The Victoria Cross is Britain’s highest award for gallantry.
The Victorian Cross was introduced on 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. It was introduced to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War.
Before this, the only award which recognised gallantry within the British Armed Forces was the Order of Bath but this was only awarded to senior officers. To remedy this, the Distinguished Conduct Medal was instituted in 1854 and was awarded to NCOs and privates.
Though this medal was highly valued, there was a growing awareness of the need for a military decoration which was open to all, regardless of rank.
On January 29th 1856, Queen Victoria issued a Royal Warrant that officially constituted the Victoria Cross, an award for gallantry that was open to all military personnel, regardless of rank.
It wasn’t long after their introduction that Victoria Crosses began to find their way into collections. In May 1884, Sotheby’s held an auction containing ‘The Choice Collection of Military and Naval Medals and Decorations formed by Major J Lawson Whalley of Lancaster’, which contained two Victoria Crosses.
Two more Victoria Crosses appeared at auction two years later in February 1886. Both of these medals have found their ways into museums. One is in the British in India Museum in Colne, Lancashire; and the other is on the York and Lancaster Museum in Rotherham.
Lord Ashcroft’s collection
Lord Michael A. Ashcroft is the owner of the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses.
Lord Ashcroft began collecting the medals in 1986 when he bought his first Victoria Cross at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
As his collection grew, Lord Ashcroft set up a trust to care for and protect the medals. Today the collection contains more than 40 Victoria Crosses.
The collection is now on show at a new gallery at the Imperial War Museum London.
- Victoria Cross of Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell – sold for £210,000 at a Spink and Son auction in November, 2010.
- Victoria Cross of Flight Lieutenant Bill Reid – sold for £348,000 at a Spink auction in November, 2009. This is the highest price ever paid for a Victoria Cross awarded to a Briton.
- Victoria Cross awarded to Captain Alfred John Shout – sold for £491,567 at a Bonhams auction in July 2006. At the time, this was the world record price for a Victoria Cross.
- Double Victoria Cross and bar of Officer Noel Godfrey Chavasse – sold by previous owners St Peters College for nearly £1.5 million in November, 2009.
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