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