Alec Forbes created more than 700 VCs during his career, probably around half of those ever created.
Though little is known about him, he is believed to have started working for Hancocks at Messrs R Owen Ltd in Clerkenwell, London, in 1900 where he stayed for at least 45 years, creating VCs and other medals by hand. During that time, according to an article from 1945, every VC made since the Boer War passed through his hands.
Forbes also had a hereditary connection with the award. His grandfather, a colour sergeant of the Black Watch, had helped to capture cannons from the Russians during the Crimean War at the Siege of Sevastopol from 1854-55. Metal from these cannons are traditionally believed to be the source of the metal from which VCs are struck.
VCs regularly make more than £100,000 on the open market, and for many medal collectors, such prices are out of reach. However, the chance to bag an archive of Forbes-related items, including two VCs in an unfinished state, proved a tempting prospect.
At Bonhams’ sale of Medals, Bonds, Banknotes and Coins of August 26-27, the archive was offered with an estimate of £3000-5000 (27.5/25/20/13.9%).
According to specialist John Millensted, the collection had been kept by a distant relative for 20 or 30 years. “It was very difficult to price,” he says. “The VCs in the lot aren’t regarded as fully official in the condition they’re in.”
Nevertheless, several commission bids meant that competition started high and quickly shot up to £15,000, when the lot was knocked down to a bidder on thesaleroom.com.
Also included in the lot was a photograph of Forbes bedding down the ‘master Victoria Cross’ in the mould before casting and a letter from Hancocks & Co from 1929 acknowledging his years of service and his work with the VCs.
Two other trial pieces, an Iron Cross 1914 Second Class and Polish Valour Medal, were included along with several bronze soldier figures, a presentation box related to his work on the Stalingrad Sword, and other memorabilia from his career.