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Recession? What Recession?

Trends in the militaria hobby are tough enough to track without throwing a recession into the mix. As peoples’ 401Ks disappeared, banks closed and houses lost value during the first half of 2009, the militaria hobby just kept chugging along. But by the time of the MAX show, it appeared as though many military collectors had actually experienced tight times or at minimum, gave into the fears promoted through an endless doomed prognostication by popular media outlets. The buying and selling had perceptibly slowed.
Even I have backed off my collecting a little, even though my income hasn’t changed (and my 401K is rebounding). Nevertheless, the cloud of gloom seems to have swept through the hobby and not many of us have been able to ignore it.

Decisions, decisions
As a collector, you know how hard it is to make the “right” decision. I was faced with this ogre a couple of weeks ago. A fantastic WWI Tank Corps uniform group came available for sale that clearly documented a rare variant insignia. The set was comprised of a couple of tunics and an overcoat--all three pieces with the scarce insignia and clearly identified. In normal times, I would not have hesitated.
But these are not normal times. In more than 30 years of collecting, I don’t remember an economically ambiguous outlook like this one (granted, the last time we were in a recession, I didn’t make enough money for it to really matter!).
I was faced with the decision, “Do I save my money for Christmas presents or do I drop a couple of thousand on this uniform set?”

Time to Buy
Anyone who has studied basic economics knows that in a recession is the time to buy; not gold or precious metals (historically, these spike in a recession and then drop as the economy recovers). But rather, other tangible assets. In a recession, someone is always hurting and needs to raise cash. That means they are more willing to sell something than when times are more stable.
Smart dealers know how to survive these times. It is a delicate balance of knowing what to sell off to raise cash and where to spend that new money on profit-rich material.

What to Buy
The military vehicle market has been real soft for the last 12-16 months. If you were ever thinking of buying a WWII Jeep or a 2-1/2-ton truck, now is the time to do it. There are a lot on the market, you can pick and choose, and just like in the housing market, you won’t have to pay the “asking price”.
Likewise, now is the time to buy that “big ticket” item you always wanted. The competition for it is going to be less than during normal economic times, so the chance for you to get a deal is much better right now. When times are tough is not the time to stop buying.
So what did I decide on the Tank Corps group? My income isn’t off that much from last year, it fit my collecting mission and was a high quality “big ticket” item. Nevertheless, I didn’t follow my own advice.
It’s a hard one to explain. I don’t know that I can. But I will try.
As I have collected Tank Corps stuff over the past few years, I have really tried to adhere to a collecting “mission statement” which is, “Collect and display items that tell the story of the birth of the Tank Corps and its combat history in WWI”. Reminding myself of that mission keeps me from buying every collar disk or Tank Corps patch that I see. Before I make a purchase, I try to remember to ask myself, “Does this further the mission?” I have simplified the question to, “Does this item make me any smarter?”
So, when the group came up for sale, I asked myself, “Does this group further the mission?” Yes, it did. Then I asked, “Does it make me any smarter?” And that is where I stumbled. I already own a tunic with the same insignia and I already knew what formation the unique insignia represented. The set that was for sale only reinforced what I already knew. Furthermore, the unit represented, though a Tank Corps formation, did not receive any tanks until after the Armistice. Yes, it was a Tank Corps unit, but far from the most interesting unit!
And then, there is Christmas. I joke about how collecting is a “sickness”, but having been treated many years ago, I know that it really is one...if it controls you. Making the decision to spend money to buy a dead man’s uniform seemed just a bit off center to me when I considered what I could do for my daughter as she starts off her adult life.
So, despite my own collecting advice, I let that uniform slip away. Another collector bought it and added it to his Tank Corps collection. And late at night, I grind my teeth just a little bit. But I bet my daughter will be smiling on Christmas morning.

Preserve the record,
John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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