The victoria cross (vc) is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various commonwealth countries, and previous british empire territories. it is first in the order of wear in the united kingdom honours system, and takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals, including the order of the garter. it may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command. the vc is usually presented to the recipient or to their next of kin by the british monarch at an investiture held at buckingham palace. the vc was introduced on 29 january 1856 by queen victoria to honour acts of valour during the crimean war. since then, the medal has been awarded 1,358 times to 1,355 individual recipients. only 15 medals, 11 to members of the british army, and four to the australian army, have been awarded since the second world war. the traditional explanation of the source of the gunmetal from which the medals are struck is that it derives from russian cannon captured at the siege of sevastopol. recent research has thrown doubt on this story, suggesting a variety of origins for the material actually making up the medals themselves. research has established that the gunmetal for many of the medals came from chinese cannons that may have been captured from the russians in 1855. due to its rarity, the vc is highly prized and the medal has fetched over £400,000 at auction. a number of public and private collections are devoted to the victoria cross. the private collection of lord ashcroft, amassed since 1986, contains over one-tenth of all vcs awarded. following a 2008 donation to the imperial war museum, the ashcroft collection went on public display alongside the museum's victoria and george cross collection in november 2010. beginning with the centennial of confederation in 1967, canada followed in 1975 by australia and new zealand developed their own national honours systems, separate and independent of the british or imperial honours system. as each country’s system evolved, operational gallantry awards were developed with the premier award of each system, the vc for australia, the canadian vc and the vc for new zealand being created and named in honour of the victoria cross. these are unique awards of each honours system, recommended, assessed, gazetted and presented by each country.