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Q&A with Dave Taylor: Taking the pulse of Civil War collecting

The four “Civil War musketeers.” From left to right: Rafael Eledge of Shiloh Relics in Tennessee; Dave Taylor of Civil War Antiques, Sylvania, Ohio; Glen Mattox of Antique Gun Shoppe in Post Falls,Idaho: and Tim Prince of College Hill Arsenal in Tennessee. All are full-time, dedicated antique arms dealers. Photo taken at the National Gun Day Show in Louisville, Ky.

The four “Civil War musketeers.” From left to right: Rafael Eledge of Shiloh Relics in Tennessee; Dave Taylor of Civil War Antiques, Sylvania, Ohio; Glen Mattox of Antique Gun Shoppe in Post Falls, Idaho: and Tim Prince of College Hill Arsenal in Tennessee. All are full-time, dedicated antique arms dealers. Photo taken at the National Gun Day Show in Louisville, Ky.

In an effort to report on the status of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to speak with Dave Taylor. Most will recognize his name as one of the leading dealers in American Civil War relics.

Dave has been a collector of militaria since 1972 and a full time militaria dealer since 1984. He collects items pertaining to Michigan in the Civil War and early, tagged battlefield relics. He issued his first mail order catalog during his senior year in high school using his father’s mimeograph machine to copy the one- page wonder—now a collectible in its own right!.

Though Dave offers a wide range of military relics, he is best-known for his expertise about the American Civil War. With more than forty years experience in buying, selling, trading, and collecting, he has a very good sense of the ebs and flows of the hobby. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions on the Health of the Civil War Market.”

Military Trader: Let’s start off by paraphrasing a comment we hear the most in our office: “I used to collect Civil War, but it has become too expensive.” How would you advise a new collector to approach this facet of militaria collecting?”

Dave Taylor: My advice to any collector is to buy only what you can afford. In terms of prices of WWII weapons compared with Civil War weapons, I find that the common Civil War weapons are equally as affordable as their 1940s cousins.

A decent Civil War musket or Colt revolver can be purchased for $1,500. That is about the same as a good mid war K-98 Mauser, and far less than most German Lugers. And, as for edged weapons, Civil War swords are, in many cases, more affordable than high-end Third Reich daggers.

As for the prices of Civil War antiques in general, yes they are high… but not as high as they were eight or ten years ago. Prices have come down 20% or more since that time period.

Military Trader: How would you characterize a “typical” Civil War collector today? How has that person’s collecting habits changed in the last thirty years?

Dave Taylor: Today’s Civil War collector is the same collector of thirty years ago. And I mean the same collector—the same guys! I have customers who have been with me for forty years. We have grown old together.

The current demographic of my customers is 97% male and ranging in age from 50+ years old to 80+ years old. Most are in their 60s and 70s.

Lucky for me, these older collectors are generally financially well off. Their kids are grown, houses paid for, and they have good investment income.

There is a small pocket of younger CW collectors in their thirties and forties, but a very small pocket. Most of these “younger” collectors are entrepreneurs with good incomes.

Today’s “twenty somethings” have little interest in American history of the 19th century, and very little income.

Military Trader: Artillery projectiles, firearms, swords, images, bullets, uniforms, personal items—what advice would you give a new collector when faced with a nearly unlimited variety of choices?

Dave Taylor: Any collector should buy what personally interests him or her. There is no sense collecting buttons just because your cousin collects them. If you like antique photos, then collect photos.

It is important to choose an area where the items fit your personal budget. And it is important to choose an area where there is sufficient number of items to collect.

Military Trader: I drop what I am doing and go directly to your site when I receive your email notice. What keeps me coming back each time is the quality of relics you offer and very aggressive pricing. Can you describe the strategy you employ on each of your web catalog updates?

Dave Taylor: I have been in the business long enough to have a good feel for what current market value is. To maintain a level of enthusiasm with my fellow collectors, I do my best to offer items at a price lower than what identical examples have brought at auction, and lower than those priced in the tourist town shops.

It’s no fun to be a collector when your favorite dealer prices items so high that you feel “skinned” when you do business. It is much more enjoyable to buy an antique and feel that the seller gave you a bit of a deal on what might be worth a little more than you paid for it.

There is a wonderful old adage that applies: “You can shear your lambs year after year, but you can only slaughter them once.” I have no interest in setting a world record price when selling an item. I am interested in selling real antiques at realistic prices.

Military Trader: What areas of Civil War collecting have you witness grow but then then subside in the last twenty years?

Dave Taylor: Civil War uniforms are currently a very affordable area to collect. Prices today are 30% lower than ten years ago. The prices are not cheap, but they are cheaper. If someone is interested in building a uniform collection now is the right time to buy. There have been several large “cloth collections” come onto the market in recent years and the prices are now quite reasonable.

