The most frequently asked question since I returned from the Show of Shows (SOS) in Louisville, Kentucky, is “What’s the state of the militaria hobby?”; an obvious inquiry as to whether the national economic turmoil has spilled over into collecting. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the SOS, it is the largest militaria show in the United States. This year, more than 1600 tables were filled with items primarily from WWI and WWII but covering the full gamut of military collecting interests.
So what is the state of the hobby? That is a darn hard question to answer, but I did make some observations.
First, there was not a table to be had—the Show had been sold out for months. Attendance seemed as good as ever with long lines waiting to get in Friday and Saturday mornings.
Overall, it is my opinion that the quality of items offered on the tables was down. I had a sense of collectors and dealers “peeling at the onion”—that is, offering the lesser quality items in their collections while they protect the higher grade pieces. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of high-end pieces available, just not at the levels I have seen at past shows.
Many dealers commented that they were busy, but customers were making lower-dollar purchases. Whereas a year ago, they may have spent $1,000 or $1,200 at a particular table, this year, the purchases were in the $200-$400 range. A lot of dealers remarked that sales were down, but not bad.
There were not as many Europeans or Russians—dealers or attendees—on the floor as the last two years. It is safe to say the Euro-Russian invasion of the U.S. market is fast coming to a temporary halt.
Civil War collecting is flat, flat, flat! Unless it is identified or high-end, Civil War relics are sitting dormant. Every M1858 canteen and U.S. oval belt plate that I saw on Thursday were still on the tables on Saturday. Dealers have a choice to make on low-end Civil War items—drop the price to increase demand, or be buried with their wares. I suspect most will choose the latter.
Interestingly, I spoke to many collectors who recently suffered severe financial setbacks (mostly loss of jobs). Nevertheless, they were in Louisville to buy!
The other question that I am repeatedly asked concerns price trends. Well, that is nearly impossible to answer, as the hobby is based on subjective pricing rather than supply and demand. However, there were a few instances of good ol’ free enterprise at work. One dealer had brought a couple of cases of the two new exciting books to hit the hobby: Deutsche Soldaten and GI Collector Vol. 2. He blew them out at what had to be cost or darn near cost. Other dealers had the same books priced $15 or $25 higher. By the end of Friday, the dealer with the “blow-out show special” was sold out, and the other dealers had dropped their prices significantly. Now if only relic dealers could grasp that simple economic lesson, the hobby could flourish!
And in MV News…
The Military Vehicle Preservation Association recently appointed my good friend and fellow author, David Doyle, as the editor of Supply Line magazine. David will continue to write his regular column for Military Vehicles and I suspect he will expect me to reciprocate and make a submission or two to Supply Line. Whatever the demands, this is great for the health of the hobby. My personal congratulations and those of Military Vehicles Magazine go to David and to the MVPA.
It takes a lot to excite me about a new vehicle part, but I just received a note from Bob Muller of Vehicles of Victory, LLC. He announced that he is now able to offer new hydrovacs for the Chevy G506 1-1/2 ton trucks. Anyone who drives U.S. WWII trucks knows that hydrovacs are tough items to find. Having the availability of reproductions should insure that more trucks will stay on the road in safe running condition. For more information, contact Vehicles of Victory, LLC, 127 Marcus Rd, Delanson, NY 12053, call (518) 872-1002 or visit www.vehiclesofvictory.com. With any luck, Bob is giving thought to producing hydrovacs for the 2-1/2 ton GMCs. In any case, well done, Bob! This is a true service to the hobby.
Keep em rolling and finding the good stuff,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine