Paul Martin and experts offer tips on antiques and collectibles. The team takes a look at memorabilia associated with World War I and II.
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Over the years on Flog It, you've brought thousands of items to value
and together we've been to thousands of auction rooms
to put those valuations to the test.
In this series, we're pulling together all of that knowledge
to help you get in the know.
Welcome to Flog It! Trade Secrets.
Great world events provide the dramatic backdrop to today's programme,
as we take a look at items associated with war.
Now, all antiques tell a story, as we know.
It could be a joyous occasion, a time of national celebration,
or a time of great adversity. Like war. Or austerity.
We're going to be investigating why these items
that have been touched by such tragedy are so highly sought after.
On this show, our experts will be getting into the wartime spirit.
HE HUMS "The British Grenadiers"
And I'm off on a Boy's Own adventure.
If you've ever wondered
what a Rolls-Royce V12 Merlin engine sounds like, I've got a real treat for you.
It can feel slightly uncomfortable talking about market values
when it comes to talking of items that are so closely related
to stories of horror and tragedy.
But there are many collectors out there
who regard the history behind the object as being of great interest,
and that's worth preserving.
So what are our experts' tips on buying wartime memorabilia?
When we look at militaria,
what we really want is documentation with it.
We want to see the whole picture.
As far as militaria goes, the most interesting area is medals.
It's so easy to fake certain badges and the like,
so the important thing is to make sure
you have the provenance and the pedigree.
So you must really know what you're handling
if you're putting a lot of money into buying militaria.
My top tip, if you're collecting it, is pick a battle. Pick a war.
Don't scattergun - because it's massive.
Objects in storage can bring the past back to life so vividly.
And there can be few moments in our history that resonate so strongly today
as those dark days of when Britain was at war.
Here are some of the finest examples we've come across
over the years, and what we've learned from them.
There's a huge market for any militaria - medals, cap badges,
uniforms, helmets, ration books.,..
The whole military area is a very collectible one.
I'm constantly surprised what you find in people's drawers.
As was the case at Eastbourne, when that lovely lady brought in the First World War
German pickelhaube helmet.
It belonged to my father's father.
-Did he serve in the First World War, do you think?
-Yes, I think so.
Because it certainly dates from that Kaiser Wilhelm period, doesn't it?
The Great War - 1914 to 1918.
And, of course it's a German army officer's helmet,
with the Imperial German eagle on the front and then the regiment.
These helmets were worn right throughout the 19th century.
But in the early part of the 20th century particularly,
in the Great War, they proved to have a bit of a design defect.
The problem was, whenever you stuck your head
above the parapet, as it were - or the trenches -
you could see the spike before you could see the helmet.
There's been a lot of discussion with my colleagues about this -
there's all sorts of different estimates coming in.
But I guess we'll never know, really, what it's worth,
unless it goes into auction.
Some of them think it's worth at least £200 to £300.
I think it's worth £150 or so.
But I'm going to follow their advice with an estimate of £200-£300.
Was Mark right to listen to the advice of the other experts?
military helmet for the guardsmen.
And we can start this one here on commission at £220.
230, 240, 250.
260 on the telephones, 250 here.
260, 270, 280, 290, 300.
These items are notoriously difficult to value.
Particularly in the heat of battle, as it were.
-(This is good.)
Hey-ho. We all got it wrong.
£780 on the phone. £800. And 20. 820. 850?
820 on the telephone. Anybody else getting involved?
Are you all done at £820...?
Hammer's gone down on £820!
I can't believe it!
I'm sure the fact the family who owned it
had never tried to restore or clean it or tamper with it...
So you had that original finish, colour, patina...
aging... created that wonderful item which the collectors wanted.
And therefore the price it achieved.
Mark learnt a good lesson there. And it's a tip for you, too.
If your item looks less than perfect, hold off on the scrubbing brush
until you've got advice from a specialist dealer.
As it may well be worth more in its original condition.
Anita knew that polish wasn't everything
when it came to valuing the next piece.
I suppose I'm always moved to some extent by what we call trench art.
Those items that are made by prisoners of war,
or soldiers during long periods of inactivity.
And there was one particular item which I thought was rather lovely.
And rather poignant. It was a little Stuka plane.
I believe it was made by a German prisoner of war in Sicily.
And it was brought back by an Irishman
who was an ordinary soldier there.
It was given to him by the prisoner who made it.
If you can imagine him - and he would be a very young man at that time -
incarcerated, a prisoner of war in a foreign country,
building this little plane, made out of aluminium.
And I found that very...
And we have on the wings here, "Sicily" and "1944".
-So it was towards the end of the war.
-It's telling us a wee story, Hilary.
There is a market for this type of items
that were made up by prisoners of war.
Value on it? I would say we could put it in at 20 to 25.
-It's really just a figure plucked out...
