Medals Yearbook 2016
Edited by John W. Mussell
Although this is the twenty-second annual Medal Yearbook from Token Publishing, I'm rather embarrassed to admit that this is the first one I've purchased! What have I been missing?
By its very nature, it's aimed at the medal collector and much of the content is aimed towards supporting collectors, with considerable emphasis on up-to-date valuations, articles on the current state of the market and so on. The Introduction, however, states that the book is getting a bit unwieldy for its original purpose as a ready reference, and so it may well be slimmed down in future editions. As the bits they propose losing are amongst the ones I find most interesting, it's probably just as well I took the plunge this year rather than next.
The first article, Market Highlights by John Sly, comments on recent auctions (drawing on reports in the monthly Medal News from the same publisher). The auctions reported on, covering 2014 and 2015, took place in the UK and the focus is quite naturally on British orders, decorations and medals. It provides a good overview of some notable pieces that have changed hands recently, along with the prices for which they went.
This is followed by another article focusing on values, being entitled Guide to Prices Paid. It's aimed at the novice auction-attender and seeks to cut through the confusion about how actual auction houses work and how you pay more than the price you bid for an item - there is a 'premium' which goes to the auction house, not the previous owner, and VAT needs to be paid on that as well. One line in the chart of calculations is wrong, no way that premium plus VAT on a hammer price of £175 will ramp it up to over £2,000; but it is useful to help you decide your top bids based on how much you can afford to spend in total.
Next is a fascinating piece on the Waterloo Medal by Dr. Kerry Rodgers, which goes into the background and history of what was Britain's very first 'campaign medal' in the modern sense of the word. It also touches on awards made by the Netherlands and assorted German states, and makes for an interesting read, especially if this is outside of your main interests (if it is your interest you probably know most of this already!). As last year was the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, it also touches on the memorial that was unveiled and some commemorative coins that were made available.
This is followed by a practical article on Wearing Awards. You might think that this is of more use to recipients than collectors, but it does provide for a sensible way in which to display your collection. It's followed, logically, by The Order of Wear, which sets out the correct order as given in the latest instructions from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood.
Then come a couple of short articles on variant collecting areas - Medal Ribbons and Miniature Medals. Both can be a lower-cost alternative to collecting orders, decorations and medals, but can be fascinating and informative in their own right. They also take up a bit less room, for those whose house-mates do not share their passions!
A short note on Orders of Knighthood highlights their attractiveness and historical interest, although they can be difficult to get your hands on - officially, much of the insignia has to be returned on the death of the holder - and as items are rarely named they are of less interest to those interested in conducting recipient research on pieces in their collections. This heralds the start of the real 'meat' of this book with a survey of British orders, decorations and medals.
For each award, information is provided in standard form including date of institution and detailed descriptions of the insignia, as well as pricing information and comments. Nearly everything is illustrated, at least the obverse (when we get to medals, where the obverse is normally the Sovereign's head, the reverse is shown instead). The quality is a bit variable, but is usually sufficient to allow for identification. Sections on Decorations, Campaign Medals (which includes some non-UK awards such as UN medals, NATO medals and some common foreign awards), Long and Meritorious Service Medals and Coronation, Jubilee and Other Royal Medals follow the Orders of Knighthood. One interesting feature is that estimates of the number of awards made are included. Sections are colour-coded which makes flicking through the book a bit easier (particularly noticeable if you have purchased the e-book version, where no use of common PDF features such as bookmarks or hyperlinks have been utilised.)
There are also sections on Miscellaneous Medals, Medals for Saving Life - here I notice one of the very few errors, it's stated that the Cornwell Badge (awarded by the Scouts) hasn't been awarded since 1998, whilst the grandson of one of my friends was awarded it in 2014! - and Foreign Medals Found in British Groups. We then move on to separate sections dealing with the awards made by the Irish Republic and the Commonwealth, notably Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These countries have an array of awards of their own which are made in the name of Her Majesty The Queen. There is also a section on the Medals of South Africa, although it does not cover the most recent ones (post-apartheid) or non-military decorations and medals. Well, there are rather a lot! The final section covers Unofficial Medals. These are a matter of some contention amongst collectors. Some purists refuse to look at anything not state-awarded, others (like me) think they needed to be recorded to avoid confusion as many look like real medals!
The book finishes with listings of abbreviations and current British regiments, a note on research and an extensive bibliography. Lists of societies, auctioneers and dealers round out the book.
Overall, if British (or indeed Commonwealth) orders, decorations and medals are your interest, this work has a place on your shelves - although unless you collect extensively in this area and need the pricing information you may not want to buy a new copy every year!
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Page last updated: 17 February 2016