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Medals in the news! Nobel, Olympic and Pulitzer

When one usually thinks of medals, these are the ones which come to mind: Nobels - The Peace Prize, along with prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature and economics, overseen by committees in Norway and Sweden, and presented in December of each year (and anounced throughout this second week of October!). The Olympic medals awarded every four years, in bronze, silver and gold for athletic acheivement. For journalists and publishers in the United States it is the Pulitzer Prize Medal overseen by Columbia University. Awarded in bronze in many classes to individual writers and once each year in gold to a newspaper.

Heritage Auctions
of Dallas, Tx, held a Long Beach Token and Medal sale September 28th. Presented in it were three gold medals awarded in 1954, 1970 and 1974 to Newsday, the major daily paper on Long Island, NY. The sale price for the medals were $7,000, $4,500, and $4,000. Not bad for a 14 Kt. 2 1/2 inch medal (a bit more than 3x melt at the lower levels.)

However, when informed of the sale, the current management of the paper thought the medals were actually safe and sound locked in the office safe. So now the plot thickens. The AP gets the story, it gets spread across the wire service to papers in the U.S., Canada and Japan. The NY Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post check their collection of medals (and find them all safe and where they belong). The Suffolk County Police start to figure out how the medals left the newspaper to be purchased at an estate sale in 2001.

Okay, where does this leave collectors?

Personal awards are nice, to the awardee and perhaps the immediate family members. However, once they get passed off to grandchildren who may never have meet the awardee, or worse yet, nieces and nephews who may not even have remembered the awardee, then it is just an item with value, to be sold. Sometimes the selling is done by the awardee, if they happen to fall on hard times. The funds that the award medal can generate can be used to raise some ready cash to pay rent, winter heating bills, or a medical expense. How can we judge how those decisions are made?

Why do we put such emphasis on the award trinket rather than the award action?

Yes, this case will cause a sensation. There is a question of true ownership, and possible theft in the past, thus clear title has not passed. I think that the medals will eventually be returned to the Melville offices of Newsday. The newspaper may have to pay someone for them, but they hereafter will be kept safer. The newspaper if they were really proud of them, should have had them on display, rather than copies! That would have kept them in the public eye, and safe!

But what about collectibility of other named and important medals? I feel that if they are acquired by legal means than they are available, then they can be collected. Numismatists can research their story and share them thru publication or exhibition at a convention.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences group has always conted that the Oscar is only a temporary ownership item, and now makes recepients of the statue sign "temporary custody" forms, that the gold plated statue is the propery of the Academy and not the actor, so that they will not come into collector hands. That goes a little too far. They give a price to an actor or actress, the award becomes theirs to do what they please. 

George Cuhaj