass mo­bil­i­sa­tions, con­scrip­tion, rail­ways, ma­chine guns, aero­planes and gas at­tacks re­ally came into force with dev­as­tat­ing re­sults,” Tom Der­byshire wrote re­cently on the An­tiques Trade Gazette web­site, adding that sub­marines and tor­pe­does were also in­volved. The war dev­as­tated Euro­pean na­tions, with em­pires torn apart (most no­tably Rus­sia’s), and the UK, then the world’s top fi­nancier, left with enor­mous debt. Ger­many went on a path of de­struc­tion from which it only truly re­cov­ered with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991.

For the past few years lead­ing up to the 100th an­niver­sary of the war end­ing, mem­o­ra­bilia such as medals, uni­forms, paint­ings, posters, trench art, money, ve­hi­cles, books and so on are see­ing a rise in ask­ing prices and sales re­sults. What is very dif­fi­cult to find, how­ever, are weapons, since there are re­stric­tions on sell­ing them on­line and at auc­tion; most weapons are traded pri­vately.

At a Mil­i­tary, Avi­a­tion and Trans­port auc­tion in May by Do­minic Win­ter Auc­tion­eers in England, quite a few of the hun­dreds of First World War lots on of­fer went un­sold but those that did sell were gen­er­ally within the es­ti­mates. Medals, for ex­am­ple, were sell­ing be­tween £80 (HK$800) and £500 range. Only a few ex­ceeded the es­ti­mates.

While most spe­cial­ists and col­lec­tors agree that prices have been ris­ing, not ev­ery­one is happy about it, such as this au­thor of a 2014 WW1 Medal Price Guide for first time buy­ers on ebay in the UK: “As a medal col­lec­tor, I think it is out­ra­geous how much peo­ple are ask­ing for WW1 medals in this last year. The ask­ing price on most medals has dou­bled on some even tripled; If you want to buy medals at a rea­son­able price don’t buy them on ebay, the price has rock­eted over the last months due to the 100th year an­niver­sary of The Great war.

“Ser­vice medals of The Great War are nor­mally sold for be­tween £9 and£14 but lately they are ask­ing £19-£25? This is to­tally and morally wrong; if you wish to buy medals then please look on Google for a rep­utable medal dealer and you will find them at half the price some peo­ple are ask­ing on here for the same medal.”

A spokesper­son for Christie’s auc­tion house in Asia says there has never been a sale of First World War mem­o­ra­bilia in Hong Kong de­spite the in­volve­ment of Ja­pan and also con­flicts in the Ger­man strong­hold of Qing­dao in China. But in July, Christie’s in Lon­don was of­fer­ing a group of medals and awards given to Nor­we­gian ex­plorer, avi­a­tor and dis­tin­guished First World War com­bat­ant Tryg­gve Gran with an es­ti­mate of £20,000-£30,000.

Ac­cord­ing to the Christie’s cat­a­logue for the July sale, “as a first lieu­tenant in the

Nor­we­gian Army Air Ser­vice, Gran vol­un­teered to serve with the Royal Fly­ing Corps: when his ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected on the grounds of Nor­way’s neu­tral­ity, Gran – un­daunted – joined as one ‘Cap­tain Teddy Grant’ of Canada. By 1917 he was able to com­mis­sion un­der his own name and was posted to the Western Front, fly­ing Sop­with Camels, where he dis­tin­guished him­self, win­ning his Mil­i­tary Cross the same year.”

Gran was also re­cruited by Robert Scott as a ski­ing ex­pert for the Terra Nova ex­pe­di­tion of the Antarc­tic. As well as play­ing a valu­able role on the re­search team, Gran was part of the 11-man search party that set off from Cape Evans in Oc­to­ber 1912 in search of Scott, dis­cov­er­ing the tent con­tain­ing the frozen bod­ies of Scott, Ed­ward Wil­son and Henry “Birdie” Bow­ers. For the part he played in the Terra Nova ex­pe­di­tion, Gran was awarded the Po­lar Medal by Bri­tain’s King Ge­orge V on 24 July 1913.

