by Ann Nix
They may be missing the fast-talking auctioneer of the traditional auction, but online auctions can still generate edge-of-your-seat excitement and result in some amazing acquisitions. Even better, online auctions have a worldwide reach, allowing collectors greater access to what they are passionate about, while giving consignors a larger audience and exposure to items up for sale.
Grenadier Auctions (grenadierauctions.com), based in Long Beach, Calif., is one such auction house that caters to collectors all over the globe. “We have many international customers,” says co-owner Bruce Hermann. “We offer a wide range of authentic military antiques from the 1600s to WWII, with something for every taste and collecting budget, and the online platform makes it easy for anyone, anywhere to bid in real time.”
Three Grenadier Auctions customers, one residing in Singapore, one in Germany, and one on the East Coast of the United States, share their favorite items won at auction and what they love about bidding and collecting.
Main area of interest: Imperial German WWI Pickelhauben and German WWI steel helmets
A resident of Singapore, Amy Bellars has been collecting Pickelhauben (spiked helmets), steel helmets, and WWII-era Japanese helmets for 15 years. But Amy’s large helmet collection all started with one Japanese sword.
“In 2003, my husband introduced me to military gear, and I immediately fell in love with Japanese swords,” says Amy. “I bought my first sword on eBay and had it imported into Singapore. However, as Singapore is a country with many strict rules and regulations, I had a tough time importing the sword with all the police and custom’s requirements.”
Because of the difficulties Amy experienced bringing the sword into the country, she decided to give up sword collecting. But her love affair with helmets was about to begin.
“My husband was worried that I might give up collecting completely, so he gave me a PreußischeVersuchshelm (Prussian experimental helmet) Model 1905/06 for my birthday. That’s what sparked my interest.”
Amy was curious and wanted to know more about the history of the imperial headgear. Sheread all she could about Pickelhauben in books and on websites such as kaiserbunker.com.
“The evolution of Imperial headgear is interesting and intriguing to me,” she says. “A collector requires good knowledge of the different states, ranks, regiments and their Armeekorps to ensure that every piece of headgear purchased is a good investment.”
Amy also acquires knowledge by talking to other helmet hobbyists, and belongs to several militaria forums. “I love learning from fellow collectors, as not all details are documented in books,” she says. “It gives me great satisfaction to be able to utilize my knowledge to justify every helmet that I have collected and invested in.”
Amy admits, “I don’t always win [when bidding online]. But when I win something, the items always arrive well packed and as per described. Bidding on the Grenadier Auctions site is bliss. Items are well-photographed, and any flaws of items are presented so that bidders can make informed choices. Bidders get immediate notifications when they get outbid. Most importantly, the bidding system is reliable. Realized prices appear immediately when the auction ends.”
Amy has purchased several Pickelhauben from Grenadier Auctions, but she has a favorite. “My prize helmet is a Grenadier Regiment No. 7 Reserve Officer Helmet. The helmet plate of the regiment is the grenadier Eagle of Guard form with a scroll bearing the date “22 Marz 1797” — the date of birth of King Wilhelm I, the Regiment’s first Commander in Chief.The regiment was founded in 1797 and was garrisoned at Liegnitz (now Legnica, Poland) and attached to Prussia’s V. Armeekorps. The side rosettes securing the brass chin scales are of a special pattern that bear the regimental monogram of the crowned cipher of King Wilhelm I. The helmet is not only prized, but the fact that I got it at a good price makes it a bargain.”
Main Areas of Interest: German belt buckles and brocades
As a teenager living in communist East Germany in the late 1980s, collecting Third Reich-era militaria wasn’t easy for Thomas W. Even expressing an interest in the topic was discouraged.
“It was dangerous to show too much interest in things that were, at that time, forbidden by the state,” he remembers. But this didn’t stop Thomas from developing a fascination with the history of Third Reich Germany.
“I had a grandfather who was born in 1902 and grew up in Imperial Germany, and later lived in the Weimar Republic, Third Reich, and East Germany. He loved to talk about what life was like in those years. He also had some books of adventure stories from World War I and from the Third Reich-era, which I devoured. In this way, I got a different and more complex view of German history than that of the state doctrine.”
Thomas’ interest in this era in German history led to a desire to collect items belonging to the period. This presented an even greater challenge.
“You could not just put a want ad in the newspaper looking for Third Reich militaria,” he says. “In fact, I tried but it was denied.”Taking care not to alert the authorities, he asked some school friends if they had any interesting items from that time.
“Even though almost everything was destroyed and thrown away after WWII in East Germany, one friend offered me a political wall plaque,” he says. Thomas also managed to find old military items in the garbage.
Collecting became much easier for Thomas after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was now free to run ads in a weekly paper. “I wanted to put together the WWII NCO uniform of my grandfather to surprise him. For some reason, I figured I should start with the belt buckle,” he says.
One collector who answered his ad offered Thomas the Wehrmacht buckle he was looking for, and threw in a copy of a book called German Military Waistbelts by Terence Baldwin.
“This book opened a whole new world for me,” says Thomas. “Until that moment, I had no idea of how many different German belt buckles and officer brocades there were — not only of the Third Reich, but also from the Imperial era and especially Weimar Republic era. Putting together the uniform was forgotten, and from then on, I became a belt buckle collector. Or should I say addict?”
Thomas has since amassed what’s considered the largest and most complete German belt buckle and officer brocade collection in the world, with over 1,600 pieces. His collection contains a number of unique and widely unknown pieces and prototypes, including some rare pieces from the early 19th century.
“I learn something more with every new piece,” he explains. “I think about which organization and who might have worn the buckle in hand. What did they want in their time, what political aims did they have and so on. Piece by piece, you can puzzle together at least a small part of life of former generations which have influenced today’s life and politics. It’s interesting to discover those ties between the generations.”
Thomas hasn’t stopped at buckles, however. “Since I have always been fascinated by political things from the Weimar Republic and Third Reich-era, I also collect high-ranking (or just rare) uniforms, rare flags, pole tops, car pennants, wall and desk eagles, enamel plaques and signs, art pieces, and so on. It’s hard to limit yourself in collecting.
My favorite Grenadier Auctions purchase is a very rare tunic that belonged to NSDAP-Gauleiter Joachim Eggeling,” says Thomas. I found Bruce [co-owner of Grenadier Auctions] about 10 years ago while searching for belt buckles on the Internet,” says Thomas. “Bruce is always willing to help with any questions and has no arrogant attitude. I find something in every auction.”
Main areas of interest: Revolutionary War, Early American, Civil War, British, Hessian, and French, and War of 1812
The name “Don Troiani” is well-known in the military art world. Don is a respected traditional academic realist painter who specializes in extremely accurate historical and military paintings, mostly of the Civil War and American Revolution. His works appear in numerous books and advertisements, and he has designed three Civil War battlefield commemorative coins for the United States Mint. His work has also appeared on a U.S. Postal card commemorating the anniversary of the U.S. National Guard.
Additionally, Don is an avid militaria collector. His passion for collecting began when he was a teenager. “I started collecting militaria in the 1960s when I was in high school,” says Don. “The first thing I remember buying was around 1961 when I was with my parents in Paris. We went past an antiques shop where they had big stacks of helmets. I bought one for $4 and wore it on Halloween.”
Don was greatly influenced by his parents, who were in the antiques business. “They went to auctions all the time and dragged us kids along with them,” he says. “They would buy me stuff like a cavalry saber or a musket to shut me up. And the guys in my father’s office were all veterans. They used to give me stuff for free.”
Don soon developed a strong interest in the hobby, especially things from the Revolutionary War era and European items. “I would buy anything I could get my hands on. My main area of interest used to be the Civil War, but I have sold most of it. I’m now focused on the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Colonial period.”
One of Don’s favorite acquisitions from Grenadier Auctions is an 1812 Eagle head sword. “It is a rare type and in good condition,” he says. “I also bought a beautiful Hessian officer’s sword captured from the Batttle of Trenton, which is another one of my favorite swords.”
Don often turns to grenadierauctions.com to purchase items because he trusts that he will have a good experience and that the items purchased will be authentic. “I have dealt with Bruce for more than 25 years and we’re good friends,” he says. “What I really like about Grenadier Auctions is that it’s easy. The pictures and descriptions are excellent, and the way the website is set up makes it very easy to follow the sales. And of course Bruce gets great stuff!”
Ann Nix is a freelance writer for MilitaryTrader. To be notified of upcoming auctions, sign up for the mailing list at grenadierauctions.com.