The value comes from the story behind why the medal was awarded.
As autumn becomes winter, I have been indulging in a favoured South African snack: rusks. Ouma, my favourite brand, was reportedly started following the great depression.
Using a family recipe, Ouma Greyvensteyn baked rusks to sell to the community of Molteno to make some extra money for the church mission. The rusks were so popular that orders poured in and the Ouma rusk factory went from strength to strength. It still exists today with the rusks manufactured on the same farm where Ouma Greyvensteyn started in 1939.
The company is now owned by Foodcorp, which understands the value of the story and prints it on every box of Ouma rusks because the story adds value to the product. Nobody is buying Foodcorp rusks – they are buying Ouma rusks. There are many competitors in the rusk business, but seeing how often my favourite – buttermilk - is sold out, leads me to believe that Ouma is cleaning up. A good product with a good story.
During lockdown I have been able, while dipping an Ouma , to catch up on the many documentaries celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ending of World War 2. War stories are stories of heroism, and the highest honour that can be bestowed for heroism is the Victoria Cross. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" and due to their rarity they have reached as high as 400 000 Pounds or roughly R9 million at auction.
The Victoria Cross medal is an understated cross bearing the crown of Saint Edward surmounted by a lion and the inscription "for valour". The cross is suspended by a ring through a "V" for Victoria from a bar decorated with laurel leaves, through which the crimson ribbon passes. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the recipient's name, rank, number and unit. As a piece of jewelry, it would not turn the head of a fashionista from Victorian or modern times. The metal that Victoria Crosses are made from is where the story and the value of the cross begins. Each Victoria Cross is made from bronze, but not just any bronze, this bronze comes from a cannon captured by the British during the Anglo-Chinese war. Slowly but surely value is being added to these 27 grams of otherwise worthless gun metal from another century.
A total of 1,358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since 1856 to 1,355 men, 13 of whom are South Africans, for their bravery in WW1 and WW2. On the reverse of the medal is a circular panel on which the date of the act for which it was awarded is engraved in the centre, and this is what gives the Victoria Cross its value: the story of what the recipient did to earn the piece of bronze dangling from a wine-red ribbon.
A single company of jewelers, Hancocks of London, has been responsible for the production of every Victoria Cross awarded since its inception. Currently they have six waiting to be awarded in their safe in London, worthless without a story.