Tips for beginners ...

1. Introduction

Medals are awarded for campaign service, long service, loyalty, accomplishment, acts of bravery and heroism, and are interesting not simply as objects but as symbols of these qualities.

For me the interest and knowledge gained from researching the recipients is far more rewarding than the discovery of the medal itself, especially when it is realised that a medal may be all that remains to remind us of a persons life on this Earth!

If the value of a medal is important then it should be understood that a complete group that was awarded to a particular person would be more valuable than the same number of individual medals.  The value will be further enhanced if the recipient was a personality or if any of the medals were awarded for valour.  Any research notes and/or additional personal items will also add to the value of the group.

2. Where to start.

You may have noticed on my homepage that I decided to collect one of every British campaign medal starting with the Waterloo medal of 1815.  I would suggest that the only way to start collecting is to focus on a particular period or Regiment or medal type and concentrate on these.

Medals can be purchased for as little as 10 for a named Victory or War medal from the First World War.  The interesting point about these medals is that around the rim you will find the name of the recipient, his service number, his rank and his regiment.  You can then research him from the medal card index held in the the National Archives (TNA) and if available you can research the man's service history.

But this is only a start to the information you can acquire.  You can then join a medal society such as the ones I am in, The Birmingham Medal Society or the Orders, Medals and Research Society (OMRS).  If these are too far away you can check with the OMRS to see if there is a branch closer to you.
(You can find the TNA and OMRS on my Medals Links page)

By now you will realise that what started as a curiosity has now gripped you with an enthusiasm that can become quite compulsive.  You will need to buy a copy of the medal collector's bible Collecting Medals and Decorations by Alec A Purves. (ISBN 0 900652 45 4).  This is primarily a book on collecting medals rather than on medals as such.  It omits individual descriptions as these are readily available elsewhere, but it aims to give the collector useful information not usually found in medal books.  Based on his experience of over thirty-five years serious collecting, it provides notes on naming, genuine and false, unofficial bars, copies and many other points of interest.  Among other matters, housing the collection, buying and selling, building a reference library, and identifying abbreviations of rank and unit, are all dealt with.  The latest book includes a section on foreign awards, especially those found frequently with British groups of medals.

Another useful reference would be William Spencer's excellent new book Medals: The Researchers Guide the authoritative guide by The National Archives' renowned medal expert and best-selling author, covering military and civil awards, orders, decorations and medals from 1793 to 1990

A book that itemises all of the British awards is the Medal Yearbook, published by Token (IBSN 1 870 192 494) This describes all British awards and gives you a guide to their value.

3. Frequently asked questions:

Q.  Medals - where do I get them?
A.  Most people become interested when given medals when relatives die and the medals are passed on to a relative, you may be that person.  You could ask relatives if they have any medals that they may wish to pass on.
Other possible sources include:

  • Car boot sales,
  • Antique fairs,
  • Medal collectors fairs,
  • Buy online from various auction houses or the automated Speedbid web site.  (See my Medals Links page)

Q.  What are the best sources of information research purposes?
A.  There are many sources of information but the best include:

  • CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
  • OMRS (Orders, Medals and Research Society)
  • TNA (the National Archives)
  • Internet web sites - the three sources above for example (See my Medals Links page)
  • Regimental museums
  • Public Library

Q.  Should I join a medal collectors club?
A.  Yes, BMS or OMRS for example.

Q.  Is there a magazine?
A.  Yes, Medal news that comes out ten times a year

Q.  How should I clean a medal?
A.  Generally you do not clean them, however if they are for display then you may wish to get them cleaned and re-ribboned by a specialist.

Q.  How can I spot a fake or reproduction medal?
A.  By reading and experience.

Q.  If an interesting medal is found but without a ribbon - does this matter?
A.  No, replacement ribbons are readily available.

Q.  Should I read books on the subject?
A.  Yes - Those described earlier are a start.

Q.  I know what a medal is, but what about Orders, decorations and Honours?
A.  These are all explained in the two books mentioned above.

Q.  Is there a published list of medals with approximate values to act as a guide when purchasing?
A.  Yes, it is called The Medal Yearbook

Q.  Is it worth buying medals, even when you don't particularly want them, in the hope they can be sold-on or traded later?
A.  Named medals are always worth collecting.

Q.  Is there a generally accepted way to display a medal collection or is it up to the individual to do their own thing.
A.  Read the two books mentioned.

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