What you see above are two British World War I medals that were awarded to a man named Joseph Brown, who died in 1967. The medals were recently inherited by a friend of Brown's family named David Gillespie, who works at the UK's National Archives. Gillespie never knew Brown but wanted to learn more about the man whose medals he now owned, so he did some research, consulted with various family members, and came up with an account of Brown's military career.
As Permanent Record stories go, this one is fairly standard stuff. The medals weren't found objects, and Gillespie already knew the identity of the man behind them, so no serious detective work was required, and there were no major revelations. So why am I bothering to write about this storyline? Because I'm fascinated by the ribbons attached to the medals. They're so colorful and bright -- the one on the right looks almost tie-dyed!
My response to the ribbons made me realize that we (or at least I) tend to visualize World War I exclusively in black-and-white, maybe with sepia-toned accents, which has the effect of making it seem less real, more like a fable. The presence of color -- especially bright, vibrant color as seen in those ribbons -- has a completely transformative effect on my perception of the that period in history. Interesting.
By coincidence, I happen to own an old ribbon catalog. It's from the 1940s, so it's not nearly as old as Brown's medals. Still, it has some interesting stories to tell, which I wrote about in an article for the very wonderful Cabinet magazine several years ago. If you're curious, you can see that here.
(My thanks to Jacob Sherman for pointing me toward this one.)