Q&A with Jeff Floyd: U.S. Medal Collecting Hobby

We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors.

Jeff Floyd has been collecting militaria since 1960 and a dealer specializing in medals and orders since 1989.

This month, we had the privilege to talk with Jeff Floyd. Most will recognize his name in association with quality, historic medal and orders sales. His business, Floyd Medals, is one of the leading companies dealing in US and world medals and orders.

Jeff has been a collector of militaria since 1960 and a world-class militaria dealer since 1989. A retired Air Force officer, he turned the hobby into a full-time business in 1989.

In 1994, he and two partners started FJP Auctions, the only auction house in the United States specializing in orders, decorations and medals of the world. After 19 years with FJP, Jeff returned to retail sales of medals, establishing FloydMedals.com, a web-based company.

A 50-year member of the Orders and Medals Society of America, Jeff served as OMSA president for three terms and as a director for over 20 years. He has been selected as a “Distinguished Member” of that society.

Though Jeff offers a wide range of world medals, he is one of the best-known dealers in U.S. military medals. With more than 50 years experience in buying, selling, trading and collecting, he has a very good sense of the ebbs and flows of the hobby.

We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions on the Health of the U.S. Medal Market.”

 

Military Trader: Many of us remember the great FJP Auctions, whereas Floyd Medals is a relatively new company. Tell us how it came into being?

Jeff Floyd: FloydMedals has actually existed in one form or another since 1983. It started when I was stationed in Germany in the mid-1980s. In those days of printed and mailed lists, I used it as a way to dispose of duplicates and finance my collecting. When I retired from the Air Force in 1989, I simply transitioned into a full-time medal dealer under my own name.

In 1994, with partners Steve Johnson and Sheperd Paine, we started FJP Auctions, filling a gap in the market in the US for an auction specializing in orders, decorations and medals of the world. I continued to attend militaria shows to promote the FJP brand, and to sell medals from my own stock.

After 19 years with FJP, as president of the company and chief cataloger, I was ready for a change, so the web-based FloydMedals.com was born. I decided to stay with a wide-ranging inventory, with emphasis on US and British medals, but covering the rest of the world as well. I’ve stayed away from most Third Reich material, as I can’t keep up with the fakers in that area.

 

Military Trader: How would you characterize a “typical” U.S. medal collector today? How has that person’s collecting habits changed in the last thirty years?

Jeff Floyd: The US medal collector of today reflects many of the changes we’ve seen in society over the past 30 years. As a collector, he is usually very focused in what he collects.

Thirty years ago, there were a number of “type collectors,” collecting with a numismatic eye – looking for one medal of each type and not greatly concerned with naming, numbering, or acquiring groups of medals. There are now very few type collectors.
Most US medal collectors have become very focused on one particular medal or a very narrow series of medals. For example, many collectors now pursue Purple Hearts as their primary interest, some being interested only in those with specific engraving styles. Others cast their nets widely, but strictly focus on men and women from their home state.

The rise of the internet has changed US medal collecting in ways that we never imagined 30 years ago. The availability of internet forums has opened up opportunities to discuss and illustrate medals with a worldwide audience in real time. A collector in Montana no longer is limited to seeing a few collecting friends at periodic gun shows. He can get instant analysis (good or bad) and research from other specialists.

The internet also has provided access to public records and research sources that once required extensive letter-writing to gain. The genealogy-based web sites, like Ancestry.com, have made available military, census and family records that are of great benefit to medal collectors.

Unfortunately, the belief that everything is on the internet (and that it’s all accurate) is far too pervasive. A sidelight to this is the decline in interest in books and hard-copy research sources. The typical collector now sees little value in having these resources in his library, when a few key strokes on the computer will bring the answer to most of his questions in a matter of minutes.

 

Military Trader: “Stolen Valor,” a federal law that appeared to strangle buying and selling certain medals was passed by Congress and subsequently defanged. Can you tell us about the impact it had, or continues to have, on the hobby?

Jeff Floyd: The Stolen Valor Act (Title 18, US Code, Section 704) has had tremendous impact on the medal collecting field. Even though the basic law has been on the books since the 1920s, when it dealt with posers after World War I, it was the 1991 and later amendments that really hit the medal collecting field.

The 1991 amendment strengthened penalties for the sale of the Medal of Honor and the 2005 amendment added language penalizing anyone making false claims of receipt of a variety of decorations, badges and ribbons.

The 1991 amendment brought much greater involvement by law enforcement agencies and several cases followed that involved the very public seizure of Medals of Honor at militaria shows. The 2005 amendment ultimately led to a Supreme Court case where the “false claims” provision was struck down as unconstitutional.

The major effect of these changes to the law was to drive the sale of Medals of Honor underground or overseas, so you now see them offered for sale by Canadian or European dealers. The publicity surrounding these cases also caused many estate sale companies, antique dealers, and flea market sellers to fear that any medal they offered for sale would bring down the wrath of federal law enforcement agencies upon them.

Few of them ever read the law, and those who did rarely understood it fully. But the results were that many medals have never reached the collector market, and I’m sure many simply disappeared forever as regular sources for collectable medals simply dried up.
Auction venues faced the same pressures. Electronic auction venues, like eBay, simply decreed that certain types of medals (for example, Purple Hearts, Distinguished Service Crosses, and Silver Stars) could not be sold on their site. Many casual sellers of medals thought this was based on the law, when it was actually a simple business decision to reduce the number of complaints that eBay had to handle.

As the “Stolen Valor” case wound its way through the court system to the Supreme Court, many of the arguments and decisions were confusing to many. Collectors should understand that the plain language of the law still forbids the sale, manufacture, and wear of most US federal awards “except pursuant to regulation.” This phrase refers to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the implementing instructions for the basic law. The CFR allows the sale of all medals below the Medal of Honor.

 

Military Trader: How would you explain the apparent growth of interest in U.S. Medal collecting in the past 10 years?

Jeff Floyd: In general, US medal collecting has enjoyed an increasing number of participants in the past 10 years, but many are more accumulators than collectors. They simply acquire what they see, without a coherent plan or thread running through their holdings. Because they don’t often see early numbered and traceable campaign medals, they don’t have much interest in that part of the US medal field. Their focus in generally on World War II and later awards.

The fact that United States has been at war for the past 10 years also plays a major role. When almost anyone in uniform is referred to as a hero, there is a “halo effect” that makes medals very attractive as collectibles.

 

Military Trader: What areas of U.S. medal collecting have you witness grow but then subside in the last twenty years?

Jeff Floyd: Twenty years ago, there was strong interest in US campaign medals. The late Colonel Al Gleim published the available medal rolls for most of the numbered Army campaign medals. That put a name with the medal and opened up further research avenues. The interest in campaign medals has not disappeared but has declined over recent years.

There are several sub-specialties that have seen peaks and valleys as well. Interest in Civil War-related medals and badges (Grand Army of the Republic, United Confederate Veterans, and corps badges) has dropped off.

There have also been periods of great interest in locally issued medals for Mexican Border Service, but that has cooled as well.

 

Military Trader: What U.S. medals are particularly “hot” to collect today?  What is driving it the elevated interest?

Jeff Floyd: The hot segment of the US medals market right now is hand-engraved Purple Hearts to World War II fatal casualties. They were once relatively inexpensive, they are usually easy to trace, and you can collect them in a variety of ways.

There are collectors who collect by division, by action (D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima), by service (Navy, Marine Corps), or by function (aircrew, airborne, glider). Any one of these areas can keep a collector busy for years, depending upon your interests and means.

 

Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Tell us about what you consider one of your favorite finds during the past 30 years.

Jeff Floyd:  While a little more than 30 years ago, my all-time favorite find is a medal group that remains the centerpiece of my personal collection. That’s the medal group of Major General Chesley Peterson, USAF, who commanded 71 (Eagle) Squadron of the Royal Air Force before transferring to US forces in 1942.

Peterson received the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross during his service with the RAF and went on the earn the Distinguished Service Cross from the United States. He was then the executive officer and later commander of the US 4th Fighter Group, and a 7-victory ace.

Among many interesting facts relating to Peterson is that he was the youngest full colonel in the modern US Army, pinning on his colonel’s eagles on his 23rd birthday. He transitioned to the Air Force and remained a colonel for 21 years, but went on to retire as a major general.

I’ve since been able to add the medals of four other Eagle Squadron members to my collection, but Peterson’s medal group remains a favorite. For an American collector with interest in British aviation awards, there is no better group to have.

 

Military Trader: We all have our story about the “one that got away.” Tell us about the one item that slipped through your fingers and can still keep you awake at night.

Jeff Floyd: Actually my “one that got away” story has a happier ending than a tale of sleepless nights. I went to my first OMSA (Orders and Medals Society of America) convention in 1972.

