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The year was 1923.

The United States Congress wrote a statute, later to be referenced as 18 U.S.C. § 704, prohibiting the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing, or sale of military medals or decorations.

Minor revisions to 18 U.S.C. § 704 were made effective in 1948, 1949 and 1994.

In 2006, President Bush signed into law the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal offense for a person to deliberately state falsely that he or she had been awarded a military decoration, service medal or badge.

The 2006 law also permitted an enhanced penalty for anyone who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

In June, 2012, in the case of United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Stolen Valor Act was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

It’s somewhat unclear the current status of 18 U.S.C. § 704. However, it is widely held that military decorations, service medals and badges can indeed be sold at auction withstanding 18 U.S.C. § 704 unless the sale is otherwise “unauthorized” by some other federal statute, rule or marketable title issue.

And there are such rules. Essentially:

    Title 32 § 507.8 Articles authorized for manufacture and sale:

    1. All authorized insignia (AR 670–1 and AFI 36–2903).
    2. Appurtenances and devices for decorations, medals, and ribbons such as oak leaf clusters, service stars, arrowheads, V-devices, and clasps.
    3. Combat, special skill, occupational and qualification badges and bars.
    4. Identification badges.
    5. Fourrageres and lanyards.
    6. Lapel buttons.
    7. Decorations, service medals, and ribbons, except for the Medal of Honor.
    8. Replicas of decorations and service medals for grave markers. Replicas are to be at least twice the size prescribed for decorations and service medals.
    9. Service ribbons for decorations, service medals, and unit awards.
    10. Rosettes.
    11. Army emblem and branch of service plaques.
    Title 32 § 507.9 Articles not authorized for manufacture or sale:

    1. The Medal of Honor.
    2. Service ribbon for the Medal of Honor.
    3. Rosette for the Medal of Honor.
    4. Service flags (prescribed in AR 840–10 or AFR 900–3).
    5. Army seal.
    6. Commercial articles for public sale that incorporate designs or likenesses of decorations, service medals, and service ribbons.
    7. Commercial articles for public sale that incorporate designs or likenesses of designs of insignia listed in §507.8 of this part, except when authorized by the Service concerned.
    Notation on some of the code numbers above:

    • AFI 36-2903, Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.
    • AR 670-1, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.
    • AR 840-10, Heraldic Activities, Flags, Guidons, Streamers, Tabards and Automobile Plates.
    • AFR 900-3, Department of the Air Force Seal, Organizational Emblems, Use and Display of Flags, Guidons, Streamers, and Automobile and Aircraft Plates.

The medal pictured above is a 1862–1895 Army Medal (Medal of Honor) and an example of an article not authorized for manufacture or sale.

As auctioneers are selling more and more assets from estates, guardianships and the like, it is paramount that both the auctioneer and seller remain aware of which military medals and related items are legal to sell, and which ones are not.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.