British and other Campaign and Gallantry Medals
from the Collection of Lester Watson (1889-1959)
LESTER WATSON AND HIS COLLECTION
Mr Lester Watson, who was an investment banker in Boston, Mass., seems to have started collecting medals while he was still at College – the earliest recorded provenance is a medal given to him by his uncle Charles Pfaff in 1904 (no. 73). He subsequently acquired most of the medals during the 1920s, some from US dealers, but mainly bought from the London firms Baldwins, Spink and Seaby during his visits to Britain. The collection is remarkable for its systematic representation of gallantry and campaign medals awarded to British servicemen during the period 1791-c. 1930. It has many rarities, including no fewer than two VCs and its New Zealand equivalent, of which only twenty-three have been awarded. Most of the medals had been acquired by 1928/29, and only a few more were added in the 1930s. The last pieces to be bought were in 1937 (nos. 41, 294).
At Lester Watson's death in 1959, the collection was inherited by his children, first of whom is Mr L. Hoyt Watson. It was by the gift of Hoyt Watson and his wife Anne that the collection became the property of Cambridge in America, who have loaned it to the Museum, and it is by their kindness and that of the Watson family that the Museum has been able to display the medals, both in the Imagery of War exhibition of 2006 and in this virtual display of the collection.
THE COLLECTION CATALOGUE
The Watson collection contains 411 individual items, 379 in the main catalogue and a few pieces separately numbered, as well as an array of grouped medals (awarded to the same person, and sometimes arranged on the same bar for wearing on dress uniform). For ease of browsing, the catalogue has been divided into five sections accessible through the submenu to the left (or below if browsing in text-only mode). Each catalogue entry contains hyperlinks to individual pages about the medal in question, the circumstances of its award and those of Lester Watson's acquisition of it.
An alternative way to browse the collection is provided by the gallery pages accessible via this link. Each medal's page and each gallery page are linked to the previous and next in catalogue order, and each gallery page has links to all the others at the end, so a browser can use these facilities either to quickly locate a particular medal of interest by sight, or to browse through the collection medal by medal.
NOTES ON PROVENANCES
The information given here is collated from a card catalogue and a hand-written inventory of the collection both prepared by Lester Watson at the beginning of 1928 and then kept up to date. The cards have some specific information about where and when medals were bought and the original prices paid (converted into dollars in the majority of cases, and not given here).
Mr Watson's own ordering of the medals is retained; this was roughly alphabetical according to what he considered to be the names of the medals, a matter on which opinions have sometimes changed. If searching these pages does not locate the medal that you are looking for, you may find it more useful to browse the collection via the gallery pages linked from here.