US Coins

Controversy draws bidders to Medal of Honor sale at German auction

U.S. officials expressed opposition, but the sale of this 19th century U.S. Medal of Honor proceeded in a German auction.

Image courtesy of Hermann Historica.

A 122-year-old U.S. Medal of Honor given to an Army veteran of the Spanish-American War was recently sold in Germany for three times the expected price, due in part to publicity it gained prior to the sale.

Hermann Historica, a German auction house that specializes in vintage military paraphernalia, sold the medal on May 28 for over $15,000. It had been expected to draw around $5,000, but that was before U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz raised a call for the auction to proceed without the medal. Selling a Medal of Honor is illegal in the United States, punishable by fines up to $100,000 and a year in jail. There is no such law in Germany to prevent the sale.

“The sale harms the dignity and honor of all recipients of the Medal of Honor,” Cruz stated in a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas, joined the campaign. Daniels directed additional communication to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr.

Auction officials believe the campaign to stop the sale drove the price higher for the item, which was part of a 900-lot offering. The firm reported collectors from Europe and the United States exchanged bids for the item with American bidders especially driving up the price.

Hermann Historica had previously sold U.S. Medals of Honor, but those sales did not draw the attention this particular item did, or any opposition.

The bronze and copper-embossed medal was awarded to Army Pvt. Thomas Kelly, who enlisted in 1894. Kelly fought in the Battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, where he rescued injured comrades from the field of battle. Kelly served in the military until his death in 1920. It’s unclear how the medal ended up in a collector’s hands prior to the May sale.

“I guarantee you, we are going to be flooded now with offers to auction off a Medal of Honor,” Bernhard Pacher, managing director of Hermann Historica told Stars and Stripes after Cruz’s comments. “You’ll achieve the opposite of what you wanted with that.”

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