June 30, 2010
By Andrew L. Turner
Sometimes a simple pleasure leads to a lifetime endeavor. Matthew Roth credits watching war movies as a kid with his father as putting him on the path to his current profession. “I was mainly fascinated with the German side of the conflict,” he said. “I became a voracious reader of military histories starting with biographies and then onto books about campaigns and battles. I bought my first medal, the German Winter Battles in the East 1941/1942, when I was high school.”
It did not stop there. He continued to collect WWII German items through his college years, but found the fakes to be overwhelming. “I moved away from the medals and more classical militaria,” he said. “I really did not have the knowledge to make smart purchases at that time in my life, and I decided it was too much of a hassle. I focused more on field gear and paper that told stories about the soldiers that owned them – like the Wehrpass, and ordnance of all types, with a distinct focus on the German 7.92 x 57 small arms round.”
1994 found Roth moving from the East Coast to Colorado. “I had sold most of what I owned prior to the move,” said Roth, “but when I got settled I found myself wanting to begin collecting again. I didn’t have the resources I did before I left, so I wasn’t able to purchase the kinds of items I had in the past.” One day he stumbled upon some WWII German stamps on the Internet . . .
“I found them to be graphically interesting, reasonably priced, and holding a strong connection to the politics and events of the time,” he said. “After a lot of searching and buying, I had a nice and growing collection. I had started to purchase larger lots and reselling the duplicates or unwanted items.” It worked out well. He expanded into other forms of Third Reich paper: propaganda postcards, covers, documents, revenues, vignettes, military mail and other related areas.
“I did this for a couple of years, on the side and part time, learning more and more and developing a network of contacts,” he said. “Eventually I had to make a decision about my career. I decided to leave the ranks of the employees and become my own boss; I decided to buy and sell German WWII and occupied area related paper material full time.”
He opened MAR Historical in 1999 and launched the Web site soon after: www.marhistorical.com. The focus of MAR Historical is predominately paper items of Third Reich in Germany and occupied areas 1933-45, but related militaria can be found there as well. “Every year the Web site grows; we now have over 10,000 items searchable on the site with more added every week,” he said. “We strive to provide the best Third Reich document and postcard inventory in the world, highlighting unique pieces in superior condition, and pride ourselves on our accurate descriptions as well as our personal and professional service.”
In 2006, Roth decided to try his hand at publishing. “After many clients told me I should write a book, I decided to take the plunge and opened MAR Publishing,” he said. “I co-authored our first book: Postcards of the Waffen SS Series Cards.” Very well received, it has become a definitive reference for these valuable postcards.
“We tried to provide valuable information for both the beginning and advanced collectors, including sections on variations and forgeries, as well as high quality images,” he said. “Our next publication was the Manion’s International Auction House 2007-2008 WWII German Realized Price Guide, and we have another publication in production: Stamps of Hitler’s Germany, which is slated for release this year.
While Roth admits he has made a few mistakes, he has learned some valuable lessons. First and foremost: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is”. He also believes Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) to be a recurring theme – especially in the WWII German arena, and advises collectors to know their seller, utilize reference books and the knowledge of other collectors, and to try to have fun.
“I’d guess that every serious collector has bought a reproduction, thinking it was an original, at some point – I know I have,” he said. “But after the sting wears off, you have to realize that 9 times out of 10 it could have been avoided by doing your homework and asking the right questions. Don’t be in a hurry to buy something: if it’s gone after you’ve done your research then so be it – you’ll gain something much more valuable in the long run.”
Roth encourages other militaria professionals to treat others as they would like to be treated. “Don’t miss an opportunity to share your knowledge with new collectors,” he said. “Again, I think in addition to the respect you’ll receive, and the satisfaction that comes from educating others, it will result in more business coming your way.”
He also advised other established collectors and dealers to continue to search out knowledge. “Just because you’ve been doing it a long time doesn’t mean you know it all,” he said. “New information is available all the time; you have to assimilate it and incorporate it with what you already know. Sure, some of it may turn out to be misinformation, but you should be able to filter out what you don’t need and add what makes sense to the current map of what you know to be true.” He said that some of his best days are the days when he learns something new. “This is not an infrequent occurrence,” he said. “The ability to learn and grow is one of the things keeping me engaged.”
A career buying and selling militaria may not be for everyone, but Roth makes it sound like an exciting endeavor. “My job and my hobby have allowed me to meet some amazing people and make life-long friends,” he said. “I get to travel around the world, meet with people, talk about the hobby, learn, teach, and enjoy life. Several times I have met veterans who had amazing stories to tell. These stick out in my mind and add to the multi-faceted nature of the militaria business. Sure, it’s how I pay my bills and put food on the table for my family – but it’s more than that. As militaria dealers, we’re preserving these items for future generations. Especially in dealing with the fragile nature of paper items, I feel MAR Historical provides a service not only to our customers, but to history itself.”