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Why so many mint condition medals and boxes?


Brian Wolfe
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Hello Everyone,

Tim brought up a good question on another post and since some may not have seen it and I think it is a topic well worth delving into so I am posting it here for discussion.

There seems to be a lot of mint or near mint contition Japanese medals and equally mint boxes offered to the collector and this begs the question as to why. Were the medals awarded and then left behind with family? Did the servicemen wear a ribbon bar rather than their medals for the most part?

It seems to me that the boxes, either black lacquer or plain wood, would be battered and broken if they were carried around with the soldier as he was on campaign. If the servicemen carried the medal in leather case then wouldn't we see a lot of these cases available on the merket? Also why do we not see more medal groups offered on the market, or am I just "shopping" in the wrong place?

If we see a German First Class Iron Cross in a case that is too "minty" we start to have doubts and I can tell you when I see a WWII Japanese sword in perfect condition and originating from China I pass it by without a second glance. This is not to say that the medals we see in mint condition are anything but genuine, however, it is food for thought and I hope discussion.

What are the members views on this topic?

Regards

Brian

PS: Thanks again to Tim for being the inspiration for this post.

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Hi Brian,

Certainly an interesting question that I've asked myself before.

First, I'd start with the cultural factors that I believe Rich has already pointed on the other thread that got this one going. Simply few occasions for actually wearing them! Meaning - few occasions to actually handle them. Less human contact automatically lends itself to a better state of preservation considering that we, biologically-speaking, are fairly detrimental to the well-being of many materials.

Second, I might look at the numbers of awards made - some of these are into the millions - the Russo-Japan War medal, the China Incident Medal - to name a few - hence, it isn't too hard to find these in really nice condition. Same thing with some of the orders - many of these were made, and it is not hard to find post-war examples that simply aren't that old relatively speaking so it's not unusual that you'd find really nice specimens. There is an observable proportionality though of what is nice to how old it is - this would be expected - as you go back further in time, you find fewer and fewer nice examples of awards. Look at the Sino-Japanese war or Boxer Rebellion medals, not made in near the same numbers as say the Russo-Japan war medals, so no way you find them as nice - plus, I am also under the belief that there was a change in dyes being used in the early 1900s that were more fast than earlier dyes - a theory based on the number of Sinos and Boxers that you see suffering from color bleed. Though I'm probably just stabbing at things in the dark with my crackpot theories......:speechless:

Third, gotta look at the very materials that were used - lacquer ware is very durable, especially if it goes largely untouched, and stored well. Let's face it, these aren't things seeing daily use and handling so nice cases should be expected. Paulownia wood too is fairly bug resistant, though you do find these wooden cases with the occasional worm hole. Still, the wood is actually light but tough and resilient. I'd also imagine that many of these were packed in cedar chests or some other kind of storage that would have a preservative effect.

From what I gather, there are few fakes on the market. I think the quality of Japanese awards would be hard to replicate short of a significant investment - and this would only be worth it for higher class awards, not common items. There a lot of elements that one would have to duplicate correctly - It's not worth the effort and time for a medal that you can buy for a relatively low sum. That said, I'd be wary of buying anything out of China period. These are simply my opinions though.

You do find a lot of medal groups on Yahoo! Japan, far fewer on eBay, this is true. How authentic the groups are is harder to tell - are they genuine, or simply cobbled together by a seller to make a few more bucks? I'd like to think that there was still some honor in Japan and that most items are legitimate, but there are those unfortunate few that put money above that honor. Still, I believe them to be a minority.

I know none of these things are answers to the questions, merely thoughts! I am very interested to see how this thread develops!

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Very good observations Deiter, and certainly hit the nail on the head. Also agree with Ober's point. Some of the examples look as though they walked straight out of Tokyo Mint.

One thing I'd add as a 'cultural' factor is something perhaps uniquely Japanese. The respect and reverence they have 'old things' which I believe is called 'sabi'. Hence, the appreciation of rustic, old tea cups, bonsai, caligraphy, etc.

For many non-Japanese, a box of uncle Wilbur's old medals is simply a box of faded ribbons and tarnished metal sitting in a garage collecting dust. I'd suspect that in Japan, many of these medals would have been carefully wrapped in a silk cloth and preserved as a link to the past.

