We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Scott Stevens. Many will recognize his US Militaria online forum handle, “Bugme.” Scott is one of the leading collectors of U.S. headgear, specializing in WWI and WWII helmets.
Scott and his wife, Valerie, are involved in full time pastoral ministry as the pastors of two congregations in the cities of Two Rivers and New Holstein, Wisconsin. Scott began his interest with militaria in the mid-1970s as a teenager after finding some of his father’s past military service items. This led him to a life-long fascination with military collectibles. His collecting of militaria naturally branched out into militaria sales under the name of Bugme Militaria in 2005. Beside his duties as an administrator on the US Militaria Forum, Scott, provides an authentication service for U.S. helmet collectors. He teamed up with fellow helmet collector and dealer, Steve Klima, to establish a U.S.-only helmet online community, called the “Advanced Pots Forum.”
Though Scott has handled a wide range of military relics, both selling and collecting, he is very well-known for his expertise about the US helmets. With nearly 40 years of experience in collecting, buying, selling, and trading, he has a very good sense of the ebbs and flows of the hobby. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions About US Helmet Collecting.”
Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. Let’s start off by paraphrasing a comment we hear the most in our office: “I used to collect Third Reich helmets, but it has become too expensive, so now I am focusing on U.S., ” How would you characterize a “typical” U.S. helmet collector today?
Scott Stevens: My dad was in the 32nd Infantry Division of Wisconsin National Guard and later became a Reservist in the 84th Infantry Division. As such, I was naturally drawn to U.S. militaria at first. But I then moved on to Third Reich as my interests in militaria increased. However, as the years passed, I simply began to lose interest in that area of collecting and went back to a U.S. militaria focus. So, it was never an expense issue that determined my move back to U.S. helmets.
As for the “typical” collectors? From my experience, a good share of U.S. helmet collectors started as U.S. collectors and have not gone deep into Third Reich helmet collecting. There are those who have crossed over but, it is a small percentage. I have also found that serious U.S. helmet collectors are as knowledgeable, focused, and dedicated as their Third Reich helmet collecting counterparts.
Military Trader: When we consider US involvement in WWI and WWII, there were only a handful of different helmets issued. So, what has catapulted US helmet collecting to such popularity?
Scott Stevens: Some would say it is the “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” influence but, I think that has become more of a cliché than anything else. Honestly, the time simply arrived after the M1 helmet was replaced with the PASGT helmet.
As a result, the M1 took on the look of history and was no longer considered part of the modern soldier’s field gear, even though it was a 40-year old design.
I think today’s popularity comes down to the vast variety of helmet markings. WWI helmets have the appeal of “soldier applied” artwork in which no two are the same and many show the personality of the individual doughboy. WWII helmets, on the other hand, have the appeal of field-painted tactical, divisional, rank, medical, and camouflage markings that make for a great many one-of-a-kind helmets.
With respect to Third Reich collectors, most helmets are based on variations of the applied decal and/or camouflage which leads to a limited collection. On the other hand, the vast array of markings on U.S. helmets is almost endless and creates, what I believe to be, a great challenge for U.S. helmet collectors that also makes it more fun.
Military Trader: When I was younger, I used to hear the old-timers say, “I never saw painted WWI helmets until just recently.” Now, in my grayer days, I am saying and hearing the same about WWII painted helmets. Where were all those painted M1s when I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s?
Scott Stevens: Simple answer: Attics and eBay. Let me explain, these helmets came home with a great many soldiers and got tucked away into attics, garages, sheds, closets, etc. and were forgotten about. A couple generations later and this stuff starts showing up in estate sales, auctions, and family garage sales.
A few years ago I found a footlocker at a garage sale in the small community of Kewaunee, Wisc. Upon opening it, I found a beautiful medic helmet, the medic’s Geneva Convention non-combatant card, and several other items. It had all been pulled out of the attic by the grandchildren of the long departed vet as they prepared to sell the family home.
Also, in the 1970s, 80’s and early 90’s, we relied on other collector contacts and shows to hopefully find a helmet… any kind of helmet… that would fit our collection focus. I used to look forward to “Manions” showing up in my mailbox. With eBay, the world became our contact and we no longer had to rely on a small geographic area and a handful of contacts. The same also applies to militaria forums where we have lots of sales and trades going on without collectors having to travel all over a state or region hoping to find one item.
Military Trader: What criteria do you use to evaluate a painted helmet when considering whether or not you want to own it?
Scott Stevens: Primarily, my first criteria is: Does it fit my collecting focus? If it doesn’t, then I don’t bother giving it a second look to determine authenticity.
If it does fit my area of interest, I first do a visual inspection. Even with my 56 year old eyesight, I can eliminate a questionable helmet very quickly.
If it looks good to the eye, I then bring out my lighted jeweler’s loupes. I carry three different magnifications with me: 20X, 40X and 60X. I look primarily for age fractures (cracking) in the paint. Most aged paint will have microscopic cracking which, unlike patina and lead-based paint, cannot be easily faked.