I was just back from Vietnam and had a couple of months’ pay in my pocket. I bought some spectacular medals, but spent the weekend contemplating the purchase of a Doolittle Raider’s Distinguished Flying Cross. It was expensive, but I could have made it work with a little creativity in financing.

I had already spent the money I had budgeted, so I decided that I’d pass on it. I thought about that one for a long time.

Many years later, however, I was relating that story, and my regrets about not buying it, when a long-time collector remembered the exact medal at that convention and said, “Be glad you didn’t buy it, it was a fake.”

So, my regret at missing that medal was greatly alleviated by knowing that I had dodged a bullet (even if purely by luck).

I’ve since owned two full Doolittle Raider groups, but that one medal still represents the “one that got away”.

 

Military Trader: What advice would you give to someone who is considering collecting U.S. medals (or has been a longtime collector—we can all use good advice!)?

Jeff Floyd:  There are so many ways to collect US medals that anyone can find a niche that fits his interests and means. It’s just a matter of considering where you want to go with your collection.

It’s difficult to start off collecting Medals of Honor, obviously. But there are other decorations that are greatly underappreciated, like the Soldier’s Medal and its equivalents from the other services.

No matter what you collect, I also recommend finding and maintaining a sideline or two. I collected state and local medals for World War I service for many years. There was always something new to be found and the price was usually very reasonable. When I could find nothing in my primary interest area, I could always feed the habit with a couple of local medals I’d never seen before.

 

Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as yourself, “How will U.S. medal collecting change over the next ten years?”

Jeff Floyd: I’m not sure my crystal ball isn’t a bit hazy. We’re seeing changes right now that will change all medal collecting, not just US medal collecting.

In November, I attended two major medal auctions, one in London, one here in the United States. In both sales there were fewer than a dozen bidders in the room. Business was still brisk, and some very strong prices were achieved. Most of the bidding, however, came through the internet.

As a buyer in the room, I got no feel of the flow of the bidding. I couldn’t tell when my competition was hesitating before entering his bid. I couldn’t determine if my competition had deep pockets or was straining to keep up. I couldn’t even determine how many competing bidders I was facing.

As more auctions become centered on the internet, you’ll see the disappearance of printed catalogs, long great sources of information on the medals themselves and on the market in general. On the other hand, these same factors open up every auction to every collector. You will be able to bid in real time in an auction based in London against bidders sitting in front of their computers in Singapore and Oslo.

Just as eBay opened up a worldwide market for collectibles, specialized medal auctions will be able to offer their medals to anyone with electronic access. In fact, every auction venue will be able to showcase medals without having to really know what they’re offering. The collectors will find them and push the prices to market levels.

The upside of this is that a collector will have worldwide access to things that might fit into his collection, and that he would never see otherwise. The downside is that he will then have to compete with every other collector in the electronic market at the same time. In the long term, this will show that some things are not as rare as we thought, while others are actually far rarer than we had believed.

It won’t be just auctions that will change. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of new collectors of US medals out there right now. Many of them choose to remain anonymous. They don’t join organizations of collectors (OMSA, ASMIC, etc.) and many rarely go to militaria shows. And yet,  many collect at a very sophisticated level.

As the collector base changes, I think the new collectors will follow this electronic path. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad trend, although I’m old-school enough to want to see the medal I’m buying, to hold it in my hand, and not just work from an image on a screen.

One technological change that will have a major effect is the evolution of digital cameras. Two years ago, a collector showed me a macro lens for his iPhone, which instantaneously gave him an image equal to what a professional photographer could produce in his studio and in far more detail than you will see through a 20-power magnifier. As cell phone cameras pass the 40-megapixel mark, you can carry an amazing amount of data in your pocket. You’ll just have to know how to best use it.

The US medal field will feel the pressure of changing technology in negative ways as well. Advances in laser die-cutting and centrifugal casting will be a boon to the fakers. We’re seeing the early stages of this in the fakes and fantasies coming out of China.

Where high-resolution images of correct, original naming and numbering are readily available, the fakers will figure out ways to get their hands in your pockets. At the same time, the ability to have thousands of images stored on your cell phone will give the collector a data base to combat the fakers.

I don’t foresee the death of military collecting. There are just too many new collectors out there. However, it is incumbent upon everyone in any collecting field to actively participate, to recruit, to research, and write to add to the general knowledge. We’re going through a period of fast evolution that has tremendous potential for a brighter future in medal collecting.

 

We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about Jeff Floyd’s business, Floyd Medals, or more importantly, to view his current offerings, log onto www.FloydMedals.com.

 

 

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