As You Prepare for Show Season: Six Tips

“Congratulations…we have reserved your tables…” After the holidays, this is the letter we all watch for. It’s show season! Marching into spring, we will see a host of great shows in our hobby including the Show of Shows in Louisville, Kentucky (Feb 22-25), the Redball Annual Swap Meet in Jim Thorpe, Penn. (March 3), the Indy 1500 in Indianapolis (March 15-18), “Knob Creek” Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, Kentucky (April 13-15) and the Annual Armed Force Day Celebration in Findlay, Ohio (May 18-20). (Note: Before you send me those “what about my show” emails, check our entire show calendar listings at

So, like most of you, I have been busy sifting through my collection looking for items to sell, writing price tags, and reviewing my show list of “Things to remember.” It occurred to me, others might benefit from the reminders I write to myself. Heck, you probably have some good tips that you could share with me and the rest of our fellow collectors!


I have assembled this list of reminders to myself based on what I have seen over the years. You might recognize some of these in your own collecting efforts. This isn’t a judgment — some might be just the way you like to collect, but for me, I recognized that these are tiny “mantras” I need to repeat to myself:

  1. Avoid “collector creep!” Collecting has a way of creeping away from your predetermined goals. It usually happens when I forget my collecting path or am simply bored with what I collect. Then, it becomes too easy to say, “Hey…I am interested in this other path…” and away I go. Using valuable dollars to appease my whimsy or boredom usually becomes obvious when I do find something I really want for my main collection.
  2. Don’t shop every day. Boy, for the past 15 or so years, it has been darn easy to collect every day of the week. Sitting on the couch at night, I can search any number of dealer websites, eBay, or other online auctions. I used to be able to save money for the “big show,” but since the advent of daily buying opportunities, it has been very hard to build up the cash reserves. Limiting my online shopping through the year has been crucial in maximizing my enjoyment at shows.
  3. “Don’t Drive Angry.” Drawing on a Bill Murray line in the movie, “Groundhog Day,” this is code to myself that actually means, “Don’t buy emotionally.” This is a tough one, and I have to repeat it to myself every time I walk into an antique shop, attend a small show, or bid at an auction. It’s closely related to number 1 above (“Avoid collector creep”). It is too easy, especially with all of the buying opportunities available to me, to place a bid or buy something because “it was just going to cheap.” The other aspect of emotional buying is “temporary interest.” I have a Riker mount or two full of Queen South Africa medals from an approximate four-month interest in the Boer War. Granted, they are cool and have held their value, but really, did I need to divert a few thousand dollars from my Tank Corps collecting to satisfy that historical itch?
  4. Price it like you want to sell it. If one of my items ends up in a box to go to a show, it is likely I have lost my passion for it. Therefore, it is in my best interest to convert the item to dollars to reinvest in something that will hold my passion. The faster I convert it, the sooner I appease that collecting urge. Therefore, I price items to sell…not to see if I can be the one person who sold something for top dollar (by the way, by definition, “top dollar” only happens once…we can’t all achieve it!). Carrying the same item to show after show does nothing for my collection, the hobby, or the economy. Money changing hands is the impetus to jumpstarting those.
  5. Own my mistakes. This is related to no. 4 above, and I am sure we are all guilty of not always owning our collecting mistakes. By this, I mean, admitting when we overpaid for an item. Too many dealers keep grossly overpriced items on their tables. Often, this is a result of not “owning their mistakes.” They overpaid for something, so they are hoping that someone else will bail them out. While it is probably true, “A sucker is born every minute,” not a lot them end up walking the aisles at our shows. So, get over it. You goofed by paying too much. Mark that item realistically (in relation to the market) and sell it. You will be surprised how good you feel to not see that reminder of your error—a bargain when compared to the money you “lost” on the deal.
  6. Profit is made when I buy something. This is another way of saying, “Remember dummy, don’t buy unless you can buy LOW.” The cost associated with any item in my collection begins after I pay for it: Storage, shipping, money out of play, etc. Therefore, I need to remember to buy items for resale that have a large margin. Otherwise, all of my profits will sink while trying to pedal off those boat anchors.

Shows offer so much excitement: Seeing old friends, discovering new treasures, converting old treasures to dollars, and even going out to eat some different foods and seeing different sites. It is easy to get lost in the preparation of all the anticipated enjoyment. Therefore, I hope my simple list of six tips will help keep me — and you —  on target and ready to make the “big” purchases when we discover them.

See you in the aisles,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader & Military Vehicles Magazine

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