Grandma had it right — mind your own business

   A reader recently wrote me a lengthy letter that conclude with a request for my input on what he should do. You see, the reader’s dilemma stemmed from reading an auction report in Military Trader. He was absolutely livid that someone had paid $514 for a dagger described as a “WWII Italian Air Force 1930 Pattern Dagger.” His letter went on for paragraphs detailing how this dagger couldn’t be what it was purported to be. He was appalled that anyone would pay that kind of money without knowing the “facts.”

   His letter reminded me of a recent discussion on the U.S. Militaria Forum. Several participants had unleashed tirades on a group of bidders who had bought movie memorabilia used in the making of “Battlestar Galactica.” (Why was this on the U.S. Militaria Forum, you ask? Beats me.)

   The letter from the Military Trader reader and the discussion on the U.S. Militaria Forum stirred the memory of something my grandmother used to say, “How a fool spends his money is his own business.” In both examples, the people doing the complaining assumed they knew the motives of the buyers. The only people who can answer that are the ones who laid out the cash. And it is only the business of the buyer, whether they chose to spend their money on a fancy dagger or a wookie glove (okay, I am the first to admit — I don’t know a thing about Battlestar Galactica).

    I asked myself, “Why do people find the need to rehash other people’s purchases?” In the case of the forum discussion, the motives seemed a bit cloudy. What I took away from the discussion was this: Those who were tearing down the movie memorabilia buyers did so in order to justify the expenditures they make on their own military collecting hobby.

    On the other hand, the letter writer’s motive was much clearer. He assumed the buyer was buying the dagger as a historic artifact. The letter writer went on — at length — to demonstrate how the dagger was not what the auction company had described. In fact, the dagger probably didn’t even exist during WWII. His argument was good and his documentation sound. However, it had one fatal weakness — it was built on the assumption that he knew the buyer’s motive.

    Who is to say why someone buys a dagger or a piece of movie memorabilia? Maybe the dagger buyer simply likes fancy knives for letter openers or wants to make a grand entrance at the next family BBQ. Perhaps the movie memorabilia purchases stir a very good memory in the buyer’s mind of when he or she first experienced the movie. It doesn’t — and really shouldn’t — matter to anyone but the buyer. Judging it can be a dicey. You know the old adage, “One person’s junk is another’s treasure.”

    There is so much to be enjoyed in our military relic and vehicle hobbies without questioning someone else’s motives for buying something. My family laughs at my collection of “high-priced empty boxes”. They see empty boxes. I see a historic record of U.S. Army ration containers from WWI and WWII. It’s all in one’s perspective. If I want to spend money on empty boxes, that’s my business.

    So what’s the moral of this tale? Well, other than “Be careful what you write to JAG, he might use it as fodder for one of his rants”, I guess it might be something like, “Don’t assume you know someone else’s collecting motives.” Collecting is a quirky business fraught with deep psychological roots. It’s best not to judge other people’s motives. After all, you wouldn’t want the “insane price” you just paid on the “broken down jeep” or that “crazy old Nazi helmet” to appear as a topic on their own forums or in their magazines!

    Keep treating folks the way you would like to be treated,

    John Adams-Graf
    Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine


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2 thoughts on “Grandma had it right — mind your own business

  1. Nice post, John.

    There was recently a thread on another forum about a headgear auction on an online auction. The poster was ranting about how the prices of the different pieces of headgear were not worthy of the prices they were obtaining. There were innuendos about the legitimacy of the bidding and all sorts of other banter – with no grounds what so ever.

    I happen to know there was a museum involved in the bidding process. They wanted several of the items for their collection and had the means to make it happen. I always find it interesting that collectors often jump to the worst conclusions in situations like this. I feel it reveals more about their character than it does the actual matter at hand.

  2. John on said:

    You raise a real good point, Andrew. I see and hear it all the time with comments about the "evil epay" etc. People seem real offended if someone bids high for something on an online auction. And yet, they are the first to complain that they can’t seem to get a fair price when they put stuff up for auction.

    A free market economy is just that…if I want to pay hundreds of dollars more than a uniform is "worth", well, that is just my own business. Maybe I really, really want it but that is between me and my wallet.

    The other trap folks seem to follow into (or leap head first into) is "they are paying BIG dollars for that on auction x, y or z." I try to warn folks, an anomoly should not become the basis of a pricing structure. Only by observing several auctions for similar pieces, graphing the results and extracting the mean pricing will someone be able to come up with a reasonably accurate evaluation. No one seems to be that invested in a discussion to actually do that sort of homework.

    I recently finished authoring the Standard Catalog of Civil War Firearms for F&W Publications (out this spring). The toughest part was not the research or writing of the firearm profiles, but rather, the pricing. I spent hours charting auctions and actual reported sales to come up with values. And you know, the second the book is on the shelf, someone will complain about the how low the prices are (they rarely complain about prices being too high when it is in a price guide).


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