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Remembered Today:

Ownership of medals donated to regimental museum


WilliamRev
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A friend of mine has the following problem, which I am sure Forum members will be able to help with.

My friend, Dave, owns his grandfather's WW1 medals; Dave's grandfather gave them to Dave's father (one of several bothers), who in turn gave them to Dave. So Dave has no paperwork of any kind to prove his ownership, but owns his grandfathers medals in the same way that I own all my family's medals (despite having an elder brother and loads of cousins) - simply because they were given to me.

Now, the medals Dave has are Pip, Squeak, Wilfred and a Military Cross, so a rather nice group, and several members of the family would rather like to get hold of them, Dave believes, but probably to sell them. So Dave is keen to donate them to the regimental museum, to keep the story of his grandfather's act of gallantry alive. The museum curator has confirmed that the medals would go on display if they were donated, so that all seems simple and agreeable.

But Dave has good reason to believe that one of his relatives, a cousin who shares the same grandfather and who always thought that he should have been given the medals, would approach the museum and claim ownership of the medals and demand that they be given to him. The curator has suggested that the museum would feel obliged to give the medals to the cousin.

So my question is....

Is there any way that Dave can donate the medals to the museum in a way that no members of the family can claim them back? - Remember that Dave has no paperwork of any kind that proves his ownership, and his cousin disputes his sole ownership (despite the fact that grandfather then father handed them down in the way that medals are).

William

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Even easier tell him to keep them and tell the family to s-d off. If they were gifted rather than willed then your pal surely has legal as well as de facto ownership. As for the museum option, unless the cousin has a will to point to I cant see how they would have a claim. I would not give them to a museum as they may sell them anyway. So option 1 is the only option.

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My query would be was Dave's father the oldest child of Grandad? As next of kin, once Grandma died, it should be reasonable to expect Dave's father to inherit the medals and then pass them on.

Property law can be tricky but the museum should be able to help; after all it is in their best interest. If not the museum then try Citizens Advice. I don't think the medals should be handed to the museum until Dave is absolutely sure.

Garth

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My limited understanding would be that if DONATED, they become the "property" of the museum, to do with as they decide, show, sell or store.

If however they are on say PERMANENT loan, then the museum has to return them to the DONOR as and when either they or the DONOR decide.

Your situation is probably more common than you may think, so a permanent loan (in conjunction wth the museum or your legal adviser (preferable) should ensure they are no passed to anyone else. As an idle question, do you have any idea of the likely market value of the group?

Do you know the circumstances of the award (I don't want to know the details, just if you have a full background then that also helps establish "your" right.

But I'm no fount of knowledge (as Mrs Axe tells me every day!) so wait and see if more helpful answers arrive!

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I think Kevin has the nub: basically, seek legal advice. It's all very well for us to think what might happen, but proper legal advice would seem sensible.

Incidentally, not knowing the regiment involved, I would be extremely surprised if it sold an MC group. Indeed, my experience is that regimental museums would be extremely unlikely to sell them.

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I think if the curator has indicated that s/he would hand them over, then I don't see how they could be donated with security.

When you donate to the museum, you are passing over title to them. The usual complaint is that the museum then wants to flog them to raise money and the original family oweners have no say in the matter.

Perhaps the friend could discuss with the curator "loaning" the medals to the museum, with paperwork to substantiate the loan. I believe that would mean title would remain with the friend but, of course, may not prevent something untoward happening in the future. And, once gone from the museum's hands, then there's little the friend can do about it.

If, as seems likely, the museum may not feel able to hang on to them in either circumstance, is it such a bad thing that the other relative comes into possession of them? Of course, if it is a bad thing, then the friend could hang on to them.

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My advice to William's friend would be not to try to solve a family dispute via the regimental museum. In sixteen years working in regimental museums I had to deal with a number of cases where family members came forward to claim medals that had been donated many years previously by other family members. A curator should always discuss with a prospective donor whether there are other family members who might have a claim to an item. If I knew that the motive for making a donation to a museum was that outlined above by William I would not accept the medals. A donor should be required to sign over title of the medals and in doing so they are also confirming that they are indeed the true title holder. No curator can undertake to accept a donation with the proviso that it will always be displayed. Also be wary of a museum which readily agrees to a loan and especially never deal with a museum which recognises 'permanent loan' because a museum which accepts large numbers of long-term loans is not being run responsibly. Ask the museum whether it has ever sold artefacts and what its policy is regarding disposals. My personal view while a curator was that medals were awarded to the individual, not to the regiment, and should remain so far as possible with the families of the recipients. Regimental museums have a lot of Military Cross trios and one more will not make any difference to its ability to tell the story of the regiment.

