Auctioneer Thomas Del Mar was delighted that his sale of the Prof Charles Thomas collection of military badges and insignia was one of the former, with the 447 lots posting a selling rate of 91.78% for a wide variety of items amid strong bidding.
Prof Antony Charles Thomas (1928- 2016) may have been a “towering figure in British academic archaeology during the second half of the 20th century” but another area of interest is betrayed by his Who’s Who entry.
When noting his recreations, he gave precedence to ‘Military History’ above ‘Archaeological Fieldwork’ – a nod towards the extensive collection of British military badges by Del Mar at the west London auction ‘hub’ of 25 Blythe Road.
The catalogue included an introduction by Stephen Wood, who was curator of badges and medals at the National Army Museum, 1973-83, and keeper at the National War Museum of Scotland, 1983-2000.
Wood wrote of Charles Thomas: “Military history, and the collecting of its material culture ‘militaria’, remained an abiding interest with him for more than 70 years; the extent of this interest is demonstrable by the extent of this collection.”
Post-sale, Charles Webb, lead consultant for the auction, said: “Prof Thomas’s collection was truly remarkable and we were thrilled to see his outstanding scholarship recognised by the large number of people that attended the view and participated in the auction.
“As Stephen Wood noted in his introduction, the collection was indicative of his intellect, education and objectivity. The catalogue was well received, a considerable number of people attended the pre-sale exhibition and the saleroom was very well attended.”
The auction made in excess of its top estimates with very few unsold lots
Webb added: “It was a great pleasure to see established collectors as well as a number of institutions participating. We were very pleased that the Board of Ordnance Insignia Women’s Services Insignia were bought by The Royal Logistic Corps Museum, Deepcut, Surrey, while several lots of School OTC Badges were bought on behalf of the Lancashire Fusiliers Old Comrades Association.”
Joint top-seller was a lot featuring 22 items of China and Hong Kong military insignia, which a private individual bought for a hammer price of £2800 (plus buyer’s premium of 24% on top) against an estimate of £160-240. Making the same price, also sold to a private individual, was a lot of Insignia of Medical Volunteers which had been guided at £250-350.
Charles Thomas was a Cornishman through and through. He wrote – or co-wrote –books including Military Insignia of Cornwall (1974) and its supplement (1976) and Badges of Cornwall’s Home Guard (2007).
However, “while the nucleus of this collection must be the 40-or-so lots of the military insignia of Cornwall, its enormous extent and global spread is wholly indicative of the professor’s complete lack of parochiality, in his collecting as in everything else,” added Wood.
Another demonstration of his wide collecting tastes was a group of Middle East forces insignia, with 66 items on three cards, featuring units ranging from the Palestine Police, Palestine Regiment, Arab Legion and Iraq Levies to the Kuwait Army and Police, Abu Dhabi Police, the Trucial Oman Scouts and Aden units. It sold for £2400 against an estimate of £220-350.
RAF centenary timing
Also noteworthy was a selection of lots relating to the RAF, on offer in the same month as the centenary of its establishment. The RAF was formed from the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Force on April 1, 2018.
One of the best-sellers at Thomas Del Mar was 65 items of RFC insignia 1912-18, framed, which sold for four times the top estimate at £1600. Meanwhile, a lot offering 35 items of RNAS and early RAF insignia and buttons, 1914-18, took £1300 (estimate £100-150).
Estimated at £600-800 but sold at £1900 were 18 items offered in one lot relating to the Polish Air Force (PAF) 1920s-30s and Polish Air Force in Great Britain 1940-45 (one card with 18 items).
Following the defeat of Poland in September 1940 the PAF was recreated in France. France's defeat on June 25 forced the PAF to flee to Britain. By the end of July 1940 the total of Polish airmen on British soil was 8384. In July and August, two of the first Polish fighter squadrons, Nos 302 and 303, were established, while other Polish pilots served in RAF units.
Twenty-nine Polish pilots lost their lives in combat against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, and a total of 1903 PAF personnel killed in the fight against Nazi Germany are today commemorated on the Polish War Memorial at RAF Northolt (see iwm.org.uk for more details).
A separate set of Polish Second World War insignia (53 items on two cards) made £2400 (estimate £100-150).