Even in the collecting field of the ‘heroic age’ of Polar exploration where items reflecting incredible stories of human endurance seem to come thick and fast, there are still some that really take the breath away.
One such lot - the Polar Medal awarded to
Apsley Cherry-Garrard - nearly doubled the top estimate to take
Dix Noonan Webb (20% buyer's premium) of London on June 19.
He was not only a vitally important member
of the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic expedition but also author of the
remarkable The Worst Journey in the World, regarded as one
of the best books on exploration and travel - and indeed human
endurance - ever written.
The Polar Medal 1904 with one clasp for
Antarctic 1910-13, in its original card box of issue, was sold with
Cherry-Garrard's Royal Geographical Society Scott Memorial Medal,
and is now going into a private collection.
DNW specialist David Erskine-Hill said:
"Bidding was frantic; this was very sought after. Ultimately, of
course, as always it came down to two bidders but this was a
notable item from the outset and frankly I think the price reflects
that - a very strong result indeed."
Above: 'Birdie' Bowers, Dr Wilson and
Apsley Cherry-Garrard beside their sledge.
He added: "It is one of the most famous
Polar Medals ever issued and comes from the golden age of Polar
exploration which basically encompasses Shackleton and Scott. He
had a major part to play in all the major stages of Scott's last
expedition, from assisting in the scientific work when he made that
fantastic - as he calls it 'worst' - journey in the world with
'Birdie' Bowers and Dr Wilson, both of whom ended up in the Polar
team with Scott, and then he assisted that team south all the way
to the top of the Beardmore Glacier.
"Then, of course, there was the terrible
moment in his life when he withdrew when, as it transpires, Scott
and his surviving team were only about 12 miles away. That must
have been emphasised when again he was there at a famous moment
when they discovered the final Polar team's tent."
Cherry-Garrard was responsible for the
epitaph on the cross placed over the bodies of Scott and his
companions ('To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield') and
that for Captain Oates, who famously said he "might be some time"
as he left the tent ('Hereabouts died a very gallant
The Polar Medal came from a superb
collection of awards. "Dick Witte has been a collector for at least
40 years and his primary interest has been awards to the Royal Navy
and awards for Polar exploration," added Mr Erskine-Hill.
"This, I believe, will be the final part of
the disposal of his collection and what a collection it has
"Like a lot of collectors he has reached
that age or point in life when so many of them feel they want to
share these emotional objects with others. In his time he really
did assemble a phenomenal collection."
Mr Erskine-Hill has a long-standing
connection with Polar Medals coming up at auction (and, it is fair
to say, something of a passion for such lots). "The hardship they
reflect is just amazing. These were remarkable men - imagine sledge
hauling in minus 50, with the kind of equipment they had in those
days. They show amazing willpower, strength and, of course,
Frank Wild Medal
DNW have sold many 'heroic age' lots, such
as the Frank Wild Polar Medal and CBE group that made £132,000 in
2009. Wild was a key figure when members of the Shackleton
expedition were stranded on Elephant Island, but his four clasps in
total (1902-04, 1907-09, 1912-14, 1914-16) reflect his overall
Mr Erskine-Hill has encountered incredibly
significant 1910-13 awards before. "The Polar Medals of Captain
Oates that I was involved in selling during my time at Sotheby's
made £55,000 at auction in June 1984, nearly 30 years ago, so
what's that worth now?" he added.
"Having been consigned the Oates medal I was
called to the front counter at Sotheby's just before we went to
press with that sale catalogue and, lo and behold, I was given the
medal of 'Birdie' Bowers, also in Scott's final Polar team.
"They came together in June 1984 but then, because of the
publicity from that sale, I was consigned the Polar Medal of Edgar
Evans, also in the team, so all three came together."