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Good practice obviously varies from museum to museum but I find it rather alarming that the curator has indicated he/she would consider handing over donated items to anyone, especially someone who wasn't the donor.

I would suggest checking whether the museum is accredited; if so ask to see their policies relating to acquisitions and disposals. If the museum is accredited, or working towards accreditation, it should have these documents and they should be publicly available on request. To get accreditation the museum has to demonstrate strict standards on how it collects items, cares for them, and how it handles the issue of disposal (among many other things, but these are the key points with regard to this issue). Even if unaccredited, one would still hope that the museum would conduct its business within the guidelines of the Museums Association Code of Ethics - http://www.museumsassociation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics.

As suggested, your friend might be wise to seek legal advice as to the current ownership of the medals, I would not leave this to the museum to handle (and to be honest I don't think they would want to get involved in this bit). I think it important that your friend clearly establish his ownership of the medals, so that he can be certain that he is legally entitled to enter into an agreement with the museum. This is particularly important if there is a chance other members might challenge his right to make such a donation.

[Edit - Simon posted as I was typing; his reply sums up the situation rather well in my opinion]

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There have been situations in the recent past when paintings put in a museum (not a military one they were not military paintings) on permanent loan have been sold by the museum and whatever the legal position getting them back by the lending family has proved just too difficult - so beware the law is not in practical terms that good in this situation.

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Many thanks indeed to everyone who added to this thread - I personally agree that such items belong with the family, and that medals do not add to the history of the regiment, unlike a diary or photos, say. If it was the battalion's only Victoria Cross then it would be a different matter. Simon and Barrie - your posts clarify things considerably - I see that it is clearly unfair to use the museum to settle a family dispute..

[Kevin - As a medal collector myself, I think that this group would fetch £1,200- £1,500, perhaps a little more]

[The museum in question is a famous regimental museum, fully accredited etc, with extensive medal-displays in glass cases, and other medals in secure "sealed drawers" which can be browsed-through, which is why I suppose the curator was able to guarantee that they would be on show.]

So...it is clear that Dave needs to seek legal advice and chat further with the curator; I will show him this thread which I think will help focus his mind.

William

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If donated then the item is accessed by the museum and given a unique accession number. Very few museums now have loan items other than in exceptional cases of rarity of the item or for a specific exhibition. There is a clear policy for disposal. The first principle is that the item must be offered back to the original donor if they do not want it should then be offered to other museums if there is no interest only then can the museum dispose of the item. Medals are plentiful in most museums and sadly not all see the light of day even good gallantry groups. My advice is to sit down with the curator and fully explain the situation then they can decide if they wish to accept your donation.

regards

Mark

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I agree with welshdoc on this one. If they were handed down through your friend's Father to himself surely he has a right to keep them without paperwork. He could "will" them to one of his children, stating they have been handed down from his Grandfather to his Father and from his Father to himself, assuming the named person realises the importance of these being kept in his line of the family. If they are loaned or given to a museum I can't see how your friend would have any control over what might happen to them.

Anne

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Original title was vested in the person the medals were issued to.

If he gave them away before his death it would be difficult to prove transfer of title without a deed of gift.

If they passed on death, and were not specifically itemised in his will, then they would be included in "the residue of the estate" (whoever inherits that would have title to the medals).

If he died intestate, then whoever inherited the estate under intestacy rules would have title.

If something is given - say to a museum - then there should be a simple deed of gift. Just a written and witnessed agreement, as no proper contract can be made without consideration.

I can well imagine a museum steering clear of any donation that may cause controversy.

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I spent several years working in a museum. Items donated were accessioned into the museum's collections , became the museum's property are were 100% non-returnable to anyone , including to the person donating them.

Items on loan - permanent or otherwise - would only ever be returned to the loaner in person , requiring his or her ID and signature and production of the original paperwork regarding the loan.

Maybe worth noting that on all our paper work it as stated that there was no guarantee that items loaned or donated would ever be put on public display , though all items were available for private viewing by prior arrangement.

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I recently donated a Great War period personal diary to a Museum. They were extremely professional and insisted on doing the paperwork for all the reasons given above. The donation would only seem sensible if the Museum was 100% confident it knew the legal position. In the case of the OP, ownership of title cannot be proven, and furthermore the Museum already knows there is a dispute, so I would imagine most Museums would decline. At the every least they ought to agree to return it to the donor if any new claimant arrives on the scene and let the claimant sort it out with the 'owner'.

One solution is to get all claimants together to draw straws for ownership on the condition they are not sold. Alternatively, if they are sold the other claimants have first right of refusal based on a professional valuation. In my family we are more concerned about medals being stolen, so we have had three sets of replicas made from un-named medals at no small cost. That way we all have sets on our walls and know that if we are burgled or the house burns down the original medals are not lost. A compromise solution.

Separately I was given a DCM recently by a family who had no interest in it. Not all families are interested. In theory I ought to do the paperwork lest someone enter stage right in a few years claiming it. I think I would hand it over as I think medals should stay within families as far as possible. Even if one generation loses interest, the next generation might have re-kindled interest. No-one can really 'own' a medal. We are merely the custodians and the key is to find the best custodian.

MG

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I have been in a similar position, in regards to my own uncles medals (I was named after him). He was DOW in WWII. His only named medal of course was the Memorial Cross, given to my Grandmother. When Grandma Died, the medals were handed down to my Uncle Harvey, When uncle Harvey passed away the medals went to my aunt.

My father, much younger than his sister, asked if he could have the medals, when she no longer desired them, her reply was that she was passing them to her daughter, not my father. Well when my aunt passed away, They did in fact go to my cousin, who in turn thought they were best held by my father. My father now has then, but in care of them for me.

I was quite upset when my father told me that the medals were going to another family member, but I got over it. I asked that should they ever wish to part with them to let me, or my father know. I have to say, that branch of the family did the right the thing.

I wonder if that is a possibility in this case. I do think that involving a museum, or other outside entity is going to muddy the waters. I suppose the other alternative is for your friend to tell the other family member to get stuffed. Or offer them at market value?

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  • 3 years later...

This is my first posting on a topic (medals) that is now very dear to my father's heart.

I have no military background, but have been most impressed with the forum's content and contributions to date on many topics.

At 92, my father has the medal grouping of his Uncle, Capt. Rowan Heywood Daly DSC, DFC (30 March 1898 – 5 June 1924) and is conscious that due to their historical significance and potential value, they should be stored in better hands, ie the RAF Museum in London.

Following any advice that you may be able to offer, I will make due contact with the Museum and engage with the curator where required.

I am assisting him in making contact with experts and otherwise on what the best course of action should be so he may be able to "bring them home" this year, so to speak.

We live in Australia so it has taken on much discussion in the family, due to his age and ability to travel etc..

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rowan_Daly

 

 

RHD 1.jpg

RHD Grouping.JPG

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in  my dealings with Hendon, albiet through Bomber Command Association, they would like to display a historical grouping such as this.

as you will see from this topic in the past, father should decide if he is going to loan long term or permanently donate the grouping. this primarily will prevent extended family trying to cause problems later. ( my wifes grandfather, and great grandfathers medals have been split up , one daughter having one pair the other daughter having the other , pair being one from each, Boer War and WW2) ), try as I can, I can not get her aunt to let us have the other pair, she has given to her grand daughter who does not really want them. We both knew both men concerned, indirectly we are also related, so genuine family interest,  her mother is letting us have the other. BUT, the she also has two uncles, the uncles would probably sell off the medals should they have them.

if there is any further items linked to him the put those forward as well at the same time, thinking goggles, gloves, log books etc.

the main thing is, get it down on paper while you can.

BTW

Darren, welcome to the forum, keep posting as your father may remember more about his uncle that may be lost in the future.

 

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As he served initially, and won his DSC, with the Royal Naval Air Service, the Fleet Air Arm Museum may also be interested in this medal group.

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