War Medals and Militaria As An Investment?

 In General, Medals of the Great War

I was on the phone today with a good friend of mine and the discussion got round (inevitably) to military stuff, specifically this time, the investment potential of militaria and medals. I have been collecting medals and militaria on and off (more off than on recently, to be honest) for the last 20 years. And as we discussed various things, I thought that the topic of militaria and medal investment potential would be a splendid blog topic. So here we go…

So, is militaria a good investment? The short answer is yes. And there are a few reasons for this:

  • More and more people are collecting
  • The is a limited supply, and this supply is not going to get any bigger
  • Programmes such as WDYTYA, and the antiques roadshow have made more people more aware of their family history and see it as an opportunity to mix a hobby with an investment.

In terms of appreciation, the value of medals & militaria has increased about fivefold in the last two decades.

For example, a Victoria Cross was worth around £100,000 in 1990. Today, the record price for a single VC is £491,567. and in 2009 the Chavasse Double VC was sold for £1.5million.

Meanwhile, an 1815 Waterloo medal, the first British campaign medal, cost £350 in 1990. Today, it sells for around £3,500 and I have seen some priced at £5000 plus.

Second World War memorabilia can offer plenty of gains; however First World War medals generally remain the best investment. And with a significant anniversary on the horizon (2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War)  prices for this period at least are set to go up even further.

At the lower end of the price scale (why I play), the general WW1 medal market pricing is increasing at around 10-15% a year, depending on what  you are collecting. For example, I collect (among other things) single 1914 stars. 5-7 years ago, £60 would get you a good star, with ribbon, to an infantry regiment or maybe even a guards regiment if you were lucky. Nowadays, these are going for £80 – £90.  

Other examples: A single Military Cross in 2011 will be a minimum of £500. 10 years ago these were £350.

With WW1 medals, the research is the key. All WW1 medals were named, therefore it is relatively easy to research the recipient of the medal. Factors that can severely affect the price include:

  • Rank of the soldier (officers command much more money than rank and file soldiers)
  • Regiment (‘Corps’ such as Royal Engineers, ASC, RFA etc. Are more common, and therefore less valuable than infantry regiments or guards/cavalry)
  • History of the individual. For example, medals to soldiers that were killed in action are worth double or even treble those of soldiers of similar rank/regiment who survived the war. Why? The personal story is more interesting, the medal is rarer, and the opportunity for research is greater. Medals to soldiers that were killed on specific dates (such as the First day of the Somme), or during specific battles (Mons, Passchendaele) also can command significant premiums, and will always be required by collectors, and even though they are more expensive to buy, will often offer the best investment.
  • Type of Medal. Some campaign medals are more scarce than others (1914 Star), also gallantry medals are obviously worth more as they are rarer and have a significant story attached to them, which can be researched further.

And it is not just British WW1 medals that are going up, I am trying to buy a good WW1 Iron Cross First Class, these seem to be going through the roof, 10 years ago they were £90-£100 now you get an average one for £150.

Another area of medals to consider (in my opinion) for investment purposes are Second World War medals. Currently there is only limited research potential for these medals, because service records of soldiers and officers are still with the MoD. Because of this, and the fact that the campaign medals for this conflict are not named, the cost for groups are lower – demand is not as high. However, if you can get a nice group of 3 or 4 campaign medals, with their paper work (boxes of issue with name and address) then, when the service records are released, the research potential rises, as will the price. And who knows what interesting information the research will through up to make the group more interesting and valuable. For me, named WW2 groups are a good investment, especially those that were killed in action or attached to an interesting regiment.

Third Reich medals have always had a strong collectors market, especially in America,  and prices have risen steadily. Iron Crosses (2nd Class) are being sold for £80 these days, a few years ago they were £50-£60. First class awards were £100 10 years ago, now they are almost double. The problem with Third Reich medals, is that because of the difficulty in privately buying/selling you are forced to go through dealers. Now, I have nothing against dealers, and with Third Reich medals, I would always buy via a reputable dealer because of the high number of fakes, but you do tend to pay a high premium because you cannot buy from ebay or other places. Also, if you decide to sell, you have to either sell at auction or back to a dealer, where you will not get the full market price (a bit like buying a car). For this reason, unless you are in it for the long haul, these kind of medals may not be as much an investment as Allied medals.

So there you go..in a nutshell, WW1 stuff is always going to steadily increase, but it is best to look for specific medals – gallantry medals, rare regiments or medals awarded to soldiers that died in action are good bets. WW2 medals have great potential if you can get attributable groups, and Third Reich medals/militaria will always have a good market of buyers, but the restrictions on buying/selling could limit investment potential. And there is a large risk of fakes in the market place – so be careful.

I hope that this article has been helpful, let me know what you collect and if you agree that medals can be an alternative pension! For my sins, I collect single 1914 Stars, any medals to the Northamptonshire Regiment (family regiment), Passchendaele casualties, and if I am feeling really rich, which isn’t often, Military Crosses. I also dabble in WW2 attributed groups and some Third Reich medals and paperwork.

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