These items appeal to the collectors because of the story.
It's the story that they're thinking about.
Did they find a buyer intrigued by the story of the prisoner of war at the auction?
45. 7.50? 50.
At 50, here on my left.
At £50. Have you all done? At 50. We're selling.
At £50, then.
-That's good, isn't it?
Not a huge price,
but that's not always what a piece like this is about.
As our expert Charlie Ross also found
when he came across an item discovered in a house clearance,
dating back even further - to the Crimean War.
I think this is the most interesting,
if not the most valuable thing
I've had today.
I'm absolutely astonished at the lack of
monetary value with something that I think
is as significant as this.
It's a parchment dated 1854. What happened in 1854?
Charge of the Light Brigade.
As written and sung by Corporal John Brown.
Well, I dare say if you look up the records we'll find who
Corporal John Brown is of Grenadier Guards.
And it's done to the tune of the British Grenadiers.
-Do you know how that goes?
-No, but I'm sure you're going to show us.
Whether the words fit to it or not, I'll give it a try.
# Come all you gallant British hearts that love the red and blue
# And drink the health of those brave lads
# Who made the Russians rue... #
-It does fit!
How many letters are there from the Crimea War
that have survived intact,
given the huge percentage of deaths that there were there?
Um, there can't be that many of them.
Historians love things like this!
It's very interesting historically because it talks about fighting -
"The French, they had the right that day,
"and flanked the Russian line,"
so it goes on and on and on
and it mentions commanding officers and what have you.
Isn't it more interesting
to know the thoughts of the rank and file soldier,
rather than the guy who's told them where to go?
It's not so much the value,
we're not going to get a wonderful surprise.
And I think it's probably worth less than £50.
-And I'm sorry for the singing!
-That's all right!
-Been lovely to meet you.
-We'll forgive you.
Did the auctioneer convince the crowd
of its historical significance when it came to the sale?
The handwritten letter from the Crimea War.
A lot of history connected with this. For a bit of British history.
And 5! £80! At £80 now.
At 80. Get passionate about this!
All done at 80, I'll take a £5 again.
Done then at £80. Nobody else?
You're out on the net? You're out at £80.
You're disappointing me. Have another go.
I'll take your five again!
105? Yes? At £105. Nobody else?
All done at £105!
-You've got to be pleased with that.
Hopefully, it's gone to somebody that really wanted it.
Thank you for bringing in a wonderful piece of history.
Look at what you've got. This was on its way to a skip, I think.
As indeed so many things are,
and then somebody decided to have a look.
And he knew just enough to rescue it.
If you have items like this handwritten letter,
or the metal plane, they might not fetch the largest sums at auction,
but they could be invaluable to the right buyer
as a slice of history.
There's one kind of militaria that really gets Will Axon
and our experts excited.
A lot of the time
when you're dealing with items that are war related,
it's usually sort of printed matter.
Ephemera. Say, a ration book or a discharge sheet.
But what really excites the team on Flog It
is when, say, a medal comes in, or a group of medals.
Then you've got real physical evidence of what someone has done.
Now, what can you tell me about this medal?
How's it come to be in your family?
A friend of the family gave it to me about 20, 25 years ago.
It belonged to his brother,
so he gave it to me because he knew I would look after it.
I think I said at the time,
it's that all important word "courage" on the medal.
And people who are buying medals, that's what they're buying into.
They're buying into the history of this one person - what did they do? Where were they?
What happened to them later in the war? Did they survive the war?
It's a medal that was first issued in 1918.
It's for dedication or bravery or devotion in duty.
-And it was awarded to the RAF.
-To pilots, yes.
To pilots. Because I understand he was a pilot?
He was a Spitfire pilot, yes.
Really? And did he survive the war?
No, no, he was shot down over Germany, I think about 1941.
Right, because I see you've also brought in
-some interesting paperwork.
-Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
-Who have provided you with a photograph of his grave.
So we've got Squadron Leader Farmery.
And there's the DFM after his name,
which is the Distinguished Flying Medal that we've seen here.
So that's really what medal buyers are after.
They're after the historical context of these medals
and who they were awarded to and how did he fit in
to the whole war story?
-We don't know why he was awarded this.
But somewhere, that's going to be recorded.
That, I suspect, is probably what the buyer is going to be doing after this.
He's going to be looking into the history and the research of it.
I would say, that at auction, a sensible estimate for a medal
-of this type, put it in with an estimate of 400-600.
I'm quietly confident that it's going to make more than that.
Then, I think, Olive, between then and the auction,
had found the more standard service medals.
Having found a clutch of medals, the auctioneer, Adam Partridge,
went for broke and upped the reserve.
I think even he was surprised at what they finally sold for.
470 is the medal group to Sergeant, later
Squadron Leader Clifford John Farmery of the RAF,
including his courage medal, a lovely medal group indeed.
