Auc­tion keeps medals off black mar­ket: firm

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - BLAIR CRAW­FORD bcraw­ford@post­ Twit­

Nearly 30 years after he’d last seen it, David Cur­rie held his grand­fa­ther’s Vic­to­ria Cross again.

“It’s very sur­real. I thought that once (it) was gone I’d never see (it) again,” said Cur­rie, named after his grand­fa­ther, Lt.-Col. David Vi­vian Cur­rie, a hero of Nor­mandy.

“The medal didn’t de­fine who my grand­fa­ther was,” he said. “Peo­ple read the his­tory about what happened in the ac­tion. It was amaz­ing and ter­ri­ble … It was part of my grand­fa­ther’s life but it was not who my grand­fa­ther was. I re­mem­ber him as the man who put my chain back on my bike when it fell off … or do­ing his paint­ing or sit­ting in the car wait­ing for my grand­mother and do­ing his crossword puzzles.

“I knew what he did and ob­vi­ously he was an im­por­tant per­son, but in my life he was my grand­fa­ther — and a hero — grand­fa­ther first, though.”

Cur­rie’s VC, Canada’s high­est hon­our for brav­ery in bat­tle, is go­ing on auc­tion next month in Lon­don, Eng­land, along with his cam­paign stars and other ser­vice medals. Cur­rie’s widow, Isabel, sold them to a pri­vate col­lec­tor after his death in 1986 at the age of 74. The open­ing bid for the VC is $500,000.

Cur­rie was awarded the VC for lead­ing a small bat­tle group of Cana­dian tanks and in­fantry that blocked an en­cir­cled Ger­man army from es­cap­ing the Falaise Pocket in Au­gust 1944. His is one of only 12 VCs awarded to Cana­di­ans in Cana­dian units dur­ing the Second World War.

Cur­rie was later named Sergeant of Arms of the House of Com­mons.

News that the medal will be sold at auc­tion has led to calls for the sale of mil­i­tary medals to be banned. That would be a mis­take, says Tanya Ur­sual, whose com­pany, Medals of War, is the Cana­dian agent for Lon­don auc­tion house Dix Noo­nan Webb.

“I un­der­stand that peo­ple are emo­tional when it comes to mil­i­tary medals. They are sig­nif­i­cant ar­ti­facts that con­nect to a dif­fer­ent time in a dif­fer­ent way. But the re­al­ity is they are a good that are a part of our eco­nomic sys­tem,” says Ur­sual, who ar­ranged for David Cur­rie to have a pri­vate view­ing of his grand­fa­ther’s medals at the bank where they are stored. “In Canada, mil­i­tary medals re­main pri­vate prop­erty and as such as part of our rights we should be able to sell our prop­erty when we choose.”

The Vic­to­ria Cross is one of the rarest medals in the world. Just 1,358 have been awarded to Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth armed forces mem­bers since it was es­tab­lished by Queen Vic­to­ria in 1856. Nine­ty­four Cana­di­ans have been awarded the VC, although not all were serv­ing in Cana­dian units. In con­trast, there have been 3,499 re­cip­i­ents of the U.S. Medal of Honor, that na­tion’s high­est award for brav­ery.

The U.S. out­lawed the sale and trade of the Medal of Honor in 1923. Any­one con­victed faces a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to a year in jail.

The Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion even has a special agent who in­ves­ti­gates il­le­gal sales or in­di­vid­u­als who pose as Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents. The law hasn’t stopped sales, how­ever, with many be­ing smug­gled out of the coun­try and of­fered for sale on for­eign web­sites. The U.S. law even pre­vents the Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor So­ci­ety, which runs a mu­seum in Charleston, S.C., from buy­ing up le­git­i­mate medals that are on the open mar­ket.

“The risk is when you pro­hibit or pre­vent the sale of an item, you often make it more se­duc­tive,” Ur­sual said. “You drive it into an un­der­ground mar­ket and an un­der­ground econ­omy. The items dis­ap­pear, then they ap­pear some­where else in the world at a greatly in­flated price. It moves medals out of our safe mar­ket and into an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket where they be­come even more elu­sive, more valu­able which makes it even more dif­fi­cult to buy them back.”

The Cur­rie fam­ily hopes the medals are bought by a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion, such as the Cana­dian War Mu­seum, or by a pri­vate col­lec­tor who might do­nate them to the pub­lic.

The cur­rent owner bought them from Isabel Cur­rie in 1989 and has cher­ished them, even trav­el­ling three times to Owen Sound to visit Lt.-Col. Cur­rie’s grave, Ur­sual said.

“He loved those medals al­most as much as he loved your grand­fa­ther,” she told David Cur­rie.

If sold to a for­eign buyer, the medals would not be al­lowed to leave Canada without an ex­port per­mit and that couldn’t hap­pen un­til a Cana­dian buyer or in­sti­tu­tion has been given a chance to pur­chase them from the new owner at an ac­cept­able price.

The auc­tion takes place Sept. 27 and will be streamed live on­line.


David Cur­rie, seen with his grand­fa­ther’s war medals in Kemptville, says the awards didn’t de­fine the man.

The Vic­to­ria Cross awarded to war hero Lt.-Col David Vi­vian Cur­rie will be auc­tioned off next month.

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