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A new auction record for a Victoria Cross group was established when £155,000 was paid for a WWI group won by Major General Daniel M.W. Beak (1891-1967) of the South Lancashire Regiment (but at the time of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve). Spink clearly were expecting gavel fireworks because they had suggested an estimate of £150,000-180,000. 

For his VC, the appropriately named Beak, born in Southampton, headed the Drake battalion (actually named for Sir Francis) of the RNVR whose efforts greatly aided the advance to the Hindenburg line during August 1918. Would that there was space in this report to quote in full Spink’s catalogue description. However briefly, it deserves more, “…despite heavy machine-gun fire four enemy positions were captured… four days later, despite being dazed by a shell fragment and in the absence of his brigade commander he reorganised the whole brigade and with but a single runner broke up a machine-gun nest and brought back nine or ten prisoners. His subsequent actions resulted in considerable advances on a wide front and turned the sway of battle and contributed very materially to the success of the Naval Division in these operations.” 

Clearly this act of selfless heroism was not an isolated occasion. This group had the added lustre of a DSO and an MC with bar. If you can get Spink’s catalogue read it in full as it is inspiring. 

The Napoleonic wars must have been just as terrifying to their participants and another auction record fell in this section.

A Peninsular War gold cross with no less than seven bars, which I will name in order to show what Major-General Sir Denis Pack endured. Toulouse, Orthes, Nive, Nivelle, Pyrenees, Vittoria and Salamanca. This group was accompanied by a field officer’s gold medal, the Order of the Bath and a Waterloo medal; it seems almost as an afterthought.  

Pack (c.1772-1823) was born in Ireland and joined the 14th Light Dragoons in 1791. His military career, during which he was wounded eight times and thanked by Parliament five times, took him to South Africa and South America before the Peninsular War and Waterloo, where he commanded Picton’s Highlanders. It appears that this group was sold by a descendant of the heroic recipient and so could be expected to attract serious attention if only for this commercial reason. How do you estimate such a group? £60,000-80,000? It required a round £100,000 to take it home.

Alas, not all Antiques Trade Gazette readers have that much to spend. Thus it is worth reporting something more reasonable in price.

Of the 623 lots offered, 122 (about a fifth) made over the arbitrary £1000 and many were well down in the low hundreds. I report at random one of these affordable lots. The Indian Mutiny (1857-59) still strikes a low chord in our historical consciousness. There were several examples of this campaign medal but I choose just one to make the point. It was estimated at just £80-100. It made £240. It seems that there is quite a firm market for these lesser items and they certainly have an historic resonance of their own. At the end of the day the hammer take was £819,920.