I can start straight in at £1,050.
1,100, 50, 1,200, 1,250, 1,300,
1,350, 1,400, 1,450, 1,500,
I think there's still two phone bidders waiting to come in.
You'll have to pick me up off the floor in a minute!
2,300 on Mark's phone there.
2,300, are you all done now?
At £2,300, we sell at 2,300.
An incredible result.
I think the important facts that brought the medals
up to that sort of level was he was a squadron leader.
You had the medal itself presented for courage
and also you had a bit of paperwork there, as well.
You had the picture of the grave
as well as some paperwork from the War Commission.
Now, I've got a little tip for you -
provenance is key to valuing any antique.
If you have the paperwork accompanying an item
that can prove ownership of somebody of note, it will definitely put the value up.
But sometimes an item just speaks to you directly from the past,
as James Lewis found out.
There are certain pieces
when you pick them up and look at them
that immediately take you back to an earlier time.
One of the most incredible was an aviator's watch.
-Do you know much about it?
-No, I know nothing.
Well, let's go back 60 years
into the middle of the Second World War.
At night, squadrons of bombers are coming over from Dresden
and if you were in one of those dark,
noisy planes, looking at your watch wouldn't be easy,
especially not if it was underneath your flying suit.
So, if you were an observer in one of the planes,
you would need a watch that would go over your flight suit
and this is what you would have worn.
You can imagine the fear
of the people in those very small, confined planes,
be it Germans coming over here, or us going over there.
Why it would have to be so big, why they would need a timepiece
to work out where they are and where to bomb.
It's incredibly rare.
-I've seen them in books, I've never handled one.
This is a first for me.
-What do you think it's worth?
-I've no idea.
What do you think?
Couple of hundred?
-It's probably worth a couple of thousand pounds.
-I didn't expect that.
-It's a fantastic watch.
A bold valuation, but as so many men were shot down
in those air battles and few watches survived,
did the buyers value such a rare and poignant piece?
A rare, oversized, stainless steel navigator's watch,
in reasonable condition. We've had a lot of interest presale.
-I'm going to come straight in flat at £1,000.
£1,000. I have a £1,000 bid with me.
And 50, 1,100.
It's straight in at 1,000.
The bid's online at £1,200, 1,250,
1,400, and 50.
And the price went up and up.
I've got 2,300. I've got 2,300 on the phone.
April, do you need a seat?
I've got 2,300, are you going to go 2,400?
One more won't hurt you. I've got 2,300, bid it up.
We've got 2,300 on the phone. 2,400.
They are loving this, aren't they?
The bid's at 2,600. It's against you online at £2,600.
I've got 2,700, 2,800, still climbing.
James, this is unbelievable.
At £2,800, 2,900.
At 2,900, come on, round it up. 3,000.
I knew you liked this lot.
At £3,000, going once. At 3,000, going twice.
Last and final call, at £3,000 online, I sell...
It's the story and the feeling and the emotion
that comes with the object that is so much more important than its value.
It's those circumstances where you want it to go to the right home
and that watch made £3,000.
So, whoever wanted it, wanted it badly, so I hope it has.
This is an emotive market so look out for rare items
which embody a dramatic moment in history and you'll be on to a winner.
If you're lucky enough to find war memorabilia
you're holding a little piece of history
and the value is in the story it's telling.
Don't clean things up - the more it conjures up the past, the better.
Keep hold of anything that enriches the story of your item,
like photos, or letters.
You might decide the value is in having
a piece of heritage in your hands.
In which case, find out more about your item
and enjoy something which gives you a connection with a wartime past.
I've always loved wartime stories of derring-do,
but none compares to the stories surrounding the Battle of Britain
and one of our greatest weapons of war, the Spitfire.
But as I found out a few years ago, its story doesn't end there.
This is Manston Airfield in Kent.
As you can see, there are planes behind me here.
They take off daily carrying passengers and cargo,
across Europe and onwards to Africa.
But during the years of the Second World War,
there was only one destination and that was a short ten-minute hop
across the English Channel to France.
This airstrip played a vital role in Britain's air defences.
In 1940, the threat of German invasion hung over the country
and airfields across the south-east were put into service
as urgently needed RAF bases.
The Battle of Britain had begun,
and much of it was fought in the skies above Kent.
Manston was home to hundreds of Spitfires.
The young pilots were on constant alert to intercept bombers.
And the people of Kent even raised enough money to sponsor their own squadron.
Unfortunately, none of those Kent planes survived,
but you can still see a real Spitfire here at Manston Airfield
in the Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum.
This one saw active service at home
and across northern Holland and Germany.
Although it'll never fly again, it's been faithfully restored.
Imagine sitting in there as a young pilot chasing
the Messerschmitt 109s through the clouds.
When I say young, the pilots were young,
20 years was about the average age.
