Because I Say So.
We hear a lot about provenance here on the forum and more so on television in conjunction with antiques shows. Provenance, being the history of an object proving its authenticity, its pedigree so-to speak. So often we see photos alongside medals that we are told belonged to the subject in the photo but is “because I say so” really provenance? It would, of course, be impolite to suggest that a fellow member who was claiming, in this case the photo and medals belonged together, was taking a good deal of liberty in assuming that we should simply take his or her word as gospel.
Of course when a photo and a group of medals have been in that person’s family and handed down from generation to generation it would seem to imply authenticity. However, I have in my collection a couple of very clear photographs of military men to which I have added the corresponding group. If these were to be passed down for a couple of generations the authenticity of the photos and the medals would not change. That is to say, the passage of time is not necessarily an indication of provenance just because they had always remained within one family. Most certainly if the soldier in the photo were wearing those very medals and especially if there were some corresponding damage to the medals reflected in the photo we would assuredly be “sold”.
Speaking of being “sold”, the whole issue of provenance becomes rather critical if one were about to slap down a good deal of gold doubloons on the barrel head in order to procure a highly desirable group of medals. This makes “because I say so” provenance worth about half of what a share of Nortel presently brings. So, keep this in mind as I finally get around to the real story of this episode of News from the Home Office.
My wife and I were returning from a trip to Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada and a visit to the Billy Bishop Museum which is situated there in his home town. We had taken one of the many secondary roads south which winds through scenic farm lands and stunning vistas. We came upon a sign advertising a flea market ahead. The market was in what at first looked to be a farmer’s field and comprised of fifty of sixty vendors. When we pull into the grassed parking area we could see that this was in fact a rural municipality’s sports field with a picnic pavilion and refreshment stand which was open. In case you are not familiar with what a picnic pavilion is, think of a barn with no sides, just a roof and a concrete pad as a floor. The refreshment stand is self explanatory and I am sure we have all seen them and even purchased their questionable food that makes one both wonder where the health inspector was when they opened for business and if we do eat the food will be discover whether the old saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” with be proven true later in the day. After inhaling a couple of hot dogs, speaking of tempting the fates of intestinal disorder, and a half warm Pepsi we toured the vendors’ tables. There is not usually much to be had at these sorts of fairs, sometimes a few small badges or military buttons. Most of the dealers had no interest in such matters and probably wondered if the buttons marked “US” had a corresponding button worn by the enemy stamped “THEM”. Sorry, bad joke, consider it punishment for having read this far. One of the dealers was an elderly lady with an array of the usual two dozen salt and pepper shakers, most of which had suffered the loss of their soul mates and were now facing the world alone, as well as old glass ware that had seen better days and were probably salvaged from someone’s trash. However among the coffee cups sporting semi-humorous pictures and captions and chipped tea cups I spotted a framed document. The glass was grungy from years of neglect but the document was in good shape. It was for the 1937 Coronation of George VI and had been presented to The Reverend Canon W.M.H. Quartermaine and would have been awarded along with the Coronation Medal. What a great little find, and the only one of the day. The lady didn’t want a lot for it as she had no interest in it and informed me that she had purchased it along with several other framed pictures and dishware at an estate sale she had attended earlier that summer.
She then said that she had something else that she wanted me to have to go with the document. Upon producing a battered sugar bowl with lid I was sure this gray haired old sweetheart was about to con me into purchasing the very sugar bowl used to store disembodied spirits by Prime Minister Mackenzie King (look it up). She removed the lid and tipped the bowl and out slid the medal itself. It was still in very good condition along with the ribbon and a pin which was used to affix it to the good Reverend’s jacket. Apparently the medal had been packed in the sugar bowl in some news paper and she had discovered it when she had remover the paper. There was no sales pitch she simply wanted me to have the medal and to show me where it had been stored.
Now in my collection reside the document and the very medal worn by The Reverend Canon W.M.H. Quartermaine. As to the provenance, of course it is genuine. Upon what do I base this opinion concerning the provenance? Well...it’s...”because I say so”.
About this blog
B. Wolfe's discussions on collecting.
Entries in this blog
Because I Say So.
I was born in a place in the Northern part of Ontario that no longer exists as a name place, Fort William. No, it was not razed to the ground during the French and Indian Wars, I'm not THAT old. Fort William was amalgamated with its sister city, Port Athur, to become the City of Thunder Bay.You will find this city on the map at the north western tip of Lake Superior. I grew up in a small town in south western Ontario and presently live in an even small in Central Ontario. I would not mind one more move in my life possibly closer to Ottawa as the terrain is more like that of my birth place, which I am told looks much like the Scottish Highlands, please do not imagine me in a kilt. However, I fear the next move I shall make will only put me six feet closer to sea level.
