What will be the hot military items in 2015? 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 2015? Here are some predictions, in no particular order:
- German “Spiked” Helmets. Pickelhauben have been a favorite of collectors, ever since soldiers souvenired them from the trenches of WWI. A lot of attention on the second year of the centennial of WWI will reawaken interest in these iconic helmets. Common Prussian M1895 helmets with gray metal fittings will increase in price as demand grows. Top-shelf helmets will retain their value, but may not increase dramatically as demand will not reach that high.
- HMMWVs. The first sale of HMMVs (“Hummers”) to the civilian populace since 1989 just occurred on December 17. Is that the tip of the iceberg? Regardless, the sale and lower gas prices have rekindled interest in this workhorse vehicle. The demand for HMMWVs and parts will dramatically increase in 2015.
- 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. Emphasis will be on elite, special operator material. 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. Also, when looking at combat gear like body armor or weapons, be sure you know what is legal to own. Some of this stuff is still considered, “for military use only.” 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.
- 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 dollars, 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.
- Class III Firearms. Who among us haven’t said, “I want a machine gun”? Shooting programs on TV and popularity of events like Knob Creek have demonstrated the idea that you don’t need to be anyone special to own a legal machine gun. It hasn’t become any easier, nor any cheaper, but many collectors are reaching that point of saying, “What the heck!” For $10K, you can pick up a decent, legal automatic weapon and your first 3,000 rounds of ammo. There is a finite number of licensed Class III weapons, so demand will drive prices higher. If you are a seller, it will be a good year. If you are a buyer, well, act fast…
- WWII US Groupings. The culmination of 70th Anniversary events and the rapid passing of WWII veterans continues to drive interest in our “greatest generation” of soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and all others who served between 1941-1945. While emphasis will remain on combat-related groupings, more interest will be given to Class A and Eisenhower Jacket-centered lots. Depth of the grouping will drive the prices. Paper won’t go on its own, but when it accompanies medal or uniform groups, it will help to drive prices higher.
- Vietnam US Combat Uniforms. There seems to be a growing body of collectors interested in Vietnam combat gear. I wouldn’t call it a tsunami of attention, but a strong wave has been perceptible in the last few months. There has been a lot of activity in early jungle fatigues and camouflage uniforms. This is a very complex area, so you will benefit most from careful study before attempting to buy or sell in this arena. If you have been sitting on a stack of Tiger Stripes or jungle jackets, this might be the year to move them.
- Indian War-Spanish American War US Material. This is another head scratcher. I can’t point to any single reason why this era is gaining popularity. It might be due to WWII M1 helmets pressing past $300 for generic types, or WWI aviator uniforms going for more than $2,000. These types of spikes often drive collectors to lesser pursued eras. Furthermore, a couple of very big, very cool collections of uniforms, accouterments, weapons, and headgear have recently come to market. That, more than anything, stirs attention.
- And finally, Civil War is BACK. Prices have tumbled since 2008 to where collectors who had abandoned Civil War collecting (like ME!), are taking a second look. Firearms have fallen to prices last seen around 2005. Many are becoming aware that now is the time to buy Civil War firearms, cloth, leather, and blades. It may be the last time that these items can be regarded as “affordable” for a long time to come.
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.
We collect to preserve the memory,
Editor Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine