Cashing in

Three military collectors tell how selling at auction paid off
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While the standard interest rate at most banks is less than 1%, and the stock market is in constant flux, many military antiques have outperformed even the most sophisticated investments. For example, an M-35 Waffen-SS double decal helmet that sold in 1978 for $150 is now potentially worth $8,000 - $12,000 depending on condition — a nice “stock” to cash in, if needed. But where and how militaria is sold makes the difference between pocketing a lot of cash or being taken advantage of.

Selling at auction ensures maximizing return in several ways. “The truth is that unless you are an expert in militaria, you can easily be taken advantage of when selling because you just don’t have the knowledge of what you have and what things are worth,” says Bruce Hermann, co-owner of Grenadier Military Antiques Auctions (GrenadierAuctions.com). “A great advantage of selling at a public auction is that everything is above board. You are selling for what an item is worth rather than selling to someone who might offer you as little as 20% of the value — you’re cutting out the middle man who would cut into your profit.”

Below are the stories from three consignors who shared what they love about selling their collectibles through the online auction company, GrenadierAuctions.com.

This Spanish American War engineer’s grouping represents some of the more unique items in Hilde’s father’s estate sold through grenadierauctions.com.

This Spanish American War engineer’s grouping represents some of the more unique items in Hilde’s father’s estate sold through grenadierauctions.com.

Hilde Adams — Estate Executor

Hilde was named executor of her father’s will. She was left with a sizable collection of militaria to dispose of as she saw fit. “A guy my dad knew called and offered me $30,000 cash for everything, but something told me not to do it,” Hilde shared.

Her instincts paid off. In her quest to discover the true value of the collection, she met co-owner of Grenadier Auctions, Bruce Hermann, a veteran appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow. “I’m a great fan of the Antiques Roadshow, as was my dad, and searched the show’s site for military appraisers,” she recalls. “Bruce was one of the appraisers that popped up, and I called him. I’m so glad I did. After talking to him and learning about his auction, I knew it was the right choice.”

Hilde discovered the collection was worth a lot more than $30,000. “Bruce looked at photographs of the collection I sent from my phone and told me it was worth considerably more,” says Hilde. “But I went with Grenadier mainly because they took care of all the details. I was not in a good place emotionally at the time and didn’t want to have to deal with it. I don’t know first thing about war collectibles and I’m not very internet savvy so it was great.”

This WWI-era German M-16 camouflage helmet was part of the collection of Hilde’s father sold by Grenadier Auctions.

This WWI-era German M-16 camouflage helmet was part of the collection of Hilde’s father sold by Grenadier Auctions.

It impressed Hilde that Bruce and his business partner Kevin Finley personally drove a truck to her dad’s residence in Nevada to pick up the collection. “They’re really nice guys and are very professional” she says. “They really know their stuff and that’s obvious.”

Another thing Hilde appreciated were the reserves put on each item. “It was important to me was that I get the best prices for the memorabilia my dad loved and worked most of his adult life to acquire,” she says. “I didn’t have to worry about something being sold below value. And everything was professionally photographed and put up on their site at no charge to me. I have been really happy with this company. I can’t say enough good things about them!”

Purchased for $400, Matt was able to sell this WWII M-35 double decal field police helmet with a rare dot-pattern camo finish for $3,100 through grenadierauctions.com.

Purchased for $400, Matt was able to sell this WWII M-35 double decal field police helmet with a rare dot-pattern camo finish for $3,100 through grenadierauctions.com.

Hilde was most happy with the proceeds she received, however. Her dad had left behind a collection he had been amassing since 1960s, including items from World War I, World War II, the Civil War and Spanish American War: Cases full of uniforms, headgear, flags, medals, and ephemera such as letters from soldiers to their loved ones back home. “After the first auction, I received a check for “$27,000, and that was for only a portion of the collection,” she says. “I was thrilled.”

This WWII USAAF A-2 bomber jacket was one of the items sold in Hilde’s father’s vast collection sold through grenadierauctions.com.

This WWII USAAF A-2 bomber jacket was one of the items sold in Hilde’s father’s vast collection sold through grenadierauctions.com.

Hilde sold the remainder of the collection in the next few auctions over the course of a year, and ended up with about $100,000. “It was a great experience overall,” says Hilde.

