First World War casualty medals for every day of the conflict, Wiltshire regimental honours, Naval General Service Medals, Albert Medals: these are just a few of the many categories that collectors choose as a focus in the militaria market.
Sometimes, though, buyers have such wide-ranging tastes and interests that numerous conflicts or eras become their focus.
Take the large private consignment of foreign and British medals coming up for sale in the Medals & Coins, Arms & Armour auction at Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury on November 20.
Specialist Ned Cowell says: “It was assembled by a collector whose interests encompassed a number of often intersecting themes, such as the wars of Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Peninsular War, the so-called ‘Great Game’ that was played out in northern India and Afghanistan in the age of the British Empire, and the Boxer Rebellion.”
He adds that each of these areas “was pursued methodically and in detail” and the array of orders and decorations includes many of which are “rare and very prestigious, and a large proportion of which may be described as scarce”. The great majority of the medals are in good condition, with most grading in the ‘good very fine’ to ‘extremely fine’ range.
The single-owner collection comprises 244 of the 474 lots on offer in the auction.
Of the earliest honours, the period of the Napoleonic Wars is well represented by British Naval General Service and Military General Service medals. Foremost among these is a unique combination: a 10-clasp MGS to Pte Thomas Dolphin, Artillery Drivers, for service in the Peninsular War, estimated at £3500-4500.
Iberia was a major focus of these wars for the British. The collection offers a selection of campaign awards made by the Spanish and Portuguese themselves, some for familiar battles such as Vitoria and San Sebastian, but many rewarding service in exclusively local aspects of the struggle such as the defence of Madrid in 1808 and of Astorga in 1810. At a more affordable level, a medal awarded for Vitoria, 1813, is guided at £200-300.
Moving swiftly on a century, the international scope of the collection is underlined by the assembly of awards for the conflict in Peking, 1900 – better known as the Boxer Rebellion.
When the Foreign Legations came under attack by disaffected Chinese rebels (largely unhindered and partly aided by the authorities), a desperate defence was conducted by a handful of guards and civilian volunteers. Eventually a multi-national relief force arrived to settle the matter in favour of the foreigners.
This collection includes example of the medals conferred by Britain, France, America, Japan, Russia, Italy and Germany. The stand-out lot of this section is the ‘Defence of Legations’ group to a civilian, Arthur D Brent, of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Estimated at £10,000-15,000, it was last sold at Dix Noonan Webb in 1998.
The bank’s normal agent was on leave when the siege began and Brent’s colleague JK Tweed was left in charge. Tweed decided to move the cash into the safer location of the British Legation. As he whipped the camel pulling a hired cart, Brent ran behind picking up dollars or bullion that fell out of holes made by snipers’ bullets.
Beyond this particular collection, the W&W auction includes a number of single consignments.
An intriguing group is the seemingly commonplace medals to Alan Mackenzie Rogers estimated at £1000-1500.
His presence at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 is interesting in itself, but it is his work behind enemy lines in the Second World War with Section D of the Special Intelligence Service (a forerunner to the much vaunted Special Operations Executive – SOE) and his capture by the Germans in Yugoslavia in 1941 that make this group a rarity.
Interned by the Gestapo in a concentration camp near Graz, he was considered by the British to be in considerable danger. However, his cover as a consular clerk nevertheless held, and he was eventually liberated.