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Everyone has an opinion to share. I am fortunate that some of you actually will read and consider my opinions before telling me that I am a nut. So today, I am going to throw out one that I am sure will be met like a bone tossed to a circle of chained pit bulls:

“Personal collecting of military antiques has increased during the period of Covid-19.”

Unleash the dogs.


The period of COVID-19 has taken its toll in my life. Maybe it has impacted my perspective, too.  After all, my Mom succumbed to it. My granddaughter has gone a year without receiving my bear-hugs. My “guest bedroom” was nearly destroyed by serving as my home office. And my collecting efforts went totally stagnant.

I could write, ad nauseam, about those first three effects, but the one that is (hopefully) most interesting to you is that last one: The stagnant collection.

What happened during the period of COVID-19 that drove my annual $10,000+ expenditure on collecting to just a few hundred dollars? And, if my collecting suffered such a severe blow, how could I possibly say that “personal collecting of military antiques has increased during this time period?"

Clearly, my reality doesn’t even support my own opinion. I feel very conflicted. 


Most readers know that I spend the bulk of my hobby dollars in three areas: WWI American Tank Corps material; historic photographs; and reference books. In addition, I spend a lot on ammunition and my shooting hobbies. Though related, I don’t really count them as part of my “militaria hobby.”  In all, it usually runs about $10,000 a year, give or take a few thousand.

Prior to COVID, I was never a big spender at shows. I am always that guy who hears, “Oh I had exactly what you wanted earlier today but it sold.”

I have been fortunate, however, that many people do know my interests. So, at shows, I do enjoy a few of “below the table” deals where someone brought something to the show specifically with me in my mind. 

So, in that regard, the cancellation of shows during the past year was the first thing that affected my collecting.

The second big impact to my collecting came from how “dealer-operated” web sites conduct business. Very few seem to have a common “start” time for a particular group of material that gives all customers a fair opportunity to buy. Rather, too many sites seem to rely on posting new material without an apparent schedule or ritual.

As a result, a serious buyer is forced to constantly check and recheck dealers' sites to see if anything is new and available. I am not willing to invest that much time into on-screen surfing. 

Needless to say, my reluctance to engage in the practice hasn’t been good for developing a focused collection! The screen time required is just not something I want to do. So, I lost out on that avenue, too.

The third huge impact affecting my lack of purchases has been the seemingly endless array of new auction sites and their escalating “buyer’s premiums.” 

Scanning “liveauctioneer” or “auctionzip” every day, again, turned into an unhealthy amount of screen time for me. But what really drove me away for auctions are the buyer’s premium creeping higher and higher. I just can’t justify spending a $1000 on an item to find out I owe the auction house an additional $250 just for the privilege of bidding.

But what about good, ol’, trusty eBay? In years leading up to COVID, I relied on that platform to build several significant collections. 

My WWII 10th Mountain collection almost, exclusively, was purchased through eBay. I assembled at least four significant collections of WWI photos (US, British, Canadian, and Belgian with each number over 500 quality images. I even assembled a sizable collection of original WWII rations via eBay. In the years and months leading up to pandemic I made daily bids, “winning” probably 75% of the lots on which I bid.

But then came COVID, and everybody — I mean EVERYBODY — was sitting in front of their computers or on their phones or tablets, 24/7. As the months passed, I realized the $20, $50, or $100 bids that I placed military-related photographs were consistently beaten by stronger bidders. The obscure "sleeper" images that I used to successfully buy or five or ten were now being viewed by hundreds of other knowledgeable collectors who were willing to pay two or three times what I thought a particular image was worth.


During the past 12 months of COVID, my photo buying dropped from 40-50 photo  a month to just 1 or 2 photos. I really began to feel as though I have been priced out of the hobby.

Upon reflection, however, this told me (not the collector in me, but rather, the editor) that the collecting hobby is STRONG. Maybe it was the stimulus checks or the unspent gas money, but something caused collectors to spend aggressively over the last 12 months.

For me, the last 12 months did not see my collection grow. But that was because I wasn't quick enough to adjust my ideas of what something was worth on eBay or some other online source. 

A weird benefit of this, though,  is that my “collecting cash account” grew. I have much more money available to spend on Tank Corps stuff, old photos, or even my shooting hobby than I did prior to COVID-19.

At this point, I don’t intend to compete in online auctions or spend hours searching dealers’ web sites for freshly posted material. Instead, I plan to “return to my roots:” Going to shows.

Military Trader and Vehicles booth at the 2019 Show of Shows

Military Trader and Vehicles booth at the 2020 Show of Shows—less than a month before COVID shut down shows across the nation.

So, look out. When the Show of Shows kicks open this July 22-24, me (and probably many others who found themselves in the same boat) will be there with fistfuls of dollars, ready to buy! 

COVID may have changed how I collect, but it didn't temper my passion for collecting. 

Preserve the Memories,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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