Matt Collins — Picker

Matt is a “picker” who has found some true treasures by combing yard sales, estate sales, pawn shops, and antiques malls. Military shows are another good source for him. “We have a lot of shows here in Florida in the winter — every weekend, January through April,” he says. “I’ll sometimes travel two or three hours to a show.”

Matt wasn’t always interested in militaria. “I just started getting into military six or seven years ago,” he says. “I was always into antiques, but an older friend of mine was selling militaria and I started paying attention to what he was doing and got interested in it.”

His first military discovery was a pair of old German pre-WWII epaulettes. “I paid $300 for the set on Craigslist,” he says. Looking to resell, he found Grenadier Auctions through an internet search. “I sent out photos to four or five different people, including Bruce,” he says. “Bruce ended up buying them.”

Tim sold this Kripo disk and accompanying identification for $18,000 through grenadierauctions.com. The disk number correspondents to all of the documents, making this set extremely rare.

Tim sold this Kripo disk and accompanying identification for $18,000 through grenadierauctions.com. The disk number correspondents to all of the documents, making this set extremely rare.

Matt has learned about militaria partly through trial and error. “If you buy a bad item you learn the hard way,” he says. “I get to know people and ask their opinion. It’s a scary market. A lot of stuff I won’t go near because I just don’t know. I’ll text Bruce photos and ask, “What do you think of this item or that item?’ If it’s a good piece I would send it to him for the auction. He has been a good resource, and I like him personally. ”

For Matt, finding two or three good antiques a month for auction helps fill in the gaps since he injured his back and had to stop working. “It helps subsidize things so I have a little bit of fun money,” he says. “Plus it gives me something to do, keeps me busy.”

Matt has continued to turn a profit with military antiques. “The last auction I sent Bruce a helmet I paid $400 and it sold for $3,100,” he says. “I was unable to sell it at an antique flea market for dealers — it sat on my table for a good five to six weeks at a price of $800. I prefer selling through auction. Absolutely. Really good items need to go to auction to get the best price for them.”

A Kripo warrant disk belonging to a criminal police officer (Kriminalpolizei) of Third Reich-era Germany, part of the set that realized $18,000 at Grenadier Auctions.

A Kripo warrant disk belonging to a criminal police officer (Kriminalpolizei) of Third Reich-era Germany, part of the set that realized $18,000 at Grenadier Auctions.

Tim Kinder — Collector

Tim is a military antiques collector who enjoys growing and changing his collection, often selling certain items through auction in order to purchase other collectibles. “I have sold a slew of antiques through Grenadier Auctions, but primarily WWII German antiques.” he says. “I usually end up buying additional antiques [with the proceeds]. Most serious collectors are collectors for life, but their interests change at some point and so will the items they wish to purchase and add to their collection.”

The most expensive item Tim sold through Grenadier Auctions was a matched Kripo set (a warrant disk and identification set belonging to a member of the Kriminalpolizei — abbreviated Kripo — of Third Reich era Germany). “It had additional documentation and realized $18,000,” says Tim. “It was purchased from another collector many years prior.”

Tim doesn’t find it too difficult to let go of items he once prized. “I have always felt that collectors of historical items are merely individual curators of history,” he says. “For a price, I get to keep and admire any collectible, but the item truly belongs to history. Collectors are duty bound to preserve and protect these items much the same as a curator of a museum. The only marked difference is that down the road, the private collector will ultimately sell the items to another collector who carries on the tradition.”

One of the things Tim enjoys about selling items through Grenadier Auctions is that it involves little effort on his part. “There is no hassle,” he says. “You mail your items in, discuss a reasonable reserve price, and let the item sell itself when the auction begins. Grenadier has a fantastic reputation and they know what they are doing. Consignors are paid in a timely fashion and the whole process is problem-free.”

What would he say to others who may be on the fence about selling through an online auction? “A collector can sell an item direct to another collector, but how do you know you are getting top dollar for it? When you place an item up for auction, your audience is greatly enlarged, and therefore, chances increase that you will receive more money for your item than if you were selling to one buyer for a fixed amount. It only takes two potential buyers bidding on the same item to increase the value of any collectible.”

For information about consigning with Grenadier Auctions, go to grenadierauctions.com or call (562) 343-7528.

Ann Nix is a freelance writer for Military Trader.