At age of six, Scott Kraska began collecting. It may not have been militaria, but he was officially bitten by the bug at the young age. "I had collections of stamps, coins, leaves, rocks, and even bottle caps," he said. "As a child I was fascinated by the variety and designs of items. "His first real collection began with U.S. postage stamps during his elementary school years, and led to fossils and minerals. "I had the desire to exhibit items and build expertise but was never really satisfied long term; I had the drive but not the direction."
In 1980, he got his hands on a copy of "Civil War Collector Encyclopedia" by Francis Lord and the tide turned. "I could not put the book down, I read and reread it until it practically fell apart," he said. "The world of U.S. military history was the most exciting area I had ever seen and I was hooked." As a teenager, Kraska tried to build a meaningful Civil War collection but became discouraged by the amount he could purchase with is paltry earnings. "After several years, my collection could fit in a large shoebox," he remembered. "I brought the whole pile to our local antique shop and bemoaned the fact the Civil War items were just too expensive."
Kraska credits the store owner for creating a monster. "He looked at me slyly and said: 'What about WWI?'", said Kraska. "The rest was history. 27 years later I have owned hundreds of WWI uniforms, groupings, and thousands of objects. I spread into the Spanish American War, WWII, and Vietnam as well."
Kraska said militaria has become much more than a hobby to those who collect, more of a way of life. "Every day I get to make people happy," he said. "How many people can say that about their job? Through collecting I have made friends all over the world, people from all walks of life. We may be different, but a love of history bonds us together. In this fraternity, you are judged on what you know, not how much money you earn or what kind of car you drive."
Arranging displays for Veteran groups is another aspect of the hobby Kraska enjoys. "To bring a little bit of joy to those who sacrificed so much, and continue to live with their sacrifices years later, can be one of the most rewarding things a collector can do," said Kraska. "I encourage everyone to try it." Respect for the Veterans goes hand-in-hand with respect for militara for Kraska.
"One of the most interesting things I was able to accomplish was the reassembly of one of the best WWI KIA groupings in existence," he said. "The grouping belonged to a 26th Division Artillery Officer who had earned the Distinguished Service Cross and was later killed in action before he received it. The mother had guarded these items for years, including a footlocker full of his uniforms, personal items, medals, photos, letters, documents, and everything‚ only to have the lot broken up at an estate sale." Kraska spent the next two decades tracking down and reassembling all the components of the grouping. Today everything, other than the medal documents, is back together as it should be. "The group is the show piece of my collection and my favorite discovery, bar none," he said.
Many advanced collectors like Kraska follow the natural progression of combining their love of collecting with the desire to teach others, and pursue this goal through a publishing endeavor. "My greatest accomplishment, as I see it, was the creation of my book on the uniforms and insignia of the "River Patrol Forces in Vietnam" which was released this year," he said. "It is simply a reference work for collectors, but it was a very tough thing to do and over four and a half years in the making. I could not have completed this journey without the help of my co-author, and good friend, Steve Kirby."
Kraska said it was an interesting journey. Searching out insignia no collector had ever seen, and trying to find anecdotal accounts to piece together the history of units which existed for very brief periods in time, was quite a challenge. "Too many collectors spend a lifetime building bodies of knowledge and never communicating what they have learned," he said. "Write a book about what you know. If you don‚'t have the time, write a small article. Military Trader is a perfect venue for this kind of article and they are always interested in submissions."
Kraska offered general advice to new collectors in two words: be careful. "The world of Internet sales and auctions has opened new doors to gain acquisitions," he said, "but it has also created a new opportunity for thieves and liars in the hobby." More specifically, he offers a four part plan:
No. 1. "Know your subject matter," Kraska said. "This means buying reference books and visiting other collectors." He encourages enthusiasts to study before they spend.
No. 2. ‚"Know who you are dealing with," he said. "Ask collectors who the good guys are and who the bad ones are." Kraska said to take the time to look at dealers who are known to traffic in fakes and learn the look of these items, and the types of items, fakers like to carry.
No. 3. "Get a guarantee," he said. "If the dealers selling you items will not stand behind what you have purchased, or only gives you a few-days inspection period, look elsewhere."
No.4. Last, but not least, Kraska said patience is paramount. "Collecting is a long term process of learning and then acquiring," he said. "It takes time to find great items. If you try to rush, you will end up with items you later regret or don't want. Worse you could end up with forgeries."
"My philosophy is that I don't offer any item for sale to my customers that I would not be satisfied having for my own collection," he said. "My business, Bay State Militaria, caters to collectors and museums alike. It offers items for all levels of collector, with thousands of items in stock and quick moving inventory."
Scott Kraska is the owner of Bay State Militaria located in Leominster, Massachusetts. Bay State Militaria is a mail order company specializing in militaria from 1898-1975 with an emphasis on U.S. militaria, especially WWI and WWII. He sets up at 30 shows annually and updates his web site, www.baystatemilitaria.com, every Wednesday night at 9:00 p.m. with 75-100 new items. All items bought from Bay State Militaria carry a Lifetime Guarantee of Authenticity.