The other day, I was talking with a fellow collector about some of the militaria forums that we both frequent. Eventually, the topic turned to the forum posters who feel obligated to post their weekly “finds”. In most cases, the items are a variety of trinkets that either are directly or indirectly connected to the military. None of the pieces are items that would sell for ten or twenty dollars.
To both my buddy and myself, these postings seemed so self-congratulatory. We scoffed at how none of the stuff was worth the time it took to look for it, photograph it and post it. Our conversation turned to discussing our latest acquisitions and how we had searched for years to find the items that cost us several hundred or thousands of dollars.
It wasn’t until I returned to my home and was climbing in bed that it occurred to me….years ago, I was that person who spent all day scrambling from flea market and garage sale to antique shop and mall, sweeping up every vaguely military-related item that was less than a few dollars. At the end of the day (this was in pre-Internet forum days), I would spread it out for one or two collecting buddies to come over and look at the “haul”.
I must be getting old…I am starting to get judgmental and forgetting that I was in the exact same place young collectors are in today.
Not Everyone is at the same place in collecting
The trick for me—as an editor in the hobby, and a collector—is to remember, that not everyone is in the same spot on the collecting maturation scale. For years, I was a gatherer—buying anything cheap, spending all day looking and maybe buying $30 worth of collectibles. I happily searched for sleepers and misidentified items, counting them as great finds.
After many years as a gatherer, it dawned on me, I had piles of stuff, but nothing really focused. I tried to sell the piles of gathered goods but it had no focus. I had to sell it piece by piece. In the end, all of the time spent trying to dispose of it was not offset by the prices I got for it.
As I raised my daughter, I drifted away from collecting and put more efforts into my research (just another form of collecting). Only after she was grown and safely in college, did my collecting bug begin to reemerge. This time, though, I promised myself to stay focused. I developed a “collecting plan” which clearly defined the areas in which I was going to collect. With that in hand, it became apparent that going to flea markets, garage sales or antique shows was a waste of time. I could find things to buy, but they were not in my personal collecting policy. Any time I spent money on things outside of my collecting policy, I depleted the resources when something really good came available that was within my collecting parameters.
This was especially hard during the early days of eBay. It was like the gold rush of militaria. There was no telling what would appear on eBay back in the early 1990s. And in most cases, the bidding was never very intense. Keeping my focus was hard because I saw so much interesting and inexpensive stuff come up for sale.
Today, most of the material I acquire comes from advanced dealers or other collectors who know that I pay a premium for quality items to add to my collection. If I stop at an antique store these days, it is to use the bathroom. If I go to a flea market, it is for the entertainment value. I don’t go there with “vacuum eyes” searching for glimmers of brass, OD or Federal blue.
Cripes, is it as simple as “Tolerance”?
Getting back to the other day, as I slipped into my big, old Empire bed (from a previous 1840s collecting-jag), I experienced one of those “Ah-hah” moments: Those folks showing off their trinkets on the forums are at the place where I was many years ago; they are going to be tomorrow’s power-collectors.
So, instead of rolling my eyes and deleting their messages, I decided it is darned important for me to watch what is catching their interest. The forums are providing all of us a great window into the future of collecting. The smart dealers and collectors will be reading, learning and not passing too much judgment, but rather, preparing for the next enthusiastic collecting phase in our hobby. Drop me a note and let me know what militaria is your current passion.
Keep finding the good stuff and don’t be shy about sharing it.
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine