I am just back from the Battlefield Show in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bob Johnson puts on a great show. I was impressed by how high the attendance was. Table sales may have been a bit lower than usual, but there was no shortage of potential buyers walking around. Bob does a great job of promoting the show which was held concurrently with a gun show and a flea market elsewhere on the State Fairgrounds.
Two things at the Battlefield Show reminded me that I am not the young kid on the block anymore. First, I realized that I had been going to Bob’s shows since I was 17 years old. That was nearly 30 years ago! Back then, Bob had a partner and a small shop in Minneapolis. Funny thing, he looks about the same as he did back then! I wish I could say the same.
The second reminder of the passing of time was a comment I heard from three different people when describing relics that they had recently purchased. Each one used the expression, “And it’s been in a private collection for 25 years!” The implication was that it must be real because it has been locked away for a quarter of a century.
The first couple of times I heard the expression, it didn’t really register. I simply accepted it in the manner in which it was offered: evidence of authenticity. However, lying in my motel after hearing it a third time, I did the math. 25 years means that the items entered the sellers’ collections in 1984—the same exact year I sat in my grad school-provided apartment, rubbing bogus Third Reich decals off of supposed “transitional helmets”.
Over the preceding couple of years, I had bought a number of helmets from a collector who “had them since soon after the end of WWII” (another 25 years!). I bought the “transitional” single decal M16 helmets from him for about $125-$155 a piece. And, as the flaking decals revealed, they were as fake as fingernails on a frog.
After rubbing the decals off, I was left with several nice WWI M16 helmets (then worth about $55-$75 a piece). It was a hard lesson, but it taught me that time in a collection does not establish believable provenance for items. When I was young, “25 years ago” equaled “right after WWII". Today, that same 25 years equals 1984—a peak in counterfeiting history.
Like other old timers, I have plenty of good stuff that has been in my collection for 25 years. Most likely, I some of it is bad. I want to suggest to collectors to take that old expression, “It’s been in my collection for nigh onto 25 years now…” with a grain of salt. It might be true. And there might well be a good reason the object hasn’t seen the light of day for a quarter of a century.
Be cautious and keep finding the good stuff,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine