Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. We are delighted to offer this special “10 Questions” in this special, MAX Show edition of Military Trader.
Most recognize Craig Gottlieb as one of the leading dealers in WWI and WWII militaria, specializing in the Third Reich. Others will recognize him from his many appearances on collecting-oriented reality television programs, most notably, “Pawn Stars.”
Craig has been a collector of militaria since childhood and a militaria dealer since 2000. He started with a rusty German bayonet that his father, a WWII veteran, brought home from the war.
Though Craig offers a wide range of military relics, he is very well-known for his expertise about WWII German militaria. With more than 35 years experience in buying, selling, trading and collecting, as well as authoring several books on the topic and appearing in several television shows, he is widely recognized within the hobby. That said, very few have had a chance to catch up with him to have a long discussion about his role within the hobby. Therefore, Military Trader is pleased to ask Craig “10 Questions” and to share his responses.
Military Trader: Let’s start off by saying, “‘Craig Gottlieb’ is one of the most widely recognized names within military collecting.” In fact, at the Show of Shows last year, I overheard someone say (not disparagingly), “Craig’s like a Kardashian of the militaria world—we just can’t stop watching!” That statement might have both positive and negative connotations. What is your reaction to hearing it?
Craig Gottlieb: Well, I’ve got to laugh, but it reminds me of something Tom Wittmann once told me. According to Tom, I’m the guy people love to hate, and hate to love. Think about that one for a second!
Military Trader: Though you handle most militaria that comes your way, you seem to have a penchant for high-end Third Reich material. The risk is high in that arena, but the payout can be big. Are you, by nature, a gambler? Why do you follow the path of the “celebrity” Third Reich pieces?
Craig Gottlieb: The risk is actually not high just because something costs a lot of money. Yeah, if you lose, you lose big, but I find that the more common material is more “at risk” for being fake.
In fact, I’d say, as a conscientious collector or dealer, the risk of buying high-end militaria is balanced by the extra care you take when doing a deal involving a lot of money. You tend to be careful!
Military Trader: Okay, we will come back to the militaria talk, but right now, let’s get to questions most of us want to ask: So about your appearances on “Pawn Stars:” Why Craig Gottlieb? How did it begin? How has your celebrity affected your business?
Craig Gottlieb: How it started is easy. Sean Rich had left the show to pursue his own show, and they needed a replacement. At the time, they were on the lookout for a “Hatfield and McCoy” relic, and contacted me due to my interest in firearms, to see if I could help. I knew where a rifle was that belonged to Cap Hatfield (allegedly), and turned them on to the collector with the stipulation that I be the expert called. I did that, and 40 episodes filmed later, I never looked back.
Military Trader: We hear you’ve recently left the show. Tell us about that.
Craig Gottlieb: The show has been on a filming hiatus for quite some time, due to contract negotiations with the principle cast. I had some opportunities to pursue a couple other, more lucrative TV projects. Since I couldn’t be on two channels at once, I had to make a decision. We all parted ways amicably. I may return at some point in the future.
Military Trader: This leads perfectly into the second question that most want to know. Many seem to know that you were involved with a National Geographic expedition to Lativia. Tell us about that project and how it was resolved.
Craig Gottlieb: Great question. In a nutshell, following the marketing launch of the series by National Geographic, misinformed speculation was spread about the series on the internet. I was very frustrated, because for legal reasons I was unable to defend myself in public.
Now, over a year later, the show has been sold to Discovery Channel, and has debuted in Europe this month, and reviews are great. And why shouldn’t they be? Our mission was simple: to locate the remains and equipment, and personal effects of soldiers lost since the war, and return them to their home countries for identification and a proper burial.
Our show took a strong stance against “black digging” which is a huge problem in Europe. Illegal looters think nothing of scattering bones across the forest in search of ground-dug trinkets to sell… It’s a real tragedy. Our show brings light to this problem. We were fully licensed by our host governments of Latvia and Poland and dug alongside award-winning battlefield recover experts. I’m proud of what we did and hope to do it again. We just received word that the show has been picked up for broadcast in the UK. That’s a step closer to it coming over here to the states!
Military Trader: As your direct-to-collectors business flourished, you decided to venture out to start an online auction as a resource for collectors. Tell us about History Hunter Auctions.
Craig Gottlieb: I made a bold decision to change my business model to the auction format because the collectibles market is so unpredictable, that the old “buy and sell” model doesn’t work anymore. It’s broken. It used to be that you knew where you had to buy an artifact in order to make a profit. Today, in a world that has not recovered from the 2008 financial disaster, that’s very hard to do unless you buy something so cheap, it doesn’t matter.
If you don’t believe me, ask other dealers how their business is doing. To date, only one other dealer has copied me, and I expect more will do so in the years to come.
Military Trader: One of the risks inherent with any auction is some people will use it to dump questionable material. What safeguards do you have in place to protect the buyers?
Craig Gottlieb: Believe me, people have tried! You can’t imagine some of the crap I’ve had to send back to collectors and dealers with a polite “no thank you.” But it’s a fair point.
I solved the problem by becoming the first (and currently only) auctioneer to offer a fully-transferrable lifetime guarantee of authenticity on every lot we move. So, it’s in my best interest to be sure that I vet every consignment carefully.
In the old days, if an auctioneer made a mistake, the buyer suffered. In my auction, I’m left holding the proverbial bag!
Military Trader: How’s it worked out for you?
Craig Gottlieb: A better question is, “How has it worked out for my customers?” To date, we’ve had 15 auctions, averaging 300 items in each auction. Out of nearly 5,000 items, I’ve had about 10 returns. It’s a small price to pay for the pride of knowing that we do our job, and collectors have a new way to buy and sell.
Military Trader: Sorry, but we have to ask…Where is the Segway? Was that part of a larger image or did you simply find it more convenient than pounding the floor at shows.
Craig Gottlieb: I loved the convenience of being able to get from one side of a hall to the other in minutes, but there were problems. First, I found that when speeding around, I was missing some of the better “finds.” Second, eventually I was going to run into someone or fall off. While the latter would have been a laugh for everyone, I decided to return to the world of the walking. I sold the Segway.
Military Trader: What about the forums? You were a pioneer on the internet, having founded Germandaggers.com (GDC) in 2000, and were one of the earliest members of the Wehrmacht-Awards.com website. But you gave GDC away, and last year, you left WAF. Tell me about that.
Craig Gottlieb: I gave GDC to my partner Vern Bryant when I became a full-time dealer, because I felt it was a conflict of interest to be the “collector advocate” and also a full-time dealer. I found it difficult to wear both hats.
Wehrmacht-Awards is a different story. You’ve got to know that I’m a very “popular” subject matter on the forum, to put it nicely. I realize there are people who simply don’t like me, and for some of them, their entire hobby seems to be me. They’d take a few mistakes I’ve made (all of which I have attempted to correct) and blow them out of proportion in relation to the thousands of successful transactions under my belt. They don’t like to discuss that I actually have extremely high sales customer satisfaction and work very hard to make sure that each customer walks away happy with however the deal goes.
Don’t get me wrong … there are plenty of great people on the forums, but these few “bad apples” really spoiled it for me. My competitors have been asking for years “why I bothered,” but it’s because I’m proud of my business and proud of my record. Plus, I have always been an advocate for how forums helped unite the hobby in the early days of the internet.
Finally, after my wife commented that I was grumpy at home, I realized it wasn’t worth it. Fighting the “WAFers” (what I call Wehrmacht Award Forum members who cause all the trouble) was like fighting a hydra. So I politely resigned. Days later, the administrators officially “expelled” me—I suppose to appease their own members. That’s okay. If it makes them feel better, I can live with that. I would rather they return to discussing relics and the hobby.
Military Trader: Author, historian, dealer, auctioneer, reality show star, veteran, husband, father…what’s left? How would you like to develop within the collecting community?
Craig Gottlieb: Well, I’m hoping that “Battlefield Recovery” (a much better title than “Nazi War Diggers,” in my opinion) gets picked up for a second season. In which case, I’ll be filming a lot next year. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay. I’ve got some other projects in the works, including a new series on Military called “Behind The Barrel” which has filmed 14 episodes already. Each segment is only a few minutes long and focuses on weapons history. Hopefully, it will get picked up.
My latest project is a 501(c)3 charity I’ve started called, “The Military History Institute.” It’s goal is to promote education in the area of military history and heritage through lending artifacts to museums and other qualified institutions. My Hitler uniform is already on loan to the San Diego Air and Space Museum, where I serve on the Board of Directors. J
To learn more about Craig Gottlieb Militaria / History Hunter Auctions or more importantly, to view his current offerings, log onto www.craiggottlieb.com or call 858-350-6700.