Military Trader: What areas of Civil War collecting are particularly “hot” today?

Dave Taylor: Hot collectibles are, and always have been, the top condition, scarce pattern, antique guns, swords, knives, and daggers. Weapons are the nucleus around which all the other military collectibles rotate.

The great Colt revolvers, Winchester rifles, and rare Lugers in mint condition bring prices that boggle the mind. Unfortunately, those items are beyond the reach of most of us.

Also, historically inscribed weapons and artifacts are another perennially very hot commodity. Confederate artifacts of all descriptions also remain very popular.

Military Trader: What do you consider to be one of your favorite finds during the past 30 years?

Dave Taylor: I define a “find” as discovering something of true significance or value and being the first modern person to recognize the significance and value of that “something.” I have a lot of favorite finds.

Rating near the top is a neat Confederate artifact I’ve owned for many years. When I still had my small shop in Waterville, Ohio, a man walked in with a bowling bag… you know, the bag that holds a bowling ball. He asked if I appraised antique guns, to which I answered, “Yes.” He placed the bag on top of a glass display case and removed a worn out beach towel.

As he began to unroll the towel a story began to unfold. The first thing I saw was a Richmond, Virginia, pattern Confederate 2-piece tongue and wreath buckle. My eyes popped. The buckle was attached to a Richmond pattern waist belt that turned out to be in great shape as the towel continued to unroll.

And at the end of the roll was a massive pig skin holster holding an attic-ratty and filthy English Adams percussion army revolver! The man was concerned with how much the old gun was worth. It was fun telling him.

I told the man flat-out, “Your gun—by itself—wouldn’t garner any attention. It is a relic of poor quality. It’s a broken English revolver. Negligible value.” It was fun watching his face. “But, “ I said, “The belt, buckle, and holster are spectacular and very valuable!”

These added to value to the gun because they put the revolver in its proper historical context.

I told him the rig was wonderful, and I made him an offer of a few thousand dollars. He smiled and said he would talk it over with his wife. The next week he sold it to me. That wait seemed to drag on forever.

Military Trader: We all have our a story about the “one that got away.” Tell us about the one item that slipped through your fingers and can still keep you awake at night.

Dave Taylor: Twenty odd years ago, a local picker obtained the uniform, sword, commission, accoutrements, etc. of an officer who served in Wilder’s Lightning Brigade. It was a huge and magnificent archive. He teased me with it for weeks.

He finally agreed to sell it to me and meet me at the now, long-defunct Michigan Civil War Show, where I would pay him and take delivery. I arrived at the show four hours early to make sure I didn’t miss him…. and I waited.

When he finally arrived, he was being trailed by a friend of mine who wore a broad smile. I asked where the uniform. The picker informed me that my friend had just purchased it from him in the parking lot!

I began to boil. He had no clue what a faux pas he had committed. He had no idea how angry I was, and that I entertained thoughts of beating him to a bloody death with a splintered broken gun stock. He was clueless as to why I was angry.

As for my friend who knew he had back-stabbed me, I later got even with him in spades, but I will not tell how I did it, even now. He still does not know what I did.

Military Trader: What would you consider to be the one illusive item that keeps you looking in closets, under beds, or deep into private collections hoping to add to your collection?

Dave Taylor: I have always wanted a Michigan soldier’s forage cap with full insignia including the state designation. I have never seen one in the flesh and probably never will. I have seen 1860s photos of soldiers wearing them, but have never seen a cap with all the bells and whistles. I would pay a huge premium for a real one.

Military Trader: How will Civil War collecting change over the next ten years?

Dave Taylor: I believe there will always be an interest in collecting Civil War antiques. I believe prices will fluctuate and eventually find a level that the next generation of collector can feel comfortable with.

I feel sorry for collectors who refuse to sell items for less than what they paid for them a decade ago. They have a mental block that prevents them sell something at a loss.

It’s silly. If you paid two dollars for something and the current value is one dollar, that something is worth one dollar. It doesn’t make any difference what the item is. An antique, a share of stock, an ounce of gold—the current value is the current value. If you think the current value is too low, buy more at this low level and wait.

I sell things at a loss all the time. But I then I go out and buy the same items at the new lower value and sell them at a thinner markup. In a down market, if you feel the market will go up, buy all the stuff you can afford at the new lower prices.

To learn more about Dave Taylor’s business, Dave Taylor’s Civil War Antiques, or more importantly, to view his current offerings and / or sign up for his email notices of new products, log onto or contact Dave by writing, Dave Taylor, P.O. Box 87, Sylvania, OH 43560 or calling 419.842.1863.

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