Are your family’s war medals worth £60,000?
As WWI pilot’s collection goes under the hammer...
MOST families wouldn’t consider selling a collection of inherited military medals.
Awarded to their relatives for outstanding bravery in battle, these medals hold a priceless sentimental value.
But thousands of people may not know just how valuable military heirlooms can be, according to experts. Militaria is one of the biggest areas of memorabilia collecting in the world — and the price of items is driven not only by scarcity, but also the colourful stories behind them.
Some of the rarest medals awarded during World War I can now fetch tens of thousands of pounds at auction. A collection of 11 gallantry medals won by a World War I fighter pilot who racked up 40 confirmed aerial victories in 1917 is expected to fetch up to £60,000 in Mayfair today.
The story behind Air Commodore Philip Fullard’s rare set of medals is likely to attract serious collectors with deep pockets, experts predict. At just 20 years old, Fullard — from Wimbledon in London — was the seventh highest scoring British Ace by the end of the Great War.
His 40 triumphs were claimed over just eight months, making his ratio for frontline flying to the number of aerial victories obtained unsurpassed by any other British Ace.
His time in action was cut short, not by a bullet, but by a leg fracture sustained during an off-duty football match in November 1917.
While it is believed he never returned to duty in World War I, he later served again in World War II and retired with the rank of Air Commodore shortly after the war ended.
The collection will go under the hammer this afternoon with auctioneers Noonans.
The medals in the set include The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, CBE; Distinguished Service Order; Military Cross and the Air Force Cross.
Christopher Mellor-Hill, head of client liaison at Noonans, says: ‘Had Fullard carried on flying, it is quite possible he could have surpassed the victory score of any Ace of any nation.’
The lot has been put up for auction by a private collector rather than a family member.
Other lots include an ‘extremely rare’ collection of Naval General Service medals from 17931840, expected to fetch up to £22,000; and a Peninsula Gold Medal from 1814, which could reach £20,000.
Last month, Noonans sold a World War I collection which included the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar for £22,000.
Sergeant Frank Johnson’s tally of kills is the highest by a surviving non- commissioned officer fighter pilot during the Great War, making his awards highly sought-after.
Is my medal collection valuable?
WHILE some medals go for high prices, others will barely fetch the cost of their postage.
Older medals tend to attract higher prices than those awarded more recently by virtue of increasing scarcity.
Awards from World War II are generally less valuable than older military medals, for example.
However, Oliver Pepys, associate director at Noonans, says other factors come into play, such as the popularity among collectors, how the award ranks and, crucially, the story behind the medal.
‘The highest prices at auction tend to be for the Victoria Cross, partly down to the rarity of these on the market, but mainly due to the fact that the Victoria Cross is the highest gallantry award that there is,’ he says.
There were 47,839 Military Crosses awarded between 1914 and 1946, while the Victoria Cross was issued only around 800 times over the same period. The most expensive Victoria Cross sold with Noonans went last year for £900,000.
Medals such as the 1939-1945 Star and the War Medal were awarded to a large number of troops, so do not hold much monetary value.
Mr Pepys says: ‘The most common medals at auction are the standard campaign medals given for the Great War, in particular the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. More than six million of each of these were awarded, and consequently they have limited value, selling for anything from £10 upwards.’
Siobhan Tyrrell, medal expert at Dawsons Auctioneers and Valuers, says the most common medal groups it sees are World War I ‘trio groups’, which include the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
‘This group awarded to the Royal Artillery or Royal Engineers, for example, would sell for around £60 to £80,’ she says.
‘However, the same set of medals to someone who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) sells for between £600 to £800, or the identical group to a nurse with extensive military nursing abroad during World War I can sell for up to £1,500.
‘A medal’s worth typically corresponds to the recipient’s war time experience.’ Mr Pepys says collectors are drawn to who the recipient was and what they did to win it, rather than seeing the medal as an intrinsic object.
‘This is particularly true in the lot today, where the story of the recipient — Air Commodore Fullard — is undoubtedly the main factor in its estimate and likely end price.’
How do I get the best price?
SIOBHAN TYRRELL says a rare medal will attract plenty of attention from collectors and enthusiasts around the world.
‘There are thousands of medal collectors globally — most want a chance to own a rare medal,’ she says.
Dawsons’ medal auctions often attract a livestream audience of millions of bidders globally, she adds.
Meanwhile, while Mr Pepys estimates there are up to 100,000 active medal collectors in Britain, he says the number bidding on the rarest ones is usually limited.
‘For the most expensive items, there will only ever be a handful of bidders,’ he says. ‘Nearly everyone bids online these days — there are very few bidders battling in the room any more.’