Grenadier Military Antiques adapts to the times.
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 Bruce B. Hermann.
Bruce B. Hermann is perhaps best known as an on-air military antiques appraiser for the PBS series “The Antiques Roadshow,” touring with the popular show for 11 seasons. An internationally recognized authority in military memorabilia of all kinds and expert on Western European and American military history, Hermann’s passion for the hobby began early. At the age of 10, he was already a full-fledged collector of militaria. More than four decades later, he has collected and sold almost every conceivable type of American and Western European military antique from the 1600s to 1945.
Hermann has owned and operated Grenadier Military Antiques (grenadiermilitaryantiques.com), an online catalog and store for more than 25 years and counting. In early 2015, Hermann expanded with the launch of Grenadier Military Antiques Auctions (grenadierauctions.com), an ebay-style auction platform that brings buyers and sellers together in an exciting new venue. In this adjunct business, Hermann joins forces with business partner and longtime militaria collector, Kevin S. Finley. We spoke with Hermann about his new business venture.
Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. The image of the Prussian grenadier has been part of your logo for decades. In a market saturated with Third Reich imagery, tell us about the strategy behind the Grenadier and your basic approach to the business
Bruce Hermann: The logo is symbolic of a timeless Germanic soldier which represents a much broader scope than the Third Reich-era only. Although we deal primarily in Third Reich- era German militaria, we also specialize in Imperial German and German states militaria going back as far as the 18th century. I’ve always been fascinated by grenadiers, going back to my early days of collecting. Plus, being personally of Prussian ancestry and standing at 6’5” (Grenadiers were typically soldiers who were in the 6 foot range or taller) makes the symbol an easy choice for a company trademark!
Military Trader: How would you characterize a “typical” German militaria collector today? How has that person’s collecting habits changed in the last thirty years?
Bruce Hermann: The typical German militaria collector is not typical. Our customers range from factory workers and store clerks to college professors and neurosurgeons—all socio-economic backgrounds and all ages. The common thread is their interest in military history.
Many people who are not familiar with the hobby express concern that German military collectors are skin heads or racists. In my many years as a dealer, I have never encountered a serious collector who is a skin head or racist. I’ve only encountered people with a genuine love of history who want to own an artifact from the time period of their specific interest.
The simple truth is that changing collecting habits are reflective of the climbing values of the items themselves. When I bought my first helmet at the age of 10 in 1969, I paid $35 for a double decal Allgemeine-SS helmet. Today, that very helmet would bring in excess of $20,000. This has turned into what can be an expensive hobby—however, there are still many affordable items for any level of collector.
In the old days, the hobby was a little more easy going and didn’t take as much thought, while today it is looked upon as more of a long-term investment and hedge against inflation. Back in the old days—30 years or more ago—there were fewer reproductions, while today a collector must be vigilant in guarding against being taken advantage of as there are numerous fraudulent pieces that have flooded the marketplace. The way to guard yourself against this is to educate yourself and to deal with reputable dealers who stand behind and guarantee the items that they sell.
Military Trader: Many will remember you as a frequent appraiser on the PBS’ televisions series “The Antiques Roadshow.” Tell us about that experience.
Bruce Hermann: It was an incredible experience. My time as an appraiser (2000-2011) allowed me to see and personally examine a multitude of wonderful items which the average person would never have the opportunity to experience. Every time we were in a new city and the public brought in items, there was an almost Christmas morning-like excitement about what the next guest in line would pull out of their box or bag.
At the same time, the excitement was tempered by the fact that I would have loved to have had the opportunity to purchase many of these items brought in for assessment, but given the fact that the Antiques Roadshow appraiser is not permitted to purchase these items, it was more of an experience of being in a hands-on museum.
Military Trader: Tell us about the most exciting appraisal you did for the Roadshow
Bruce Hermann: There were many wonderful items, and it’s hard to choose one appraisal to showcase here. However, the one that comes to mind would be in 2004 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A gentleman brought in a small box and informed me that his uncle had been a squadron commander serving with the American Volunteer Group “The Flying Tigers” in China in 1941. When the man opened the box, he unfolded a beautifully preserved Chinese-made silk Flying Tigers headquarters flag. As the story goes, this man’s uncle was killed in a flying accident in China, and somehow the flag was sent home to his family with his personal effects. There it sat, folded up in the box, for the next 60+ years.
After some research, it was found that the flying tigers veterans organization had always wondered what had become of this flag, and here it had been sitting folded and untouched in a dresser for all these years. My appraisal of this flag was featured on the show, and answered the question that had lingered for so many years about this flag. After the appraisal was taped, the gentleman neatly folded the flag up, put it back in the box, and said that it would be taken back home and returned once more into the care of his family.
Military Trader: Your approach to the military relic business seems to adjust to the changing marketplace. In fact, you recently added an online auction service. Tell us about the decision to go into this seemingly crowded avenue.
