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Let's Trade!

It might surprise some to know, I am not much of a “trader.” After living a childhood marred by bad trades for model tanks, fireworks, and football cards, I grew up to realize the best trades begin with, “I will give you X dollars for…” Having grown into a “cash and carry” sort of collector, I really hadn’t thought about trading for years. Well, that is, until I recently attended a 7-year-old’s birthday party.


As the sun began to set on the afternoon’s party, the parents brought out a fresh surprise for the attendees. Each kid chose one item from a pile of sealed packages. Soon, glow-in-the-dark axes, swords, necklaces, and magic wands illuminated the darkness. Everyone was enjoying the party favors when I heard one of the boys yelling, “She made a bad trade to me! I want it BACK!”

Apparently, the ten-year-old boy’s little sister had pulled a glow-in-the-dark axe from the stack that wasn’t, well, quite “up” to it. In fact, it was about the limpest axe ever to be waved in mock combat. The head drooped like a wilting flower of day-glow power. In what some might consider shrewdness, she made a “trade” with her older brother. She gave him the axe that she carefully presented in a non limp-revealing posture for his faithfully solid, night-glowing sword. Before the boy realized the gravity of the trade, however, his little sister had disappeared into the night—only a iridescent sword waving in the darkness gave away her position.

This should have been a small incident, but the boy, perhaps overtired and hopped up on a bit too much Dairy Queen cake, became completely unglued. He was angry. He threw a good-ol’ temper tantrum, complete with feet-stomping and language bordering on soap-in-the-mouth retribution. As his parents tried to reel him in from the outer limits of civility, I silently chastised, “Hey, ya should have inspected the goods before you made the deal.”


Driving home after the party, my partner and I discussed the day, culminating with a dissection of the bad business between siblings. “Hey, he should have examined the axe before agreeing to the trade,” I offered as an alibi for the sister. “He let his passion make his decision for him.”

“Well,” my partner countered, “She has no business trading crap just because that’s what she drew from the pile.”

Good point. I could see this both ways. Or could I?

The week before, I finished negotiating a medal deal. The son-in-law of a collector who had passed away contacted me. “My father-in-law’s papers indicated that you buy British and US medals,” the email began. He went on to explain about the passing of his father-in-law and included photos that showed various groups of medals. I replied, explaining, “I do buy collections, but you have to keep in mind, I buy at ‘wholesale,’ generally about 50-55% of current retail.”

In most of these situations in which I buy from a surviving member of the family, I have to describe my entire business model: Buy at wholesale, because I will be able to resell only a small percentage in any quick turnaround. Therefore, I wind up with a lot of money tied up in inventory that may take months to sell. Generally, this explanation helps them come to grips with what they saw on American Pickers or Pawn Stars…If they want to get rid of the collection in an expedient manner, they have to be able to accept wholesale offers.

After considering my explanation, the seller said he would be happy to have me make an offer. Saying I would contact him the next day, I grabbed my Medal Yearbook and began the process of figuring up a “low retail” value. From that, I calculated my offer and sent off the email. An hour later, we had an agreement, and I used PayPal to complete the deal.

That Friday (the day before the birthday party), the package of medals arrived. I flipped through the individual plastic sleeves to quickly assess the purchase, putting “good” medals in one pile and “these have problems” in another. When I was finished, only 72 of the 188 medals were in the “good” pile. The others had issues ranging from renaming (a practice common with British medals) to crimp brooches on Purple Hearts (indicating that they were post-WWII issue). To say I was disappointed would have been to miss all of my verbal cues. The stream of obscenities that poured forth, thankfully, fell on no ears outside of my office.

I was mad. Really mad.

At myself.

As Dad would have said to me, “In a bad deal, you have no one to blame but yourself.” I let my excitement, my passion, and yes, my desire to make a fast buck, curtail my judgment. Rather than asking for detailed photos of the medals or even making arrangements to view them personally, I didn’t want to lose the deal…I acted swiftly before another collector or dealer discovered the collection was for sale.


What recourse did the 10-year-old boy have with his little sister or me with the son-in-law of the dearly departed collector? Not a lot. “The will to believe” seduced both of us into making poor decisions. Others might call it, “Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses,” but the result is the same: We saw what we wanted to see before making the deal. The boy saw a darkness-slashing sword, and I saw an easy path to a little collecting profit.

The will to believe is as seductive as naked sirens singing from boulders in dicey waters. It can obscure your own good judgment. Wanting something to be what you imagine can result in slamming into the rocks of financial demise. Part of maturity, whether in regard to personal collecting or making those childhood swaps, is taking responsibility for your participation in any deal.

You see, that 10-year-old boy and the collector in me have another thing in common: Passion. Or as Dad would describe it, “Eyes bigger than brains.”

We saw what we wanted to see, rather than taking the time to study the items we wanted. And for that valuable lesson, each of us—in our own way—paid the price. At least he learned it at 10 and not forty years later.

Follow the passion…but use your brains,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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