After fixing my parent’s cuckoo clock, Dad asked me, “You ever hear the one about the clock repair man?” “No,” I replied, “What about him?” Dad went on to explain how a company had a large clock in the factory area that all the workers consulted. Apparently, the clock had stopped, and several of the workers had tried their hand at fixing it—to no avail. The clock just couldn’t be made to keep good time. Finally, one old timer said, “I know an old clock repair man who can fix it.” “Well get him here ASAP!” the foreman replied, now desperate to restore the clock—and his factory—to working order. The worker summoned the clock repairman to the factory. After looking at it for a couple of moments, the skilled repair man made a small adjustment, announcing, “There, it will run on time now—that will be $100” The foreman thanked him but said, “You must give me an itemized bill before we can pay you.” The old man took out a slip of paper and wrote:
“Fixing the Clock –$5.”
“Knowing how to fix the clock –$95”
When my Dad completed his story, naturally I chuckled, because I knew exactly what he—and the old clock repair man–meant. Accessing knowledge has its price.
TWO CALLS—TWO APPROACHES
Dad told me the story about the factory clock at the end of what had been an interesting week. It is not unusual for subscribers to call, hoping that I can give some guidance with the disposition of their collections. I generally can steer them to a variety of dealers or outlets that will treat them fairly.
On Monday, though, I received a call that started with (no “hello” or introduction), “Yeah. I am looking at a Jeep on Craigslist…what do those go for?” After so many years in the hobby, I should be used to these kinds of calls, but I am not. I generally stammer something about, “I am sorry, just what kind of Jeep are you talking about?” I should know better, but that question seems to just spill out of my mouth while I try to regroup. “You know…an old Army one. What are they worth?”
Generally, I go through a litany of points that one has to consider when evaluating a Jeep (or any vehicle, for that matter?): Condition, does it run, is it restored, is there a clear title, original engine, condition of tires, original carburetor, accessories, and on, and on. “Well what’s one worth in ‘good’ condition?” Then, I pour into my practiced reply, “One man’s ‘good condition’ is another man’s ‘barely restorable’—do you have any pictures of the Jeep?” No, the caller didn’t have any pictures. He just wanted to know, “What is it worth?”
Hoping he would understand that I am not in the business of being a “What’s it Worth callboy,” I explained, “We publish a magazine that generally has several Jeeps listed in the ads, I would be happy to send that to you.” The caller snapped, “No! I need to know today—can’t you just tell me what it is worth?
You probably get the picture by now. There is no pleasing this sort of caller or making anything good from the call. So, I simply declared, “Without seeing it, I would guess it is worth fifty thousand dollars.” Jeep folks will understand, but non Jeep collectors may not realize that there are very few WWII Jeeps that will sell for more than $30,000 in number one condition—and those don’t usually appear in Craig’s List!
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought it would be worth that much!” Of course, it never dawned on the caller that, a) It is impossible to evaluate something over the phone—especially without pictures, and b) Since he had made it clear he wasn’t a potential subscriber or book buyer, there was very little incentive to spend too much time on his problem—my time would be more effectively spent on producing the magazines and web services all of our readers have paid for.
WHAT’S A COLLECTOR TO DO?
Virtually all collectors run into this situation, and it is not a wholly bad thing. It is good for the uninitiated to recognize our collecting skills. It can often lead to some great purchases or interesting connections. But you can usually recognize the “troller” who just wants to pick your brain so that they can go make the great buy—without ever offering you a chance at the item or compensating you for the assistance you provided.
Almost the exact opposite of the Jeep call, I received another call a few days later. “Yes, my name is xx. I am representing a bank that is liquidating a small collection of military relics, and we don’t know what they are worth. Can you help?” Well that caller got my attention.
I explained how I would be happy to recommend several names, but their best bet would be to allow me to send them a copy of Military Trader’s 2012 Ambassador Issue. “In it,” I explained, “are the names of several people who consider themselves appraisers. There full contact info is in the directory so you should have no problem finding someone to appraise the items.” From the tone of the call, it was obvious the caller expected to pay for the expertise of an appraiser to evaluate the collection.
Let’s face it: Each of us has probably spent most of our lives acquiring the knowledge about whatever it is we collect. There is nothing wrong with sharing information or expanding the collecting network, but you don’t have to expect to give pricing information away for free.
Becoming an Appraiser
Militaria and military vehicle appraisers are not licensed by state, local or federal agencies, though an appraiser can be certified by any number of appraisal organizations that offer a set of professional standards and a certification process. There are no set standards for actual education requirements of a militaria appraiser, however. Most professional militaria appraisers got their start just like the rest of us—buying and selling as we formed our collections. Many who decide to become appraisers build on an existing college degrees in history, military history, art history or museum. The path to becoming militaria appraiser can start in a myriad of places but usually ends in the certification process.
The process can be broken down to four easy steps:
1. Educate yourself. A lot of us have just learned this stuff through handling and years of independent study. That is hard to translate, however, to something a prospective client can understand. A bachelor’s degree or associates certificate in military history or museum studies is helpful in establishing your own credibility. Reading and studying on your own, collecting antiques and asking questions of experts are also part of educating yourself about the field
2. Train with an auction house, a militaria dealer or in antique restoration. Hands-on training will expose you to a variety of relics outside of your chosen area of expertise. You might know WWII Jeeps upside and inside out, but you have to be prepared to evaluate a HMMWV or CUCV, should the opportunity present itself. Try to work for dealers and auction houses that have certified appraisers on staff and are recognized nationally (or internationally) as trustworthy, knowledgeable sources of quality relics.
3. Find a mentor and apprentice. Those with years of experience can help inform the next crop of appraisers and collectors—the process is not always cut and dry. The knowledge transferred through an apprenticeship is a traditional method for learning a craft. To truly become a well-versed appraiser, you must be able to react to relics outside of your expertise—You may be the nation’s expert on Civil War firearms, but what are you going to do when you receive the call to appraise a collection of Montagnaard weapons? A professor in graduate school once explained to me, “John, it isn’t what you know. It’s knowing who to call when you run into something you don’t know.”
4. Many who call themselves “appraisers,” skip this step: Apply for appraisal certification. Why should you? You want your customer to trust you. Hopefully, this trust will lead to referrals and future business. Certification is like that document in a doctor’s office—it just makes the client feel like they are in the hands of truly professional individual and not just a scalpel jockey looking for some easy part harvesting! The International Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers National Association and the American Society of Appraisers offers a certification program. Check each out online to see if a particular program is right for you.
Is there money to be made in appraising?
The short answer is, no. Appraisals tend to be much more work than reward. So why do them? As I have explained to several other “1099ers” (people who function as independent contractors—‘1099’ is a reference to the tax form self-employed individuals must submit), “Multiple cash streams are paramount to staying afloat.”
Offering appraisal services is a nice adjunct cash stream, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think they are going to make a living from solely evaluating militaria or military vehicle collections. It can, however, be a nice way to supplement other revenue sources.
Remember, the knowledge you have already acquired is worth something. You don’t have to give it away for free.
Harvest the knowledge,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine