Americans are captivated by works of art. One can easily recall masterful paintings and sculptures crafted by legendary artists such as the Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette by Renior (1876), Rembrandt’s 1658 Self Portrait, and The Statue of David, completed by Michelangelo in 1504. Owning a work such as these is an impossibility unless the owners are willing to sell and potential buyers have bottomless bank accounts. Purchasing art objects from lesser-known artists can still impose considerable damage to buyers’ finances.
How many people can say that they own a work by sculptors such as James Earle Fraser, Walker Hancock or John R. Sinnock? How many people were presented these artworks directly from the U.S. federal government? The answer is really quite simple. Thousands, and in some cases, millions of Americans own one or more works by these artists or sculptors (and others) without knowing who designed or sculpted them.
The U.S. government has bestowed or awarded medals to servicemen and women since the first official medal, the Medal of Honor was awarded by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. These medals are beautifully designed, crafted and minted with patriotic, nationally symbolic imagery and affixed with a representative colorful ribbon.
Some of the artists who created works for medals are:
There is significant beauty and elegance among America’s military decorations. From the ornate Army and Air Force versions of the Medal of Honor to the subtly designed Navy Cross, each medal possesses attributes desirable to collectors.
Considering the Stolen Valor Act (SVA), certain awards can be difficult for collectors to obtain by purchase. Some law enforcement agencies interpret the SVA law to mean that it is illegal for anyone to possess valor medals that they or their loved one did not earn. In the United States, it is illegal to sell or buy any portion of the Medal of Honor including the planchet suspension ribbon or even the ribbon-only device. A living recipient may however, gift these items at their discretion.
The online auction site, eBay, has interpreted the SVA in such a manner that sales of any valor medal or associated ribbon are not permitted on their site. Valor medals include:
- Purple Heart
- Distinguished Service Cross
- Navy Cross
- Air Force Cross
Collectors seeking these medals will have to source them from dealers or private purchase.
While collectors admire the beauty of the medals, they don’t solely seek them based on aesthetics. Many of the medals awarded in previous eras (Viet Nam War-era and earlier) are engraved with the awardee’s name and award date (on the reverse) adding provenance and historical context to the specific medal. To be able to trace a medal to its original owner, discovering the details of his or her military career or even the citation narratives that would accompany the specific medal makes the research worthwhile.