The Victoria Cross is only awarded to those in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and former British Empire countries, for valor "in the face of the enemy." Since its creation in 1856, only 1,354 people have earned the award. The award itself has very little resale value; its worth is solely for the person who earned the award by risking life and limb in defense of their home and comrades.
The reason is that the metal making up the award is bronze, cast from metal taken from the Empire's fallen enemies. The first ones were made from two guns captured by British forces in the Crimean War. The others were made from a captured cannon during the second Anglo-Chinese War of 1860.
The war in Crimea was a completely avoidable war that pitted the Russian Empire against the Ottoman Turks, Britain, and France. What started as a dispute over Christian pilgrims and holy sites in Jerusalem turned into a greater war when the Russians invaded the Ottoman Empire in 1853. The other countries joined the Ottomans in repelling the Russians as a check on growing Russian power.
Major Adolphus Burton & officers of the 5th Dragoon Guards in the Crimean War.
At that time, there was no award for valor in the British Empire that was open to men of all ranks. Incredible acts of gallantry often went unrewarded. By 1855, Parliament and Queen Victoria set the wheels in motion for an award that would become known as the Victoria Cross – a medal, rarely awarded, that would be prized above all other awards in the service.
The first of these medals, 800 or more, were cast from the bronze cascabel, of guns captured from the Russians in the Crimean War. Today's Victoria Crosses are cast from another set of guns taken from England's enemies. This set is Chinese-built, captured during the Second Opium War. Both are securely locked in the Ministry of Defence in London.
Corporal Johnson Beharry, VC, with one of the guns from which the Victoria Cross is struck.
(MoD photo by Staff Sergeant Ian Vernon)
Once cast, the medal is engraved and finished by hand. The special bronze finish gives the award a distinctive color. On one side, it reads "For Valour" and the reverse side of the medal gives the recipients name, regiment, and date of the action that earned the VC.