A Medal of Honor, Illegal to Sell in the US, Tripled Its Estimate at a German Auction House—Drawing the Wrath of Ted Cruz

Interest in the 122-year-old medal spiked after Cruz spoke out against its sale in Germany.

A 122-year-old Medal of Honor awarded to Army Private Thomas Kelly for his service in the Spanish-American War. Courtesy of Hermann Historica.

Last week, a 122-year-old US Medal of Honor sold at auction in Germany for over $15,000—despite the best efforts of Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other American politicians.

Hermann Historica, a Munich-based auction house that specializes in vintage military paraphernalia, included the medal as one of around 900 lots in its May 28 collectibles sale. Awarded in 1898 to a US soldier for acts of valor during the Spanish-American War, the object was estimated to go for $5,000.

But interest in the item spiked after Texas Senator Ted Cruz called for the auction to be stopped. 

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

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

Numerous collectors exchanged bids for the item, with American bidders especially driving up its price, according to Pacher.

Senator Cruz’s office did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.

The bronze and copper-embossed medal was awarded to Army Private Thomas Kelly, an Irish immigrant who enlisted in the US Army in April 1894. Alongside future President Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, Kelly fought in the Battle of San Juan Hill—thought to be the deadliest conflict in the Spanish-American War—where he rescued wounded soldiers from the field of battle.

Kelly served in the military up until his death in 1920. It’s unclear how the medal, the highest honor bewstowed by the military, ended up in a collector’s hands. Selling medals awarded by Congress is illegal in the United States and is punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail. However, it is not illegal in Germany. 

Joe Daniels, president and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas, joined Cruz’s campaign in trying to halt the sale. Last week, the leader of the museum sent letters to Pompeo, President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Mark Esperand Attorney General William Barr to stop the auction.

“This Medal of Honor is a priceless American treasure that belongs here in our country,” Daniels said in a statement.

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