There are those rare cases where a helmet has been in a footlocker since WWII and preserved, as it were, in a time capsule. These helmets require more evaluation before being discounted.
Military Trader: Helmet collecting has really produced some interesting references in the last two decades. What are your “go-to” references (print, online, other) that you would recommend?
Scott Stevens: Forums are a great place to get information but, they can also be a minefield since it is hard to tell if an answer is coming from a seasoned collector or someone who wants you to “think” they are a seasoned collector.
We like to tell newer collectors to “Buy the books!” We live in a Wikipedia society in which we want an answer right now, even if it isn’t right. But reference books are the best place to start.
When Mark Reynosa first offered The M-1 Helmet reference book back in the mid-1990s, it was a boon to collectors. Then Chris Armold stepped up a short time later with the Steel Pots reference which delved deeper into the WWI M1917, M1917A1, experimental, and WWII M1, M2, Tanker and Flak helmets along with the nuances that went with these helmets. These were my go-to references at that time.
Since then, Pete Oosterman published an even more in depth book on the M1 entitled: The M-1 Helmet of the U.S. GI and then there is also Helmets Of The ETO that came out about the same time by Regis Giard and Frederic Blais. All of these are excellent references however, if you are looking for more than the M1 helmet, you’d have to go with Steel Pots.
While all these books can be expensive, they are much cheaper than one bad purchase. There are three things needed for today’s helmet collector: Education, Education, and Education.
Military Trader: During the past five or ten years, there has been almost a “mania” for M1 helmets. What has fueled it? Will it continue?
Scott Stevens: I think it has to do with a whole host of things and not just one specific reason. We are coming upon the 100th anniversary of the U.S. involvement in WWI, We have an entire generation of WWII and Korean War vets that are passing away at an astonishing rate and there has been a lot of media coverage such as the Honor Flights and documentaries that focus on this.
Also, the boomer and buster generations are trying to connect more with their “heroes” while they were growing up. They now have the resources to purchase the items. There are those younger helmet collectors who are now connecting with the Vietnam War as well as the Gulf War.
As for the “mania” with helmets in particular, I think it’s because the helmet epitomizes the American Soldier. When you see the distinctive shape, you recognize it and know that it sat upon the head of a Soldier, Sailor, or Marine.
Military Trader: How are collectors reacting to helmets worn since Vietnam up to and including those from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Scott Stevens: As I mentioned earlier, there is a new breed of helmet collectors who are now connecting with vets from the last 20 years up to our most current conflicts. It has caused a small, but steady, growth of collectors interested in composite helmets. There are even some reference books which are now available.
Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Tell us about what you consider one of your favorite helmet finds during the past 30 years.
Scott Stevens: Wow, that is a tough one. I am always upgrading my collection so, what was my favorite helmet find a year ago has been replaced by my new favorite helmet find this year.
However, as a helmet collector, we all have a short list of “must have” helmets that always elude us. When you can find one of those, it is so much more special.
With that said, the one that I would say is the most satisfying was actually a non-U.S. helmet which was used by U.S. personnel. It is the WWI French Adrian helmet of American Field Service Ambulance driver John Aubrey Gordon. The front has the American shield signifying that he was an American who volunteered to help the French. This was of course, before the U.S. became involved in WWI. After the war, Mr. Gordon went to college studying law and later became an attorney and then mayor of Barre, Vermont. The history and rarity of this helmet really makes it appealing.
Now, if I can ever find that elusive WWII T-14 Photographers helmet, it will then become my new “favorite find.”
Military Trader: We all have our story about the “one that got away.” Tell us about the one item that slipped through your fingers and can still keep you awake at night.
Scott Stevens: Maybe I think differently than most collectors but, I’ve never had one that caused me to lose sleep. There were a few auctions in which I’ve gotten my heart rate up and lost in the final seconds which made me wish I’d of gone higher with my bid but, in the end, I tend to look at it more as: “I guess it wasn’t meant to be mine” and I move on. Besides, it leaves that money available for the next big find.
Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as you, “How will US Helmet collecting change over the next ten years?”
Scott Stevens: Like Civil War and Spanish American War items went through a transition, I feel like the same will occur with certain era U.S. helmets, specifically, those used in WWII. The prices on rare marked M1 helmets has peaked and will probably be sustained for the next few years.
WWI helmets just seem keep plugging along among a sub-group of collectors as we come up on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entrance into the Great War. The anniversary should help generate some limited interest in the M1917s, however, I don’t see this milestone as something that will add a huge ground swell of interest.
There does seem to be a growing interest in Korean War helmets in recent years especially among Korean War Airborne collectors.
Vietnam era helmets have also come into their own. This has developed into a large following among younger collectors which I think will continue to grow in the coming years.
Interestingly, a small segment of collectors have been entering into the area of modern composite helmets. With the advent of the PASGT and then the MICH, ACH, LWH, etc., we have seen the growth and development of a vast array of composite helmets and the interest in these has grown extremely fast among headgear collectors. I believe the next big area of helmet collecting will be among these modern composite helmets.
We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about Scott and the services he provides through Bugme Militaria, you may contact him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (920) 323-3182.