The small town I grew up in underwent an urban renewal movement a number of years ago spurred on, I believe, by the threat of a large shopping mall being proposed just beyond the outskirts (you're still thinking kilts aren't you) of the county line. We've seen downtown cores of both cities and towns become ghost towns in the past because of the allure of these mammoth shopping Mecca's so the threat was not unfounded.
The first building to fall under the blade of the bulldozer was the town's library. This demolition had been contested because, as the conservationists argued, this was a Carnegie Museum. The protest was withdrawn when it was pointed out that Carnegie was not an architectural style but had been a fund set up by the Carnegie Foundation for the construction of libraries throughout the United States and Canada. In fact the architecture of the whole town is what is known as Ontario Vernacular, a polite way to say, "hodge podge". The new library turned out to be a very nice modern facility that was well designed to serve the community now and well into the future.
The next building, and right across the street, that was slated for the wrecking ball was the town hall and its surrounding neighbourhoods in order to make way for a new downtown shopping mall with the municipal offices on the second floor. The old town hall was truly Ontario Vernacular in the strictest sense. A conglomeration of additions built on through the years, the quality of which depended upon the economy of the times. It sported the letters TH within a rectangle which were constructed of white bricks set into the red brick of the original building. TH, of course, stood for Town Hall; oh God, shoot me now, it all looked quite amateurish and...well..."vernacular".
In the front of the town hall sat the cenotaph, which is the focus of this report, and you thought I would NEVER get to the point. The cenotaph was not the spectacular structures seen in many cities. It was rather plain, a basic obelisk with the dates and names of the wars for which this monument represented as well as for those from the community who had served and those who had fallen in those wars. It lacked any such embellishments as seen in large cities. There were no statues of unimaginative inspiration such as those copying Michelangelo's Pietà (1498 - 1499) so common in these monuments, nor even polished marble. Just a plain pale gray obelisk.
The proposed plan was to remove the cenotaph and relocate it to a designated park well outside of the downtown core, there to be the focus of the Remembrance Day ceremonies and, no doubt, the hand of every vandal and half-witted would-be graffiti artist with a can of spray paint for miles around.
This is the gensis of the protest that started over the relocation of the cenotaph. It started with a petition bearing the names of a few WWI and WWII veterans then more people came forward, then more and more. Doctors, lawyers, grocers, labourers, men women and school children put their pens to paper in support. What had started as a modest effort engulfed the whole community and the outlying areas for miles around. The protest had begun. Unlike today, no one pitched their tents on municipal property, no cars were overturned or put to the torch. It was not necessary to call out the constabulary in their riot gear, which in those days amounted to a bull horn used to advise people to remain calm and orderly. The very thoughts of that, in those days, would have been...what can I say...unthinkable. No it was quiet and dignified and an attribute to the vetrans who fought so that we might petition government without feeling the need to resort to senseless violence.
The night of the council meeting held to discuss the fate of the cenotaph arrived and the council chambers had never seen such a turn out. Someone jokingly remarked that the last time there were so many people at a council meeting was the time they tried to pass a By-law to licence cats. However, the story of that horrendous protest is for another time. The gray haired old ladies (God bless them all) of the , now infamous, Cat Crusades were joined by citizens of all ages and from all walks of life. They filled the council chambers, the hallway and out onto the steps of the town hall and even into the street itself.
Two years later when the confusion that seems to rein supreme over large building projects and the dust of construction had settled, there in front of the new modern downtown mall stood a simple , unadorned, plain light gray obelisk. The same obelisk that had served to remind us of the scarifice our community's sons and daughters had made so that we might live in peace and have a say in how our government was run. I think those who gave their all would have been proud to have known that their sacrifice assured that the voice of the people can and will be heard without the neet to resort to violence.
So tomorrow, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, if you can't join me at a cenotaph please turn off your cell phones, minimize the computer screen and take two minutes to reflect in silence on what others have done and given up for you as will, I know, the people in that small town.
This morning I attempted to launch my blog "News From the Home Office" and somehow after a good deal of work I hit the entry function and it was lost. This ticked me off to no end and I must say I took it out on a couple of my good friends and some bidders on eBay. I still have my friends and two new items for my collection, too bad I was angry as they really cost me, but so be it, let the low bidders hang their heads in shame.
The title I have chosen works on a couple of levels, I hope. First the blog is sent from my office at home and the Home Office in the UK deals with diplomacy, espionage and police matters, all of which interests me.
I will attempt to keep the entries topical but be warned that, unlike the regular posts, this area may see a lot of opinon and conjecture.
So, lets see if I have this figured out or will I have to beat someone else up on an interenet auction this evening?