What will be the hot military items in 2014? Trends in the military hobby are not always difficult to predict: Items that soldiers were eager to find as souvenirs have become the hot collectibles today. For example, German Luger pistols and Japanese “Samurai” swords were probably the most popular souvenir during WWII. Today, these remain some of the most sought-after pieces. There are some growth areas in the hobby, however, that may not be as obvious. I am no Nostradamus, but I will put my neck out and make a few predictions for next year’s hot commodities.
Supply and demand can sometimes shape collecting trends, but not in ways most economists would understand. Contrary to most business models, a sudden supply of relics will create an unwarranted demand (and therefore, price increase).
Take challenge coins, as an example. There is a huge influx of these tokens of appreciation on the market. Because most of these are unit-specific, there is a clamoring among some collectors to get the “better” coins: Special Forces, Seals and CIA coins are going for $20, $30 or more. But if the coins weren’t flooding into the market, this demand would have remained minimal, because, quite frankly, they don’t have a lot of appeal to the general military collector. They were produced and distributed without commonality between units. So, some coins are indeed rare and valued mementos to the few who received them, others that were widely disbursed are little more than “military pogs.” No collector has stepped forward to identify for the hobby if a particular coin with “7th Special Forces” on it was given to a handful of deserving recipients or if it was sold out of a PX at Fort Bragg to anyone with a $5 bill.
The same has happened with Mosin-Nagant rifles as they flood the North American market. In the past, regarded as $65 rifles, the Russian-made models have now earned a huge following of collectors who have intellectually dissected the weapons to differentiate between a common variety post-WWI example and a scarce, desirable Remington-made rifle. A whole field of collecting developed as a result of thousands of rifles pouring onto the market.
So, apart from caches of forgotten military surplus being discovered and dumped on the market, what are the military relics most likely to be the most bought and sold items in 2014? Here are some predictions, in no particular order:
1. Numbered US Campaign Medals. Purple Hearts have peaked, and the secret is out. You aren’t going to get rich buying and selling Purple Hearts anymore. Sure, there are still many to be discovered, but the market has caught up to the frenzy. Most dealers—and even the public in general—know if they have a Purple Heart named to a soldier who died in action on June 6, 1945, that the medal is probably worth more than $65. The same is not true, however, for American campaign medals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For decades, these have been overlooked, but collectors and dealers have finally noticed that the numbers on the rims can often be attributed to the recipient, making the medal instantly researchable. There is a lot of history-gratification to be had with these medals, and more collectors are turning to get their research fix. Prices will go up as demand increases in 2014.
2. M35 “Deuce-and-a-half” Trucks. The last of these venerable trucks have passed through the normal surplus circuit. A few stragglers will continue to appear, but the days of picking one from 60 trucks at auction is gone. Everybody who missed their chance to buy a 2-1/2-ton 6x6 for $4,000 will be kicking themselves. A few of those folks will realize it is now or never. Demand will go up for these trucks. Prices have already started marching north. It will be a long time before they are consistently $10,000 trucks, but fully restored and outfitted examples are already there.
3. OEF / IEF Material. More and more veterans of the last 15 or so years are finally coming home and becoming nostalgic about their service. These people are the advanced guard of an emerging collecting market that will continue to grow for a number of years. But be warned: This arena isn’t the same as other areas of our hobby. “Mint” is not the desirable characteristic. Instead, “been there,” “salty” and “battle-worn” are the primary adjectives that will increase the value. Collecting OEF / IEF items is a lot like the early days of Vietnam collecting. Prices of OEF / IEF stuff will soon rival some of the best Vietnam pieces.
4. Third Reich Auxiliary Group Items. Think, “NSFKK,” “NSBO,” “Org Todt,” “Hitler Youth” and even “Stahlhelmbund.” Why are these, until recently overlooked, items going to gain in popularity? Quite simply put: Because all the cool stuff is too expensive! Admit it, money is tight among “regular” collectors these days. That doesn’t mean they have lost their interest in WWII or Third Reich material. It just means they can’t justify dropping $600 for another single decal M42 Army helmet. But, for the same $600, they can assemble a decent small collection that focuses on one of a myriad of Third Reich organizations and still feel a strong connection to the history of WWII. Tinnis aren’t five bucks any more, but a good buyer can probably get a neat handful for a hundred dollar bill.
5. Second Tier Firearms. Not to point the finger right back at our old friend, the Mosin-Nagant, but honestly, their day in the sun has come! Same for Japanese Arisaka rifles, Carcanos, SMLEs and other weapons that many have—until now--regarded as “plentiful surplus.” The same post-recession logic applies here, as well: Spend $1,000 to buy one M1 Garand or use that same $1,000 to pick up a couple of Mosin-Nagants, a Carcano and a couple other stray weapons? Today’s middle of the road collector will migrate to quantity over quality, no matter how many times I write, “Save your money for ONE good piece instead of buying lots of mediocre pieces!” Low-end military arms are going to fast disappear in 2014.
6. Tanks. That’s right, heavy, one-to-one scale, tracks-and-guns vehicles are going to be changing hands at a higher-than-usual pace in 2014. A number of big collections are coming up for sale in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, a lot of people who paid grossly inflated prices for armor prior to 2008 are finally coming to terms with the notion that they invested poorly and are going to begin to recover a portion of their investments by unloading their now elephant-like pieces of iron and steel. Prices will finally drop to values more in line with where they lost hold of reality back around 2006.
7. WWI Items. Don’t jump for joy… the price of your doughboy uniform isn’t going to rise. WWI material will begin a rapid ascent (and here is the important part): In Europe. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 100th Anniversary of the Spanish American War and the 60th Anniversary of WWII have taught most of us, “anniversaries really don’t impact the collecting market.” But Americans just were not touched by WWI the way Europeans were: It tore their nations apart and not a family survived unscathed. The memories—and scars—are deep. 2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, and Europeans (and I am lumping the English with them) are “all hands on deck” for the festivities. There will be heavy demand for non-US material, with an emphasis on items associated with the “common soldier.” Don’t stockpile U.S. stuff for 2017, the hundredth anniversary of America’s entry into the war. That benchmark will come and go without causing a blip in the market.
PREDICTIONS ARE WORTH THEIR WEIGHT
As my Dad would say, “My predictions and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee.” (He has a hard time believing a cup of coffee now goes for a buck, so adjust his quote accordingly). I always tell people, “if you are investing, buy gold, guns or ammo—avoid military relics.” But if you want to buck the hobby rule of “Buy high and sell low,” have at it…my predictions are provided “free of charge” (but I would take a cup of that nickel-coffee!). I would welcome hearing your own outlook, as well. Send your predictions to me at email@example.com and I will share them in the pages of Military Trader and Military Vehicles.
Collect to preserve the memory,
Editor Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine