One of the most prolific authors in our hobby
We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with LTC (Ret) John “Jack” Angolia. Most will recognize Jack’s name from the more than 40 books he has authored on various aspects of militaria. A collector of militaria since 1944, he doesn’t regard himself a dealer, but rather, a devout collector who prefers to trade rather than sell duplicate items. The exception was when it came time to dispose of his Third Reich collection. Fortunately, it went in a few very large groups rather than piecing it out. With more than 73 years experience in buying, selling, trading, and collecting, he has a very good sense of the ebs and flows of the hobby. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions” with one of the most prolific authors and highly regarded experts in our field.
Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. You have a long career that traces back to the end of the Korean War. Let’s start off by asking you to tell us about your military background and how it dovetails into your collecting and writing.
Jack Angolia: I grew up during WWII. All I wanted to do was become a professional soldier. I enlisted at the tail-end of the Korean War as a military policeman. At the end of my 6.5 years of service, I had obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant. It was my wish to attend West Point, but only came up second on the competitive exams. This meant I had to wait a year to attend.
I applied to the Virginia Military Institute and was given an athletic scholarship. Upon graduation, I was designated Distinguished Military Graduate thus allowing me to be commissioned Regular Army, pick my service (Army), pick my branch (Infantry), and pick my unit of assignment (82nd Airborne).
After seven years as an Infantryman, I became one of the first Regular Army officers to be assigned to the newly created Military Intelligence Branch. My overseas duties took me to Korea, Vietnam, and Germany.
My career was such that I wouldn’t trade with anyone. The only dovetail with my collecting was when I was in Germany for over three years, my rank (and being a combat officer) allowed me to become closely involved with Knight’s Cross recipients. They referred to me as “Unser Major” (our Major).
When I retired, the same was true when it came to interviewing WWII Veterans.
Military Trader: Anyone who was collecting in the 1970s and 1980s, recognizes your name as a pioneer in categorizing and researching German WWII relics. Was that your first area of serious collecting? What was the root of your German collecting?
Jack Angolia: My first area of collecting was anything WWII U.S. Growing up in Washington, D.C. and being surrounded by returning veterans, this field became too easy, thus I changed over to the Third Reich. My first items were an M35Army helmet and a camouflaged parachute.
Military Trader: Helmets, caps, daggers, medals, flags, uniforms-there is so much variety under the umbrella of “Third Reich.” What advice would you give a new collector when faced with a nearly unlimited variety of choices?
Jack Angolia: First, do as I say, and not as I do. You have to remember, I’ve been collecting for more than 70 years. During the early days, the stuff was everywhere, and there was no concern regarding reproductions. Also, there were virtually no suitable reference books.
Reproductions basically didn’t surface until the 1960s and very seriously in the 1970s. Reproductions have reached the state of the art, so “buyer beware” is very important.
My advice is to pick an area that really gets your heart pumping and stick to it. You don’t have the money to “collect the waterfront” as those who started in the early days.
With the passing of the WWII and Korean veterans, the vast quantities of vet-acquisitions are simply no longer there.
Remember, a collector who is not willing to buy reference books (and taking the time to read them) is begging to get stung.
Military Trader: You and your wife suffered a robbery that targeted your Third Reich collection. What can you tell us about that and what would you suggest to collectors today to protect themselves based on your experience?
Jack Angolia: Over the years — and even today — I have encouraged collectors to visit my collection as there is much to see and learn. One collector came to visit, and greed got the best of him. He recruited two young men to break into my home, even though he knew I had an alarm system. He called to make sure neither my wife or I would be home. Then he gave his guys the go ahead.
They broke in the front door, and immediately “neutralized” the alarm system, not knowing I had a backup system. The Police, who were aware of what was in my home, arrived just as they were pulling out of the driveway. They had two bombs in their vehicle to be used to start a fire to cover their tracks. The collector and his two helpers were convicted of felony theft.
Military Trader: We all love stories of a ‘favorite find.” Tell us about one of your favorite Third Reich artifacts that you had in your collection.
Jack Angolia: My Third Reich collection was so large that it’s impossible to pick a single item. Instead, let me give you my greatest thrill in collecting Third Reich material.
I was able to visit Grandadmiral Dönitz for an entire day interviewing him at length. I have had the opportunity to meet a great many makers of history, but none left the lasting impression that he did.
Let me say this in regards to the question asked. The thrills of my collection were the groupings that I was able to put together: Daggers and swords (I lacked only five of the daggers), belts and buckles (this was the last grouping to be disposed of so it should give you some idea how it ranked among my prime interests), cased medals and badges (the thrill here was to whom most of these had belonged), uniforms (I collected general officer ranks when other collectors were satisfied with lower ranks), and cloth insignia (only because it was there).
Military Trader: What led to the decision to divest yourself of your Third Reich collection? How did you dispose of such a vast amount of material?
Jack Angolia: What led me to dispose of my Third Reich collection? I simply did not care for the growing lack of ethics among the collecting community, the growth of the instant “experts,” the pursuit of the dollar (when a collector would ask me “How much is this worth?” I knew he wasn’t a serious collector), the impact of reproductions, the rapid escalation of prices where the dollar meant more than the history of the item, and finally, the realization that I had been very remiss in devoting so much time and effort with the Third Reich, when our own U.S. military history had so much to offer.
Over the years, I had serious collectors “standing in line” waiting for me to dispose of my collection. When that decision was made in 1974, the collection virtually went in a matter of a few months, largely to five people.
I’m asked, “Do you miss it?” My answer is, “NO!” I’m having too much fun having turned to WWII U.S. military history.
My current U.S. collection is almost as large as my Third Reich collection was. However, I have set 2021 as the time to divest this collection, not because I will tire of it, but rather, I want to be the one who disposes of it and its history instead of leaving it to my wife and designated friend to do so.
Military Trader: You have been focusing your collecting and writing on US WWII material over the last several years. We have benefited from your series of books, Heroes in Our Midst published by R. James Bender Publishing. Tell us about this project.
Jack Angolia: For years I’ve been telling people that I don’t collect “things,” but rather peoples’ history. With every Vet acquisition came an interview.
I came up with the title of my current series before the writing even began, because “Heroes In Our Midst” sums up what the men and women in uniform and the stay-behind families were!
This series is a labor of love for me. It gives me the opportunity to tell their stories, and at the same time, show some of my collection. The collector community has stepped forward unhesitatingly to assist me.
Military Trader: Roger Bender has been publishing your books for at least forty years now. Tell us about your relationship with a single publisher. What advice would you give to would-be authors who want to write about militaria?
Jack Angolia: This is a difficult question for me to answer. Over the years, publishers have come to me, rather than me seeking them out. The first thing I would recommend is DO NOT SELF PUBLISH if you are looking to make money.
I don’t write for money, but rather the love of the research and educating. lf you have a product that is well-researched and well- written, contact Roger Bender!
Military Trader: Along the way, you have established your own museum of military memorabilia — something many readers dream of doing one day. What advice would you share about establishing your own museum or with transferring a collection to a public museum or institution?
Jack Angolia: I would suggest that collectors be satisfied with the space they have available to them, and turn it into a well- laid-out presentation with eye appeal.
Presentation is key to having a satisfying collection. There are some of the old timers that have built an outbuilding, or, as in my case, design a home around display space to incorporate a large collection. I designed my display cases to modular in order that they could fit in any space or configuration.
The bottom line is it takes a great deal of money to do a “museum” presentation-display cases, lighting, shelving, full mannequins, coat/shirt forms, security, shadow boxes, storage space, cost of construction. It seems to be an unending outlay of money.
I would recommend that you visit various forums to see how others present their collections. If interested, mine is at U.S. Militaria Forum under the “Display” forum, “Jumpin Jack’s Collection.” This is a user-friendly forum with no fee. Enjoy!
Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as yourself, “How will military relic collecting change over the next ten years?”
Jack Angolia: Where there is a desire, there will always be collectors. I see supply progressively diminishing as the years pass. Most of the good items will come from older collectors that either die off or decide to enjoy the gains to be derived from disposing of their collections. As supply lessens, prices will conversely rise.
One bit of advice I have passed on over the years is, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about LTC (Ret) John R. Angofia’s publishing efforts, log onto www.bender-publishing.com or to receive a current catalog, contact: R. James Bender Publishing, P.O. Box 23456, San Jose, CA 95153-3456; phone 408-225-5777.
Write to LTC (Ret) Angolia at 3949 W 151st Terrace, Leawood, KS, 66224. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack can provide signed-numbered copies of all of his current books. To visit him, all you have to do is contact him in advance to ensure he is not traveling. Phone: 913-681-8508.