Auction keeps medals off black market: firm
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.