Tag Archives: medals

Sassoon’s Medals – a Complicated Story

Here’s a link to the story of Siegfried Sassoon’s Military Cross, often said to have been thrown in the sea. He actually only tore the ribbon from his tunic and threw that away.

I think I’ve covered it before, but I can’t find the relevant post so I’m repeating it here. If you remember the previous post, I apologise for the repetition.

He talks about it in “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer”, published in 1930.

“I ripped the MC ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey.

Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbons been heavier.

As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility.”

The slightly inaccurate story is here. (He was not a “hard-up poet”, he had a private income).

Here’s a link to the family row over the medal.

I can’t find the reference to his war medals, claimed by the family after his death and later sold by Sothebys (he never claimed them himself) but if you are interested here is a copy of the sale details from the sale of one of his sports medals.

 

 

Sifting Through History

It was an interesting day yesterday, starting with sorting out several boxes of Royal Mint proof sets. It moved on to refilling the decimal coin albums – the £2s, the £1s and the 50 pences. You can’t knock it, because it’s getting people involved in coin collecting and going through the change in their pockets. That’s how I started.

Collectable decimal coins – one of the mainstays of the shop. The 1807 is the two pound coin that supposedly has the rare variety. It doesn’t.

The first coins that ever interested me were farthings. We had a few at home in the early 1960s, just after they were discontinued. They were small neat coins, with a picture of a Wren on the back. A few years later my grandfather gave me one dated 1901. It had the veiled head of Queen Victoria on one side and, wonder of wonders, the figure of Britannia on the back. I was amazed.

I suppose in the days when we only had two black-and-white TV channels and no internet it was easier to be amazed.

There’s a little more to the farthing than the Wiki entry suggests, they actually date back to the days when silver pennies were cut into quarters (or fourthings) but it’s a good summary of the farthings I’m talking about.

By 1968 I had moved on and bought a book. That told me that it was still possible to get Churchill Crowns from the bank at face value (5 shillings, or 25 pence) and that they would be a good investement for the future. I asked my mother to get me four. Fifty years later they are worth their face value when we buy them in. You see them at all sorts of prices on ebay and antique centres, but that is just proof of either ignorance or greed.  A cupro-nickel crown from the 60s, 70s or 80s is not an expensive coin, and as I noted the other day, we just sorted a thousand for export. The fact that we were able to put together a thousand (and still have plenty left) may be a clue as to how well they sell, even though we are only looking for pennies of profit. It’s a rare week when we don’t buy twenty or thirty. And an even rarer week when we sell one to the public.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cupro-nickel crowns commemorating the silver wedding of the Queen and Prince Phillip

Although I didn’t continue with coins, I did continue collecting, which is a long, long story.

Meanwhile, back at the shop, I was allowed to look through a couple of boxes of junk that we have bought from the estate of a deceased dealer. This is the sobering side of dealing in collectables, when you end up with the stuff of someone you’ve known for years.

Coronation medallet of William IV (1831) – an interesting piece of history from the junk box

Apart from being a practical demonstration of mortality it’s also a lesson that everyone, no matter how well organised they seem, has an accumulation of bits and pieces lurking around at the back of their life.

Peninsula War victories of the Duke of Wellington. It’s a bit worn, but so am I, and I’m a lot younger.

A Crowd of Customers and the Laws of Chance

We opened at 10.00 this morning, the phone went at 10.01 and two elderly gents walked in at 10.02 with three bags of coins. One wanted to sell coin.

Meanwhile. his friend wanted to look at postcards, which involved finding various boxes and albums for him. We need to get organised when we move shops. Two shop assistants, two customers. So far, so good.

Then a lady came in to sell some silver, banknotes, coins and medals. It was a shame about the medals, as they had no paperwork or photographs with them. He saw service in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific with the Royal Navy during the war, but without extra details or medals with names on, all the history is lost.

So that was two assistants and three customers. Then a regular customer came and wanted to look at coins. The phone kept ringing with enquiries. Then two more people came in with things to sell…

Two assistants, six customers. It’s not ideal, as you can’t leave people hanging round too long, particularly if you want to take money off them, but you can’t do three jobs at the same time.

Eventually we managed to finish, and everyone seemed happy. I wasn’t even rude to anyone on the phone, though it was touch and go at times. It wasn’t the subject matter, it was the fact that they all start with a similar, lengthy, preamble, which you can do without when you have a full shop.

I don’t mind the fact that most questions are about “rare” coins: the laws of chance dictate that one day it really will be a rare coin or an interesting medal.

It really will.

 

The most famous medal in the world

There are probably several contenders for this title. For the purposes of this post I will suggest that the most famous medal in the world is Siegfried Sassoon’s Military Cross. There’s a lot written about Sassoon’s decorations – some people claiming he won a bar to his MC, and others that he was recommended for a DSO and even a VC. Be that as it may, he was given an MC, and, according to the legend, he threw it in the Mersey when he decided to make his protest against the continuation of the war.

I haven’t seen the film Regeneration but I’m told that Sassoon tears the medal from his tunic and throws it in the water.

It’s a good story, though it isn’t true. That’s the trouble with legends, and as they say in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

The novel Regeneration is quite clear that it’s only the tunic ribbon that gets thrown away and in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer Sassoon says:

I ripped the M. C. ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey. Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbon been heavier. As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on to the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility.

So, what did happen to the medal?

It finally came to light in 2007 when a member of the family went through a trunk in the attic and found the MC in its case, along with an ID disc, a revolver and “some poetry medals”. It was put up for auction “on behalf of the family” with an estimate of £25,000 (about 100 times more than an MC without the Sassoon connection at the time).

However, it seems that not all the family agreed and it was withdrawn from the sale, later turning up with his Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in the Museum of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

In case you find it off-putting to discuss fame and bravery in terms of cash, don’t. As an ex-antiques dealer I can tell you nobody else does. In fact, many of the recipients sell their own medals. As the links show, Sassoon wasn’t much bothered about his medals, and apparently told the family to sell them.

He never bothered to claim his campaign medals, which were eventually claimed by his son. They were duly put up for auction with his CBE and made £4,375 despite the fact he was dead before the campaign medals were issued so they had no personal link to him. Again, this would be about 100 times more than you’d normally expect.

If you think that’s a lot, how about his hockey medal? It was sold with the final contents of Heytesbury House (after the building itself had been sold) and then sold again in 2012 for £880.

I could go on. In fact I’ve probably gone on too long anyway.

There are plenty of catalogues of around relating to sales of Sassoon’s property (he seems to have had a lot of stuff) if you search for them, including his Point to Point Cups and hunting coats – Wooley and Wallis 27th October 2010 if you’re interested. (I just had a look through their last militaria sale and see they recently sold Lord Kitchener’s tea cosy for £600).

Just one final note – when Cambridge University bought his papers, seven boxes of them, they paid £1.25 million. That really is a lot of money for the sort of stuff Julia makes me throw away.