Trends in the military hobby are not always difficult to predict: Items that soldiers were eager to find as souvenirs have become the hot collectibles today. For example, German Luger pistols and Japanese “Samurai” swords were probably the most popular souvenir during WWII and today, these remain some of the most sought-after pieces. There are some growth areas in the hobby, however, that may not be as obvious. Here is what to watch in 2013.
U.S. VALOR MEDAL GROUPS
Traceable, U.S.-presented medal groups have becoming increasingly popular. While Purple Hearts continue to be one of the hot commodities in the military hobby, rising prices have driven collectors to look at other medals that can be traced or identified to particular recipients. Named Distinguished Service Crosses, Navy Crosses, Distinguished Flying Crosses as well as Bronze and Silver Stars have always commanded interest, but collectors have turned to early, numbered campaign medals including Indian Wars, Sampson and Dewey Medals, Spanish War Service, Philippine Insurrection and Campaign, China Relief and War with Mexico.
Collectors continue to clamor for Purple Hearts that are attributed to World War I, Spanish-American War or even Civil War veterans. Purple Hearts with the name of the recipient impressed or engraved on the back command the highest prices. In 2011 and 2012, Purple Hearts issued to commemorate killed-in-action (KIA) soldiers drastically outpaced wounded-in-action medals. All WWI or earlier Purple Hearts are going up in price. WWII Army Air Force pilot KIA Hearts have jumped significantly as well. Hearts named to post-WWII veterans haven’t kept pace with the earlier medals. Prices will increase as the supply of attributable WWI and WWII medals disappears.
ALL HEADGEAR AND HELMETS
Because it is easily recognized and displayed, all forms of military headgear will be hot commodities in 2013. When other areas of the market were down, well-identified and historically significant headgear continued to set record prices during 2012. Headgear was strong across the board, as well— not just the high-end stuff.
The painted US helmet bandwagon continues to gather steam in spite of the obvious dangers from fakes and forgeries. The pace at which M-1 helmets have risen in the collecting market, in particular, is enough to spin your lid. The traditional M-1 helmet has come into its own place in the hobby. For years, relegated to the surplus pile, collectors have discovered the M-1… and with a vengeance! Once considered overpriced at $35, a plain M-1 with fixed chinstrap loops and a Hawley pattern liner can push upwards of $500. Premiums are paid for any helmet painted with a unit insignia. Exercise extreme caution, however. The prices provide incentive to unscrupulous modern-day painters.
IDENTIFIED HISTORICAL GROUPINGS
“The more the better” seems to be the desire of collectors who pay premium prices for historical groupings with solid provenance. One good grouping can provide hours of research as the collector assembles a chronology of the soldier’s career, both in civilian life and in the military. This doesn’t mean every WWI 3rd Army uniform group is in this category… astute collectors have focused their buying on groups with historical significance such as elite formation membership, command or combat experience. The highest prices are paid for uniforms accompanied with additional materials such as photo albums, paperwork, mess gear, helmet or accouterments that originally belonged to the soldier. Dog tags or other material that confirm the soldier’s identification really help to confirm top-dollar value.
THIRD REICH DAGGERS AND SWORDS
During the 1930s, Americans who watched newsreels of Germany’s rise to power identified a few key symbols of the German war machine: Their distinctive helmets, jackboots and a preponderance of daggers and swords. After American soldiers landed in Europe, these items became some of the most sought-after trophies. Collectors then, and today, embraced the variety of daggers and swords, quickly identifying rarity and relative value.
Pressure from overseas investment buyers (primarily Russia) has forced prices up a bit on mid-range and high-end items over the last few years, but the abundant supply of these in the market has kept things in a relative balance. Daggers and swords are pretty, display well, historically interesting and come in lots of variations — factors that always create collector interest.
REGISTERED FULL-AUTO HISTORIC WEAPONS
Demand is already quite high, since the universe of registered full-auto is finite. Add to this the ever-present threat of political pressure to change existing gun law, the race to find your very own registered Thompson or MG42 is going to make that last unopened box of Twinkies you just scored on eBay for $100 look like a casual impulse purchase.
Firearms have always been popular, but perhaps, the uncertainty of today’s economy has caused collectors to take a second look at them as items for investment. Know what you are buying and buy quality.
CIVIL WAR FIREARMS AND SWORDS
After the “bubble” burst on Civil War items, prices took a tumble. They have stabilized somewhat. During the past year, a lot of collectors who had shied away from Civil War items in the past due to high prices have noticed that items they have long admired from afar are now actually relatively obtainable. The US Civil War is such a compelling subject that new interest and new collectors are created all the time, without the requirement of a direct, personal nostalgic link to the subject. This is true for militaria as a whole as well, but specifically for Civil War items, as we have reached the point in history where interest in this era is born exclusively to scholarship rather than personal acquaintance.
The Civil War market has been very soft for the last few years. Prices have depressed to a range where it is once again affordable to collect Civil War memorabilia. This, coupled with the ongoing excitement generated by the 150th anniversary will restore some of the former vigor to the Civil War market, but in particular firearms and blades.
The potential for research plus the genuine silver composition has driven British medals to new heights. Medal collectors clamor for any medal grouping that can be linked to a specific soldier. Medals that have supporting award documents drive medals to their strongest values.
As more and more of the research information is available online, the fact that these are historical, named, and quite researchable makes this an exciting area to collect. It is very easy to become tempted to collect these, as they represent important historical events throughout most of the world over the last few centuries. Also, this area of the hobby is quite well-served by some outstanding publications including an excellent magazine specifically dedicated to medals and a comprehensive annual price guide.
Beautiful to display, they don’t take up much space, and have held their value quite well over the years.
GERMAN WWII HELMETS
There has always a strong, broad following for these, even for the low-end stuff. While there have been plenty of books available for collectors, Ken Niewiarowicz’s book, German Combat Helmets, has catapulted the hobby by creating a dedicated, growing clientele of very well-educated buyers who are aggressively pursuing the premium items… and they aren’t afraid to pay quite well for them, as well!
JAPANESE WWII MILITARIA
Finally, there are enough good books to support focused, meaningful collecting of WWII Japanese material. Augustin Saiz’ new book, HEITAI builds on the foundation laid out in Mike Hewit’s Uniforms and Equipment of the Imperial Japanese Army. In addition, a groundbreaking book on headgear in the pipeline from John Egger, and previous works like Ray LaBar’s Bayonets of Japan, have created quite a following. Oddly enough, the epicenter of the groundswell in new Japanese collectors is the southeastern United States. Swords and firearms are the primary areas of interest, but headgear and field equipment sells quite well also.
M1911 AND M1911A1 PISTOLS
There has never been a bigger market for this apparently timeless weapon with endless variations available to the shooting enthusiast. This interest among a broader audience has contributed to increased demand for premium investment quality WWI and WWII originals on the collector market.