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Collecting Saint-V medals? At first Klaas Chielens didn’t see the appeal at all. But behold, today his collection of medals is envied by many. “True collectors have more pieces than I, but I keep on the lookout for new copies.”
“I’m not going to collect medals.”
“Yes you are, Klaas”
“No, I really don’t think so”
“Trust me, you’ll see. I am right about this”
The year is 2006 when Klaas Chielens, an avid collector of student songbooks, is told by a friend and fellow collector that sooner or later he’ll get into Saint V medals as well. He knows Klaas and is very confident. Chielens himself can’t see it happening. As a former VUB student he still has the medals of his student year, sure, but collecting them? No way, especially since he is aware that collecting medals is an expensive hobby. In the end, his friend was spot on though.
And it happens sooner than expected, when Klaas stumbles upon a basket full of Saint-V medals at the famous Vossenplein in Brussels. Five euros each, the stall holder had scribbled next to them and he added “that quite a few people had already stopped to look and bought some pieces. Chielens quickly sees a number of rather valuable looking medals and calls his friend: “Jan, how can I authenticate a medal from 1947?” His friend confirms the value of the medals and Klaas asks the salesman to set aside the basket for him while he gets the money. He is unaware of it then, but it is then and there, walking to the nearest ATM that he is bitten by the virus to collect Saint-V medals.
Today Klaas Chielens (40) has a sizeable collection of Saint-V medals. About three hundred pieces, which is more than the official VUB archives that hold a significant collection of their own. “I still miss about forty medals. Especially the 1938 and 1939 editions are extremely rare. Today several hundred medals get coined and sold every year, but back in those days the numbers were much more limited.”
The price piece in his collection is a klak (student hat) from the forties. “The klak holds the rare 1946 and 1947 medals, as well as a reference to the Université de Liège, including a medal from that university. I baught it from a seller in Tennessee, in the US, who had purchased it at an auction himself. That is one of the reasons I don’t which student it belonged to. I suspect that it belonged to someone whose studies were interrupted by World War II and who - albeit temporarily - continued his studies in Liege. I have tried to ascertain the identity of the student, but so far I have been unsuccessful. I’m not giving up though, I’ll keep looking. The medal of 1976 also holds special value to me. It is my birth year and also the first edition that holds the name VUB on it since the foundation of our university.”
Initially Chielens was reluctant to collect medals, very much aware of the budgettary implications of the hobby. The 1946 Saint-V medals e.g. can fetch up to more than 200 euros. “Up until a few years ago, that price would hover more around 300 euro. The older the medal the more expensive it is usually. Because of their age it becomes more unlikely that they pop up somewhere. We are not sure how many were printed back then, but as more copies of 1946 are found, their value will decrease. I think on average I spent around 40 euro each on the medals I’ve bought so far. The price is also dependent on the quality of the piece, the personal connection I have with the medal and its rarity.
Clearly it is not a high roller community, and don’t keep bidding unnecessarily with each other when someone finds a piece near and dear to them. More than once medals have changed hands in exchange for a few beers. When I have duplicates in my collection I donate them to the VUB archives. And I keep a record of how much I’ve paid for each medal. If I ever end selling them, I’ll know how much to ask for them.”
Evolution of medals
In recent years the number of medals printed is rather high. There is the official medal that is coined by the Brussels StudentenGenootschap (VUB) en de Association des Cercles d’Etudiants (ULB). But since 1953 other organisations have made their own medals. “Student organisations or groups will do so to commemorate an anniversary or just to improve their finances. Or just because they feel like it. It used to be too expensive to have medals made, but the production prices have plummeted since they can be mass produced now. Another evolution is that there used to be way less text on the medals. It used to be just a visual and a reference to Saint-V, nothing more. These days they hold more of a message. Occasionally the student organisations of VUB and ULB can’t agree on a theme, so seperate medals are coined. The passed few years seven hundred pieces of the official medals have been offered per edition.
So why is collecting Saint-V medals such a passion of Chielens? Just the collector’s virus? Or is there more? “The fun thing about collecting medals is that you hold a piece of history in your hand. Every medal comes with a story, a theme. It is so much more rewarding when a new piece comes with the story. When you know who the medal belonged to for instance. Various people donated the medals from their student years to me since they no longer value them so much. Furthermore, they know they’re doing me a huge favor and that their piece ends up in a collection that truly takes care of them. These are special pieces, that hold a lot of memories.
A klak tells the story of its wearer, of his or her student years, and often also about what interested them outside of university, such as a scouting badge for instance. A student songbook often has written notes on different pages that are a testament of to what its owner got up to or experienced. That is what makes collecting so fascinating. I don’t want to go overboard with my spending, but when I get to the point when I only need two more and I find one of them somewhere, I probably won’t be able to restrain myself, I think.”
Biography Klaas Chielens
- Born on April 21th, 1976
- Started at VUB in 1994
- Studies: Germanic philology
- Active in numerous student organisations and orders at and around VUB/ULB.
- Organiser 20th Vrijzinnig Zangfeest van Vlaanderen (Humanistic Song Festival of Flanders)
- ICT manager at the Institute for European Studies (VUB)
- Married, 2 kids.