The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 28, July 1, 2012, Article 16


Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts on the Stolen Valor act under the subject line "MEDAL CHEATS TRIUMPH". -Editor

The "other decision" handed down by the Supreme Court this week had numismatic implications. In contrast to Obamacare, which the court upheld, it declared unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act, which stated, in effect, a person who had not been awarded a military decoration could not wear such medal, nor could he claim verbally he had won such military distinction.

It is now legal to lie about winning such decorations. What is called "Stolen Valor" in America is called "Medal Cheat" in England. Take your pick.

Like many legal decisions, notably, more than half the public was unhappy their opinion was not sustained in this decision. Collectors of military decorations were split. Their national organization -- Orders and Medals Society of America, OMSA -- took the position the law should be struck down. Many of their members who are veterans, wanted the law not only to be retained, but perhaps strengthened.

After all, these veterans had served in the military and had legitimately been awarded many of the decorations covered by the law. Their reasoning -- correct in all aspects -- anyone who had not served and legitimately bestowed the medal should not be entitled to the right to claim such an honor.

OMSA's position was the law was badly conceived. It needs to be rewritten. It perpetrated a previous code applied to these decorations which held these medals were not to be sold to unauthorized persons, to anyone who had not been officially awarded.

For more than half a century collectors got around this prohibition by trading for specimens. This became a sham. Purple Heart decorations, for example had a secondary market value of $35. A collector would offer $35 cash and a stamp in "trade" for a Purple Heart. This was apparently legal.

When I was a medal dealer I refused to engage in such a sham. I sold decorations cash outright. No trade necessary. Deep down I longed to be challenged. I was ready, I thought, to sustain the position that collectors had a right to purchase these artifacts, as any other collectible, and I was ready to go to court, if necessary, over the injustice. Lucky for me this never came about.

Intent of that original law was to prevent exactly what was intended under the Stolen Valor Act. To wit: unauthorized persons should not wear decorations they were not entitled to. But it did not cover possession.

It overlooked what was to become of these decorations upon the death of the recipient. It is these artifacts which enter the "secondary market" becoming legitimate collector items that collectors can add to their collection.

This prohibitation may be traced back to the 1880s when elaborate precious metal badges of membership among fraternal and social groups. Men's badges had no such restrictions. But badges of women's groups -- as Daughters of the American Revolution -- carried the stipulation if a daughter followed her mother in membership she could receive her mother's membership badge. Otherwise the badge had to be returned to the organization on the death of the member. That certainly prevented wearing by unauthorized ladies.

The ladies -- bless them! -- recycled badges. By doing so, however, they created scarcity later on for their badges, particularly on today's medal market.

Numismatists have the right, however, to gather specimens, any specimens, for their collections. But what should be done with all those millions of decorations not in collectors' hands? In veterans' hands at present, and all those who have died in the past?

I have a solution. All the insignia and medals received by one individual should be kept intact. An option would be to add the individual's photograph -- and perhaps even his autograph, dog tags, any other small military artifact -- this should be mounted as one group. Then donate or will this to the local museum in the individual's home town. Local museums should accept these and create a "Wall of Local Heroes."

And members of OMSA should help draft the wording of a new law to replace the rejected Stolen Valor Act.

Normally I cite a news story on the internet, with my articles, but none I saw this week mentioned any collector aspect of this event.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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