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Tax Time Lessons

Who would have guessed that doing taxes would lead to thoughts about collecting habits? I am fortunate enough to have a daughter with a talent for record keeping. Through the year, I send her all of my receipts that she then organizes and categorizes for my tax preparer. She also keeps track of all of my eBay purchases and Paypal payments.

When she sent my records to me last night, it opened my eyes to my buying and collecting practices. I was a bit surprised to realize I spent a little more than 17% of last year’s income on my hobby. More surprising, however, was where I spent (and didn’t spend) that money:

A little more than 47% was spent with three dealers from whom I made all my purchases on-line (although I did use one dealer’s printed catalog to plan purchases when his online store opened). I know all three dealers personally and am happy to purchase from them because they stand behind their products and are very good about accepting returns. Just 2% was spent with an online dealer who I did not know personally.

In 2009, I attended six militaria shows and historic military vehicle rallies.
Purchase at shows accounted for only 11% of the total expenditures.
EBay purchases accounted for about 18% of the money that went out for collecting. Purchases from other online auctions or auction houses totaled just 2%.

Not surprising to me, but it would be to someone who knew me in the 1980s and 1990s: I spent exactly 0% at antique shops or shows, flea markets, garage sales or the like.

And finally, a full 20% of my 2009 purchases were research books, most of which were bought online, but a few carried home from shows.

So what did I learn from the data of my own collecting practices? The amount spent with established dealers did not surprise me. I have learned to buy from quality dealers, even if it means paying more. But, it is a reflection of where I am at in my collecting development too.

I used to be a “gatherer”, driving from shop to shop, and thrift store to flea market, all in the search of “anything military.” If I found it and I thought it was undervalued, I bought it. About 10 years ago, I abandoned that method of “collecting” (or, perhaps more accurately described as “accumulating), and began to focus my efforts towards thematic collecting. “Quality” became much more important to me than “quantity”. Today, it is a waste of my time to go to antique shop in the hope of finding something for my AEF Tank Corps collection. My collecting search is better spent networking with people who I know are likely to encounter and sell me quality pieces that fill defined gaps in my collection. Shows are good place to meet people and expand this network. Also, the chances of randomly discovering something for my collection are much higher at a militaria show or MV rally than it is hitting random antique malls.

The percentage of eBay purchases sorta surprised me…I like to think I don’t buy a lot on ebay, but the numbers don’t lie! My bidding practices have changed, though. In the late 1990s, I used to bid on things I thought were “sleepers”. It was the online version of “accumulating”. In the last few years, I search for items that fit my collecting theme and simply bid “high and heavy.” As a result, most of my ebay purchases are in the $250+ category and are for items I am proud to add to my collection.

I don’t have any insightful explanation for the lack of purchases from other auction sites or houses. I just don’t do that much auction bidding, probably because I don’t care for paying a commission for the privilege to purchase. A 17% or 20% commission on a $1,000 purchase adds up too quickly in my mind to even bother. However, I will admit that I have learned that I have missed some significant items that were sold through various auction houses that makes me reconsider this avenue for 2010.

And finally (pardon me while I crawl up on my high horse), the book purchases: I have preached from atop this equine before about the absolute necessity of study and research to become an astute collector.
There are so many good books available that provide a collector with a straight path toward assembling a meaningful collection. We are fortunate to have so many authors producing these works. I can’t imagine pursuing this hobby without all of the references I consult on a daily basis. When I consider the people who have had the best influence on my collecting path, I realize each of them advised me to always spend a certain percentage on new research material.

I wonder about the buying habits of collectors today. The economy, the Internet and even supply and demand has changed so much over the last thirty years. I would like to hear from you about how you spend your collecting dollars. Drop me a line and let me know the different avenues of purchase you take and what percentage you spend on each. I will try to compile the data to share with our readers.

I probably won’t be spending as much in 2010. Like everyone else, I am concerned about the economic future. However, armed with good research, good sources of trustworthy material and a focused collecting plan, I can hope when I do make purchases, they will be for a quality, original pieces I will be proud to showcase.

Keep finding the good stuff,
John A-G
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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