The internet has opened a world of access to enable us to purchase all manner of things and you can purchase medals from internet auction sites and internet dealers because that’s where the majority of medals are. Car boot sales (Yard Sales in the US), antique and collectible shops, flea markets and militaria shows are also a good source and yes there are some shady dealers operating out there but there are a lot of honest dealers who have their reputations to think of and would not wish for any bad publicity based on selling items that are not what they appear to be? If in doubt leave it out is the best course of action and sometimes instinct can tell you if it’s a good buy or not. Experience in buying medals will come from making mistakes and learning from them. Use any bad buy as a positive to gain experience and I know it’s a pain when it happens but the more experience you gain the better you become at collecting.
U.S. medal collecting has been limited due to the small amount of pre WW2 medals (original issue) available. The Internet does offer access to these types of medals and some of these are re strikes or Issued/Un issued, especially those from WW2 or after with some still in their original boxes with ribbons. Unless a medal has some provenance then it may be difficult to tell if the medal has been issued and if it is still in its original packaging, it may still have been issued to someone but never worn. I have experienced this with British WW2 medals still in their original box of issue, the ribbons and medals wrapped in paper and what appears to be maybe never worn. If you want to put together a set of medals or need a gap filler for a set then a restrike could be the answer but you need to know the difference between what I call original issue and replacement or restrike.
I hope this blog will go some way towards that and give the reader some confidence in going forward if embarking on collecting medals of the United States Armed Forces.
Arthur E. Du Bois states in National Geographic Magazine from October 1943, Heraldry of Heroism, that “Decorations and medals stand for more than the Nation’s grateful acknowledgment of fidelity. They are a constant incentive to performance of outstanding deeds” and Evans E Kerrigan in the introductory note in his book, American War Medals & Decorations puts it more simply, “Each is intended to be a distinctive symbol of a nation’s gratitude to its citizens”. In the United States, medals are issued for all the services especially for commendation and achievement. The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corp, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine all receive individual medals but have the same merit. Personal decorations for bravery shaped in a cross, star or hexagonal, the Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service being examples. Some of the service and campaign medals which are circular in design have the same obverse but are issued on the reverse to the Navy or Marine Corp. Medals are authorized by the President of the United States, Congress and Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The most popular period for collectors of US medals has to be World War 2. There are a lot of awards from this era but notably most service medals are post WW2. Gallantry awards like the Purple Heart, Air Medal, Silver & Bronze Star were awarded during the conflict but the service awards apart from the Good Conduct medal were awarded as ribbons which were issued and worn on the uniform to indicate what award had been granted. Post WW2 medals include Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan. The medal that is hardest to obtain is the Congressional Medal of Honor (MoH). The sale of this medal and ribbon is prohibited by law in the United States (1994 amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 704) but not in the UK, but to obtain anything original is very rare. Although there are some authorised but non issued MoH’s which were made and sold by Lordship Industries (HLP) that may be available. These were sold up until the 1990’s and unfortunately led to HLP losing their government contract in 1996. The story is that 300 and maybe as many as 900 were sold to the general public for approx $75 each and some were then recovered by the FBI but not all? Previously in a 1969 edition of the forces newspaper “Stars and Stripes” HLP in an article about the manufacture of the MoH stated that the medal was not for sale at any price!
“His Lordship Products” pleaded guilty to selling 300 unauthorised copies of the Medal of Honor for a total of $22,500 in the early 1990’s to various collectors and militaria outlets.
I have endeavoured to use as much of my own experience when writing this blog as possible. I have had to draw on various reference material also and this has been very helpful and rewarding and if you can obtain this material or use the web to research then this is an invaluable resource. I recommend joining medal, militaria or collectors forums where you will have access to a wealth of experience in medal collecting available to you and are very helpful especially if you have questions about your collecting. There is however one note of caution when undertaking any research especially on the web. As with any information sometimes it may be people’s opinions and this can sometimes be inaccurate so try to make sure the information is as accurate as can be. Don’t be put off by people’s comments as we are all “experts in our field” and I’m still learning every day. When it comes to medal collecting do your research, go to medal and collectors fairs and be prepared to make mistakes. Even the best dealers sometimes get it wrong and sometimes that works in the collectors favour! The idea behind writing this was to pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained from my years as a collector but I am always open to new information and my research and collecting never stops!