“The mar­ket is good at the mo­ment with a num­ber of new col­lec­tors com­ing onto the scene given the re­cent 100th an­niver­saries and a num­ber of TV doc­u­men­taries which have high­lighted fresh in­ter­est,” says Bon­hams medal spe­cial­ist John Mil­len­sted, who a few years ago was in­volved in the sale of a Sec­ond World War Vic­to­ria Cross group of medals awarded to Cap­tain A.J. Shout of the Aus­tralian Army that sold for more than £500,000.

Mil­len­sted says it’s hard to know in ad­vance about any medals com­ing up for auc­tion that col­lec­tors should be aware of in the next year or so.

“With the job I do, you never know what will come through the door each day. There are plenty of nice medal groups with fam­i­lies still. Some will keep them and pass them on, but some do sell and these then en­ter the col­lec­tor’s mar­ket. I would cer­tainly ex­pect to see a few more Vic­to­ria Crosses

on the mar­ket while the in­ter­est re­mains strong.

“Col­lec­tors do like gallantry groups where per­haps the re­cip­i­ent won the Dis­tin­guished Con­duct Medal or Mil­i­tary Medal, so there is an added twist to the story as op­posed to just the stan­dard cam­paign medals."

He adds that there are a num­ber of things a col­lec­tor should look for: “firstly, the medal group ideally needs to be com­plete; if there is a medal miss­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing the miss­ing medal over time is small, but it is pos­si­ble pro­vid­ing and hop­ing it was not lost or de­stroyed many years ago.

“The con­di­tion of medals is rea­son­ably im­por­tant, ser­vice peo­ple are ex­pected to wear them for pa­rade so they will get worn over time and they do get pol­ished, some groups be­come very worn from this and as a re­sult the value can be re­duced by this. The re­search as­pect of col­lect­ing is an­other di­men­sion which col­lec­tors look into, find­ing ex­tra snip­pets of his­tory or ac­cess­ing ser­vice pa­pers of the medal re­cip­i­ent makes the hobby far more in­ter­est­ing com­pared to other ar­eas of col­lecta­bles.”

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent fo­rums on­line to re­search medals, such as the Bri­tish Medal Fo­rum, The Great War Fo­rum as well as a num­ber of reg­i­men­tal web­sites to get in­for­ma­tion.

“Medals tend to sur­vive above any­thing, bay­o­nets, and swords also sur­vive in high num­bers, orig­i­nal uni­forms and equip­ment are much scarcer and whilst it does ap­pear in auc­tion good con­di­tion items whether it be a periscope or a set of 1908 pat­tern Web­bing (soldier’s car­ry­ing equip­ment) fetch good money as I feel there is lit­tle left with fam­i­lies and it is col­lec­tors sell­ing up and sell­ing on to other col­lec­tors,” Mil­len­sted says.

He con­cludes, “I think the mar­ket will re­main strong and con­sis­tent. Money for many peo­ple is tight at the mo­ment; some peo­ple al­ways have their col­lect­ing as a pri­or­ity, whilst oth­ers col­lect as the last thing on the monthly ex­pen­di­ture list. Given that the sup­ply is lim­ited of such col­lecta­bles I think long term it will re­main a good in­vest­ment and will al­ways have a strong fol­low­ing given that the First World War in­volved vir­tu­ally every fam­ily in some way or an­other.”

– John Mil­len­sted, Bon­hams

OP­PO­SITE The last re­main­ing Gal­lipoli Vic­to­ria Cross, one of only nine awarded to Aus­tralians who fought at Gal­lipoli dur­ing World War I, fetched A$1 mil­lion at a Bon­hams and Good­man auc­tion in 2006, far ex­ceed­ing its es­ti­mate of A$750,000.

ABOVE WW1 sig­nalled the start of 'mod­ern war­fare' for most mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans.

LEFT Pip, Squeak and Wil­fred are the af­fec­tion­ate names given to the three World War 1 cam­paign medals, 1914 - 1915 Star, Bri­tish War Medal and Vic­tory Medal.

ABOVE Aus­tralian soldier Lieu­tenant Ge­orge In­gram's Vic­to­ria Cross (VC) medal was sold for A$468,000 at Sotheby's in 2008. In­gram was awarded the VC for his brav­ery on the Western Front.

ABOVE Dec­o­rated WW1 com­bat­ant Tryg­gve Tran's (from left) Legion of Hon­our, Third Repub­lic, 1870, Che­va­lier and Or­der of the Crown of Italy, Com­man­der, are up for grabs at Christie's Lon­don this month.

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