Skilful, brave men. And if you've ever wondered
what a Rolls-Royce V12 Merlin engine sounds like,
I've got a real treat for you.
I've come to meet the pilot of one of the few Spitfires still flying,
which is named in honour of the men and their aircraft who once flew out of Manston.
Some guys go fishing for a hobby,
or they've got classic cars, but Peter here flies Spitfires.
-Pleased to meet you.
What a beauty, what a design icon.
I envy you. What's it like to fly?
-It's an absolute delight to fly, it really is.
It's an absolute privilege to be able to, you know,
have access to a Spitfire to fly.
-Even as a schoolboy, you made Airfix models, I guess? I did.
-I loved them, I loved making them. I've still got some!
This is the real thing, how did you come across this?
Well, I did a little bit of research and found that there were
a few that had been recovered from South Africa in a scrapyard.
-In a very dilapidated state, to say the least,
but it was a starting point.
How did they end up there - do you know, did you find out?
Yes, at the end of the war, a number of Spitfires were sold
to the South African Air Force in about 1946, 1947.
I believe they operated them right up until the late '50s
and they were scrapped from there.
Was this a complete rustbucket then?
Erm, I suppose that's one way of describing them, to be honest.
-How many years did it take to restore?
Eight years, and eight years of scouring the world,
looking for spare parts.
What was the hardest thing you had to find for this?
To be honest, the airframe parts, the bits you can actually see.
-The fuselage and wing components.
Engines are still not too much of problem, and propeller blades,
ironically, are made, and they are made in Germany.
-Are they, really?
-Yes, they are.
Spitfires were not just fighters - many were equipped with bombs
and used as ground attack aircraft against road and rail targets.
Some were based on board aircraft carriers
and others were used for photo reconnaissance.
In all, 22,500 were built
and they became the iconic image of Britain's victory in the war.
But by the late 1940s, with the war over,
most were quickly taken out of service and scrapped.
In the early 1950s, the RAF retired its last Spitfire.
Within a few short years, only a handful were still flying.
But thanks to enthusiasts around the world,
70 years after their greatest hour, there are believed to be
around 50 flying today. 20 of them are here in the UK.
You've done a terrific job.
-It just looks right, doesn't it? As an aeroplane.
There's just something about it. They always say, if it looks right, it flies right
and I think it's definitely the case with the Spitfire.
-It's capable of speeds of up to 350 miles an hour?
It's not particularly comfortable at high speeds,
there's very few comforts in the cockpit.
You need fly it for pleasure and the preservation of the aircraft.
Oh, thank you so much for letting me look around this,
and I'm going to watch you take off and enjoy the moment.
Just look at that. The Spirit of Kent, that's nostalgia in the sky.
It's such a shame that it's just a short range, single-seater fighter plane
because if it had two seats,
I'd be hitching a lift and it'd be fly away Peter, fly away Paul.
There is often an explosion of literary expression in wartime,
and nowhere was this more evident than during World War I.
The early years of one of England's most famous 20th-century poets
was spent here at Rugby.
Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia on his way to fight in Gallipoli,
so he saw no action during the war.
And as a result, his poetry is full of a clear-eyed optimism
that is absent in the work of other First World War poets.
The idealism of the young Brooke is crystallised
in his most famous poem, The Soldier.
If I should die, think only this of me
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed
A dust whom England bore, shaped and made aware
Gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam
A body of England's, breathing English air
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
One of the war poets who actually went to the front line
and described its horrors was fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon.
Sassoon's poetry sought to betray the ugly truths of the trenches
to an audience lulled by patriotic propaganda.
He was very scathing about those who stayed at home.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
His poems also mocked the military top brass.
No-one is sure who coined the phrase "lions led by donkeys"
to describe the way the ordinary soldiers of the First World War
were let down by inept commanders.
But Sassoon certainly agreed with that point of view.
"Good-morning, good-morning!" the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
Sassoon did survive the war,
but others, like fellow poet Wilfred Owen, died on the battlefield.
What they gave us was an insight into war
and also an incredible bounty of writing,
now highly collectable as first editions.
This first edition copy of writer Robert Graves' book
Goodbye To All That, annotated in the margins by his friend
Siegfried Sassoon, astonishingly made over £31,000
at auction in 2007.
If you have a 20th-century first edition,
look for a signature, as the price skyrockets.
And don't get rid of the dust jacket!
It can drive up the value if you have a mint condition copy.
But most of all, enjoy a good read.
A literary adventure can be as rewarding as a lucrative one.
Many of us have got family war memorabilia sitting in cupboards
and drawers at home.
Of course, you may not want to sell it, but do get it out
and do some research, because you'll probably find the story
behind it is absolutely priceless.
I hope you've enjoyed the show.
Join me again soon for many more trade secrets.
World events provide the backdrop as the team takes a look at memorabilia associated with World War I and II.