Memorabilia from the Napoleonic wars 200 years ago is attracting investors' attention. Whether driven by the recent popularity of historical fiction about the period, or by current European rivalries, savvy investors are cashing in on their long-held collections of war-related items. New buyers have pushed up prices of everything from medals to helmets in recent years and such items continue to make excellent investments.
Brian Charman, who runs York-based antique militaria dealer Premier Emperor, says a medal from the Battle of Waterloo would have cost £150 just a few years ago. Today, you'd expect to pay £3,000. "Medals are the best investment," he says, "as you'll always get a good return on them. Twenty years ago, a Victoria Cross would have cost £10,000-£15,000. Today, it would be worth upwards of £140,000."
Michael Hughes, a Scottish collector of war memorabilia, agrees, saying that the real returns are in high-value gallantry medals.
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Other militaria to choose from include uniforms, weaponry, badges and flags, but Hughes points out that letters and documents are easy to forge. "My motto is: stick to the metal," he tells the FT.
Militaria expert Irene Moore, co-author of the International Military Collectors Guide and editor of The Armourer, tells the FT that, "bought wisely, a good collection of medals and militaria offers a sound investment at a time when the bottom has dropped out of the pension market and savings offer little to be enthusiastic about".Moore advises investors to consider visiting militaria fairs, talking to experts, finding out which dealers give guarantees and learning to distinguish between genuine pieces and reproductions.
Charman is in broad agreement, saying that not only should you read up on the subject, but "you must get an absolute 100% money-back guarantee" from the seller. "There are plenty of people out there willing to deceive you."
Fraudsters aside, interest in medals has increased in recent years, says Chris Dixon of Yorkshire-based medal dealers, CJ and AJ Dixon. According to Dixon, collectors and investors alike are adding to both their collections and their investments. "I see a lot of investors becoming interested in medals as a hobby who end up becoming collectors. Equally, a lot of collectors become investors," he says. "It's a two-way street."
Specialist military auction houses include Bosleys (www.bosleys.co.uk); Wallis & Wallis (www.wallisandwallis.co.uk); Morton & Eden (www.mortonandeden.com). Major fairs include the London Arms Fair, the Bedford Militaria Fair and the International Militaria Fair in Birmingham.
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