Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

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Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby Stuart_Bates » 28 Jan 2016 04:24

This week I was contacted by the Great Great Grandson of the original owner of my Worcestershire pillbox cap viewtopic.php?f=84&t=1801&p=25847&hilit=worcestershire+pillbox#p25847

To cut to the chase I was asked if I would consider selling the cap. Now I am a collector and not a seller but I did “return” a prize Wolseley to the Royal Berkshire’s (see http://www.militarysunhelmets.com/2012/a-berkshire-lad and http://www.militarysunhelmets.com/2013/ ... more-14416

And I have regretted it ever since.

I refused the request for the Worcestershire pillbox and wonder what others think of this situation.

Stuart
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby crimea1854 » 28 Jan 2016 09:22

Stuart

I understand and appreciate your dilemma. You are the current custodian of the item in question, but at some point a member of the family decided they wanted to dispose of it, and who is to say that history will not repeat itself bringing the item back on to the open market again.

In your situation I would advise the family that if in the future you do intend to dispose of it then they would get first refusal, but in the mean time offer to provide a comprehensive set of photographs for their family archive.

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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby jf42 » 28 Jan 2016 09:38

Stuart, I think Martin has laid out the case most fairly. When an object in this category is valued and properly cared for by the collector in whose hands it rests- and available for study, then I can see no prima facie argument that it belongs anywhere else.
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby Will Mathieson » 28 Jan 2016 14:42

Would depend on the price offered if I was to let it go. Family has to realize these items values as antiques.
It has only been suggested to me with a sword, that I could donate to a museum. However it is quite valuable and a tax receipt is useless to me from a foreign country.
At some point we usually sell what we have for whatever reason. Possibly take his contact info stating somewhere down the road it could become his (or not).
It's whatever makes you feel comfortable with doing.
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby mike snook » 28 Jan 2016 16:12

'I used to live in this castle when I was a boy, until my grandfather sold it. Can I have it back please?' No I don't think so; life's not like that. Property is property. Sold is sold. Heirlooms are something handed down within a family. Once sold outside or moved outside by anything other than criminal means, they are gone forever. If somebody wants an item of somebody else's property, then they must offer a fair market price for it. There is no other means of (lawfully) acquiring property. To ask anybody to part with an item of lawfully acquired property on any other terms is unreasonable. There is an art in the polite but robust refusal no doubt. They usually take an extra day to write.

I imagine medal collectors must get a lot of this. And I think I can guess what they say.

I have seen people paying large prices for letters of historic interest (or for the autograph alone) as an investment, in the certain knowledge that they will not lose value. Such letters might be sold by a descendant of the recipient - which they would have a perfect right to do. But suppose a descendant of the person who wrote it suddenly tried to claim it back. This is the thin end of a very long wedge it seems to me. I mention en passant that I once gave a letter written by Lord Roberts to the widowed Lady Cavignari to an army chum who had been in charge of the defence of our embassy in Kabul. It seemed to me to be a very good home for it. If a descendant of Lord R or Lady C had got to me first I would have been pleased to sell it to them for the price I paid for it, but not a denarius less.

My comments are predicated on general principle, not upon any particular instance with the detail of which I am unfamiliar. There are some circumstances which would be reasonable exceptions to the rule in my view. For example I think a widow or widower should always be accommodated, unless they are the person who parted with the item in the first instance. A child I think should be accommodated if at all possible, but on terms which would not leave the owner out of pocket. Any family link more remote than that I would consider to have no reasonable claim on an item beyond the right to compete in the open market on a first refusal principle. The owner can be under no compunction to sell if he or she does not wish to.


Regards

M
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby Waggoner » 28 Jan 2016 17:00

Requests of this nature are not simply black or white as there are many shades of grey. Yes, this issue is frequently discussed on the British Medals Forum. Sometimes the requests are granted, sometimes they are not. Sometimes the returned items are treasured within the family, sometimes they soon turn up on eBay or equivalent. I think you need to do what feels right for you!

All the best,

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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby SWB » 28 Jan 2016 17:36

If the item was sold on the open market then its yours and you have no need to give any thought whatsoever to your question "Should I sell the item back?"

I wouldn't make allowances on the basis of the relationship of the purchaser to the original owner - how do you prove the relationship and anyone can be out to make a fast buck.

On the rare occasion I have approached a family member about the man whose medals I own they have shown no interest in the medals - after all this lack of interest is how so many medals, papers, and uniforms end up on the open market in the first place.

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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby jf42 » 28 Jan 2016 18:58

To be fair to the family in question, Stuart did say they have offered to buy the article rather then simply have it returned. Stuart has not said whether a price was discussed but I assume if that was an issue he would have mentioned it. Asking for special consideration in that department would certainly be taking the Michael. My impression is that the issue is more whether should one feel any moral, or rather sentimental, obligation to release an item for sale to individuals with a family connection, returning it, as someone might think, to its 'rightful home.' Ideally regimental museums, or national institutions might be thought the best repositories of many of these objects, in terms of conservation and access. Sadly that is not always the case.
I imagine the question of medals might be the most sensitive cases. However, as others have pointed out, if a family has been happy to let things go, then the case is not clear cut. The most difficult case has to be where a soldier or his immediate family have been forced to sell medals because of financial distress.

My grandmother grew a little careless in her later years, and liked to 'pop' things off, betting the proceeds on the horses. An officer who knew my late grandfather saw a Highland feather bonnet case with my grandfather's name stencilled on it in the window of an antiques shop near where my grandmonther lived. It contained his full dress feather bonnet dating from 1903. He bought it and returned it to the family as a gift saying, "I thought you might be pleased to have this. They are not making many of these any more, you know." A gentleman.
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby acanthus » 28 Jan 2016 21:47

Some time long past, I was approached on the subject of a named sword I owned, being asked if I might consider selling the sword to an interested party who owned important medals named to the same officer. Being an early sword named to both the man and his regiment, it is rare on both counts; but then so are the medals, and the medal collector is no less dedicated than I in terms of his interest.

We as collectors are only custodians of such items whilst we live, and there is also the fact that many items held in Museum collections have never seen the light of day, and likely never will; in many instances, this situation seems to worsen as time passes us by.

As rare as the sword is, and combined with the fact that such an item cannot be replaced, it was not strictly! within the bounds of the type of sword I would choose to collect in an ideal world however, as we all know, rare items don't grow on trees, and it's often the case that decades can pass without success in trying to find that one item all of us look for throughout our lives as collects of the various pieces of history.

As someone has already pointed out, many such items pass out of family ownership for various reasons, maybe lack of interest, financial gain, or maybe as a result of the passing of the last descendant of the original owner an item in question.

In terms of my decision on the sword, I sold it to the chap who owned his medals. This gave me a feeling of comfort in knowing that I was instrumental in putting two important pieces of history back together, in the hands of a person who was personally as dedicated as I.
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Re: Heirlooms or a Tangled Web?

Postby Stuart_Bates » 28 Jan 2016 22:48

Thank you all for your most salient comments. Price was never broached after I replied that I did not want to sell, in fact, communications ceased rather abruptly.

I "returned" my Berkshire Wolseley for the price that I paid several years earlier as I did not want to make a financial gain under the circumstances. However, I have to add that some promised documentation and photographs were never received. I said in my article "Now many collectors will take me to task over this, and indeed the helmet is one of my best, but what can I say? Nothing noble naturally, but it just seemed the right thing to do." I have changed my attitude since then.

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