THIS WEEK I will discuss the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in declaring unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act.
The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was signed by President Bush in 2006. It states, in effect, a person who has not been awarded a military decoration can not wear such medal, nor claim verbally he had won such military decoration. Called “Stolen Valor” in America, it is called “Medal Cheat” in England.
This is of interest to Medallic Art Company because the firm has made every one these U.S. medals and decorations in the past and plans to make these now and in the future (after acquiring Graco in Texas). The law had no direct effect on the makers of these decorations, instead, it was directed at people who abused the rights of those who were legitimately bestowed these military distinctions.
Like many legal decisions, notably, more than half the public was unhappy their opinion was not sustained in the Supreme Court decision. Collectors of military decorations were split. Their national organization – Orders ad Medals Society of America, OMSA – took the position that the law should be struck down. Many of the members who were veterans, however, 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. The reasoning – correct in all aspects – was that anyone who had not served and been 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 requirement –U.S. Code 18 Paragraph 704, and specifically U.S. Code 36, Paragraph 903 for the Medal of Honor – which stated these medals were not to be sold to unauthorized persons, to anyone who had not been officially awarded.
The U.S. Code overlooked completely the right of collectors to acquire and legally posses these medals.
For more than half a century collectors got around this prohibition by trading for desired specimens. The purchasing of U.S. decorations by collectors became a subterfuge. Purple Heart medals – a popular collectors’ item – for example had a secondary market value of $35.
A collector would offer $35 cash and a postage stamp in “trade” for a Purple Heart. This was apparently legal despite the fact it was a sham purchase.
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. I was ready to go to court, if necessary, over the injustice. Lucky for me this never came about.
Intent of that original Code 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 neither the U.S. Code nor the Stolen Valor Art covered possession.
Both overlooked what was to become of these decorations upon the death of the recipient. It is these artifacts which enter the secondary market and become collectors’ items after the death of the owner. Medals of one’s parents are usually kept in the family and venerated. Medals of grandparents are not that desired – a large portion of these are disposed, most often sold.
As a medal dealer I purchased “grandpa’s medals” more than any other category.
This prohibition of ownership may be traced back to the 1880s when elaborate precious metal badges of membership among fraternal and descendant groups. Men’s’ badges had no such restrictions. But the badges of women’s groups – as the Daughters of the American Revolution and others – 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’ organizations – bless them – recycled badges. By doing so, however, they reduced the number required, creating an artificial scarcity, particularly noted by collectors later on.
Numismatists have the right, it should be emphasized, to gather specimens, any specimens, they choose for their collections. But what should be done with all those millions of military medals and 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. That’s important. An option would be to add the individual’s photograph – and perhaps even his autograph, dog tags, any other small military artifact – this all should be mounted as one group.
There are firms which do this professionally with attractive frames, often incorporating an American flag. Then donate – or will – this framed group to the local museum in the individual’s home town. Local museums should accept these frames and create a “Wall of Local Heroes.”
Case of H.L.I Lordship Industries
Unauthorized Sale of Decorations
In December 1996 H.L.I. Lordship Industries of Hauppauge, Long Island, was fined $80,000 by the government. It admitted it had sold 300 unauthorized copies of the Medal of Honor to a man for $75 each who sold the medals at memorabilia shows.
Lordship Industries, which had done as much as $9 million a year in medals sales to the government, was removed from the Bid List maintained by the Institute of Heraldry, and prohibited from receiving further Federal contracts.
Also the firm had to forfeit $22,500 it had receive for the medals. The loss of sales to the government was 60% of the firm’s total business, a serious blow to the firm.