Of course, that doesn't explain why so many of these 'family heirlooms' are making their way into YJA. But I guess that over the passage of years, families and possessions disperse, family circumstances change, etc.

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Hi Brian,

Certainly an interesting question that I've asked myself before.

First, I'd start with the cultural factors that I believe Rich has already pointed on the other thread that got this one going. Simply few occasions for actually wearing them! Meaning - few occasions to actually handle them. Less human contact automatically lends itself to a better state of preservation considering that we, biologically-speaking, are fairly detrimental to the well-being of many materials.

Second, I might look at the numbers of awards made - some of these are into the millions - the Russo-Japan War medal, the China Incident Medal - to name a few - hence, it isn't too hard to find these in really nice condition. Same thing with some of the orders - many of these were made, and it is not hard to find post-war examples that simply aren't that old relatively speaking so it's not unusual that you'd find really nice specimens. There is an observable proportionality though of what is nice to how old it is - this would be expected - as you go back further in time, you find fewer and fewer nice examples of awards. Look at the Sino-Japanese war or Boxer Rebellion medals, not made in near the same numbers as say the Russo-Japan war medals, so no way you find them as nice - plus, I am also under the belief that there was a change in dyes being used in the early 1900s that were more fast than earlier dyes - a theory based on the number of Sinos and Boxers that you see suffering from color bleed. Though I'm probably just stabbing at things in the dark with my crackpot theories......:speechless:

Third, gotta look at the very materials that were used - lacquer ware is very durable, especially if it goes largely untouched, and stored well. Let's face it, these aren't things seeing daily use and handling so nice cases should be expected. Paulownia wood too is fairly bug resistant, though you do find these wooden cases with the occasional worm hole. Still, the wood is actually light but tough and resilient. I'd also imagine that many of these were packed in cedar chests or some other kind of storage that would have a preservative effect.

From what I gather, there are few fakes on the market. I think the quality of Japanese awards would be hard to replicate short of a significant investment - and this would only be worth it for higher class awards, not common items. There a lot of elements that one would have to duplicate correctly - It's not worth the effort and time for a medal that you can buy for a relatively low sum. That said, I'd be wary of buying anything out of China period. These are simply my opinions though.

You do find a lot of medal groups on Yahoo! Japan, far fewer on eBay, this is true. How authentic the groups are is harder to tell - are they genuine, or simply cobbled together by a seller to make a few more bucks? I'd like to think that there was still some honor in Japan and that most items are legitimate, but there are those unfortunate few that put money above that honor. Still, I believe them to be a minority.

I know none of these things are answers to the questions, merely thoughts! I am very interested to see how this thread develops!

I would also add under "cultural factors" the very particular attitude of the Japanese to these things. First, the awards come from the Emperor and are a gift from him. So they have a sacredness of sorts attached to them. Second, the Japanese are very careful with such things anyway. In the normal antique and art markets, unless things are in perfect condition, they simply do not buy!

Cheers,

James

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Hello Brian.

This brings to mind a very interesting story that I heard several years ago when I was at the San Jose OMSA convention. There was a dealer selling Golden Kites and Rising suns from 7th class through 4th class. These medals were in gleaming, sparling condition with original wrapped papers identifying their class. There were no boxes. I purchased two Golden Kites 6th and 7th Class, plus one Rising Sun 4th class. I did not have enough money to purchase more at the time. I asked the seller about the origin of the medals and he told me he purchased them from a dealer in Pennsylvania. It was later learned that some more of these medals were being sold on eBay. The Sellers location was in the viciinity of Harrisburg PA. I noticed that several dealers in the vicinity of Carlisle Barracks were also selling what appeared to be the same mint-like Japanese medals. Years passed and I saw the original seller that had sold me the three earlier medals in San Jose at the Scottsdale OMSA show and when I asked him again, the origin of the medals he sold me, he told me that they came from an estate of a deceased army Major who was in the initial group that went ashore in Sakai, Japan. The story continued that he was a coin collector and made a fast end drive to the Osaka mint. Truth or fiction, it is quite a story.

Dick LaTondre

CWO, USMC, Ret.

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