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In any collecting area, documentary evidence is highly prized, but particularly by militaria buyers.

For provenance, of course, but also because in this market an extensive archive can reveal so much more about an individual than a mere group of medals ever can.

Long service

The story of Warrant Officer First Class FC Keightley of the Lincolnshire Regiment is a case in point. In Tennants’ (20.5% buyer’s premium) March 8 auction, a Military Cross group awarded to Keightley was sold in Leyburn alongside a photograph of the recipient in the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard in 1962.

Keightley’s long service career included honours from both world wars and post-war service medals. The group hammered down at £3200 against an estimate of £1500-2000, going on a commission bid to an overseas private buyer.

In the same sale, a Second World War Distinguished Flying Medal group of six, awarded to 642164 Sergeant (later Warrant Officer) Richard Newman RAF, sold just below top estimate at £2900. It was also a commission bid, this time from a UK trade buyer.

Among the related ephemera offered with the medals – again enhancing value – were two observer and air gunner’s flying log books relating to action over Germany, some buttons, two portrait photographs and even a brass desk model of a Lancaster bomber.

“The market for medals is currently very buoyant, and those with a good provenance and in particular those with supporting material such as photographs of the recipient, attract much interest and are highly valued,” says Tennants’ militaria consultant and auctioneer, David Hall.

Archive material certainly helped the Second World War RAF group awarded to the wonderfully named Wing Commander Herbert Horatio Kitchener soar to £18,000 at Duke’s (25% buyer’s premium) of Dorset on March 9.

The group had been estimated at £5000-10,000 but the accompanying archive was a big plus, adding official letters, photographs, handwritten accounts of Kitchener’s missions, typed accounts, flying hat, goggles, a log book and other related items.

It told the story of his ill-fated mission to Norway when he was part of a force of 18 pilots and their RAF Gladiator biplanes. Other log books and records surrounding the mission were destroyed ‘on instructions from the commanding officer’ before their evacuation from Norway.

“We had several keen phone bidders from all over the world, along with strong live internet interest,” says Duke’s specialist Timothy Medhurst.

“After much interest and bidding from various different collectors and trade, a phone buyer purchased the group. After slowly climbing from a starting point of £4000, the phone bidders finished with the final hammer price of £18,000, against the estimate of £5000-10,000.”

Adding to the archives

Lockdales’ (19.5% buyer’s premium) March 18-19 sale featured several good examples of background material alongside medal groups.

It is not only original archive material which counts, but research carried out by other collectors that also adds value. An interesting group including East and West Africa Medal 1892 with Benin 1897 clasp and Queen’s South Africa Medal with seven bars (for Boer War actions) doubled the top estimate to make £1900 at the auction in Martlesham, Ipswich.

The honours, from an Essex private collection, were awarded to JW Norris, first of HMS St George and then HMS Doris, and were offered with “much collector research and copy service papers” revealing more about this serviceman born near Dover, Kent.

A Bristol collector will now benefit from the background information already amassed.