Bruce Hermann: When I started in the business 25 years ago, basically the only venues available were gun/militaria shows, stores, and printed catalogs. I published a printed catalog and had a brick-and-mortor store. Once the Internet took hold, I decided to start my own website catalog. I closed the shop and went exclusively to an online catalog venue. I realized this would be the best way to reach the widest audience worldwide.
After many years of building a successful online catalog, I decided I wanted to start an equally successful online auction service. This seemed like a new and exciting challenge for my business, while also bringing collectors and sellers together to help improve the hobby.
When I started as a military dealer, it was a crowded avenue and I was not deterred. I feel the same with this new venue, as there’s always room at the top for quality.
Military Trader: Having made a few purchases during the first couple of auctions, I noticed there were no buyer premiums…how are your consignors compensated and in what time frame?
Bruce Hermann: Yes, at this time Grenadier Military Antiques Auctions charges no buyer’s premium. We are the new kid on the block, and wanted to take this time for people to get to know our recently added online auction service without charging them a fee to use our services.
We pride ourselves on quick and easy compensation to our consignors. Our consignors are paid via company check starting 30 days after the close of auction. Through research, my business partner and I found that many auction houses can take up to several months to pay their consignors after the close of auction, while we have tried to streamline this process.
Military Trader: What types of items saw particularly hot bidding in your first two auctions? Were there any bidding patterns that surprised you?
Bruce Hermann: High-end and quality headgear has always been a favorite among collectors, and there was no surprise in the bidding for these items in the first two auctions. As for surprises, auctions by their very nature are full of surprises—neither the buyer or seller knows the outcome until the bidding has ended.
Military Trader: What areas of militaria collecting have you witness grow but then subside in the last thirty years?
Bruce Hermann: There are two major areas of military collecting which come to mind. Firstly, the area of collecting items from the common Civil War soldier. This area of collecting was amazingly hot in the 1990s. It has since cooled dramatically. For example, a federal infantryman’s model 1858 four-button blouse would have fetched in excess of $20,000 in the 1990s. That same item today would bring between one-third to one-half of that price.
The same is true for WWII German helmets. In my opinion, one of the hottest areas of German militaria collecting was the German helmet. In the period from 2000 to 2008, the hobby saw prices climb exponentially, especially with Waffen-SS and camouflage varieties of these helmets. Prices of these, along with most German helmets, have dropped considerably in the past five years.
However, the collector should take heart and never panic when their specific area of collecting slows down or even drops. As with any area of collectibles, there are ebbs and flows, and cycles of collecting. My best advice to the collector is this: If your prized item has dropped in value below what you paid for it, continue to enjoy it, as chances are the cycle will reverse itself sooner or later, and the value will most likely be on the uptick again.
Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Tell us about what you consider one of your favorite finds during the past 30 years.
Bruce Hermann: This is a difficult question because I’ve had numerous exceptional finds in my career as a collector and dealer, but I’ll give you two of my very favorites. The first is a pair of historic Civil War swords which belonged to general Michael Corcoran of the famed Irish Brigade. One was his Model 1850 U.S. staff and field officer’s sword, complete with a likeness of a Hibernia harp in the hilt. The other sword of the pair was a solid silver, bejeweled statue hilt manufactured by Tiffany and Co. and presented to him by the mayor of New York City in 1863. I was fortunate enough to obtain this pair of swords from a direct descendant of the general’s, and this very fortunate find was the cornerstone of the beginning of my business.
My second memorable find would be the SS M-35 double decal helmet that belonged to SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Karl Hermann Frank, Reichsprotektor of Bohemia-Moravia. This helmet was offered to me by the son of the WWII U.S. Army 1st infantry division veteran who personally captured Frank in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia on May 9, 1945.The son had the helmet packed away in a closet for many years after the death of his father, and after seeing me do an appraisal on the Antiques Roadshow, contacted me and offered me the helmet. After many days of negotiations, I was able to buy the helmet. I then sold it to my good friend Kelly Hicks. It is now a prized helmet in his remarkable collection. Mr. Hicks included this helmet in his updated edition of SS-Steel, and it can be viewed on p. 285 and 286.
Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as yourself, “How will military collecting change over the next ten years?”
Bruce Hermann: Unfortunately, my crystal ball is not working today—it’s at the repair shop! But I will say that since I bought my first helmet in 1969, I have witnessed, first-hand, numerous trends in military collecting. One thing has been abundantly clear—no collector can accurately predict future trends in collecting or what items will go up and down in value.
The secret to an enjoyable hobby is to collect what you love and have fun while doing it. Don’t collect with an eye on the future and try to guess what’s going to be popular next year. Collect for today and for your own enjoyment.
We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about Bruce B. Hermann’s business, Grenadier Military Antiques Auctions, or more importantly, to view his current auction offerings, log onto www.grenadierauctions.com, or contact Bruce by writing, Grenadier Military Antiques Auctions, 1223 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 452, Santa Monica, CA 90403, calling 310.393.7341, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com