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David Erskine-Hill, who will be taking up that role for Lord Ashcroft now Michael Naxton is retiring, will be staying on long enough at Spink to help Budgen with the next couple of orders, medals and decorations sales. So Budgen, who joined Spink in November 2014, will not take over the reins fully until later this year.

Largest catalogue

Budgen is confident for the future, citing the hard yards of cataloguing as crucial. He is buoyed by the results of the latest sale on April 25-26, which included a special section to mark the centenary of the RAF and achieved a selling rate of about 97% after post-sales.

“With over a thousand lots on offer, it was the biggest auction assembled by the department in a decade,” said Budgen. “The catalogue itself, at nearly 500 pages, was the largest ever produced.

“We will be continuing on the groundwork David and I have put in together – the research, bringing these things to life – and one of my big aims is to enthuse the collectors we already have and bring in new collectors who are the future, the next generation.”

The Spink medal department – shaken in 2016 by the departure of three specialists to London saleroom Dix Noonan Webb, but with Erskine-Hill then moving in the other direction – has been boosted by the recent arrivals of Jack West- Sherring and Iain Goodman.

West-Sherring joined the department earlier this year. One of his first challenges was to work on the April 25-26 auction and the pre-sale exhibition held to mark the RAF centenary. He is on six-month induction with the department, “with every intention of him joining full-time when he has earned his ‘stripes’,” added Budgen. “His efforts for the last catalogue were seen in the prices realised as his historical knowledge is quite outstanding.”

Lt-Col William Cubitt, whose Indian Mutiny Victoria Cross and gold Distinguished Service Order group sold at Spink to Lord Ashcroft for a top-estimate £180,000.

April 25-26 was the second Spink sale Goodman had worked on. “He is well known to the collecting fraternity, has been collecting for a number of years, and has a big interest in military history,” said Budgen. “He approached us and asked to do some cataloguing and show what he can do. His background is teaching so this is a change of tack for him.

“Both Jack and Iain have proved invaluable in contributing to the department’s recent success and are driven by a genuine enthusiasm for the subject.”

Ashcroft purchases

The importance of Lord Ashcroft to the top-end medals market was evident again at the April 25-26 auction (before Erskine-Hill becomes curator).

Now going on display at Lord Ashcroft’s gallery in the Imperial War Museum will be the unique Indian Mutiny Victoria Cross, gold Distinguished Service Order group to Lt-Col William Cubitt which made a top-estimate £180,000.

Also heading to the gallery is a George Cross and George Medal sold for £80,000, awarded to Richard Bywater, a factory development officer for the Ministry of Supply, who was twice decorated for extraordinary acts of gallantry at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Kirkby, near Liverpool, in 1944.

Key operator

Erskine-Hill paid tribute to his successor, saying that when he was invited to head up the department back in 2016, “it was largely because I knew Marcus was going to be my right-hand man that I accepted the offer”.

“Without Marcus, the current success of the department would not have been possible. Anything like possible. He has been a mainstay and key operator over the last 18 months, and before that showed admirable courage in keeping the show on the road. That appetite to face challenges and win through – and the valuable experience gained - will serve him well.”

Spink chairman and CEO Olivier Stocker added: “Back in early 2016, Marcus showed admirable commitment by taking up the reins and keeping his department on track. In Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ has two characters – one for danger and the other for opportunity."

He said that "as evidenced by the last two auctions mounted by Marcus and David, the events of 2016 occasioned a happy opportunity to reap the benefits of that opportunity", and to make significant changes to the medal catalogues.

“In that respect nothing will change following David’s departure later in the year," said Stocker. When Erskine-Hill joined in late 2016, he was asked to establish a new medal department. That objective "has been attained in very quick time".

"But as David has regularly told me, without Marcus, that objective would have been far longer in the making; he also acknowledges the work undertaken by Iain Goodman," added Stocker.

“David has also overseen the arrival of Jack West-Sherring. His opening brief was to organise an exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the RAF He did so in record time and was widely praised for his achievement. In David’s view the department has a bright future; it also has his full support.”