This month I would like to showcase one of my recent collection acquisitions and discuss one of the big problems with collecting military items. First, I was able to buy a large WWI Austro-Hungarian postcard collection that has many beautiful pieces. The color postcards of Austrian Generals created a highly romanticized version of the war that was much different than the sad reality faced by the lowly Austrian Soldier.
Unfortunately, even WWI enthusiasts know very little about the Austrian Empire experiences in the Great War. A recent book “Mad Catastrophe The Outbreak of WWI and the Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire” by Geoffery Wawro gives a very good account of the struggles faced by the Austrian government. Austria had not fought a war since 1866 and was totally unprepared for the challenges facing their Army and the Austrian State. Emperor Franz Joseph I had been on the throne since 1848 and his named successor Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo in July 1914. The Hungarians demanded autonomy and Franz Joseph granted their demands and opened the door for further demands made by the Empire’s other ethnic minorities. The Army leadership was predominately German and the large mass of conscripted Soldiers spoke 10 different languages.
With other problems too numerous to mention in the scope of this article the Austrians destroyed their Army in the first 18 months of the war. The attempt to conquer Serbia while simultaneously fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front killed off the majority of their trained leadership and created shortages that could not be made up. In 1915 the Italians declared war on the Central Powers and opened a new front for the Austrians to defend. For the remainder of the war the Austrians were wards of the German state and were dependent on Germany to provide the manpower needed for offensive operations on the Eastern Front.
One might ask how this story relates to the major problem of collecting of militaria? Sadly, there are few collectors interested in collecting things that are readily available now at very low prices. There are many collectors for WWI German, Russian, French, British and US items and this interest drives the prices of these items up. While simultaneously making it more difficult for young people with moderate means to start and build their collections.
While there are very few postcard collectors and a large number of interesting postcards looking for new homes. Postcard collecting was a popular hobby in many countries but has fallen off dramatically in recent years. The idea of sending postcards and sharing the images with friends and family does not merit an afterthought in today’s world of e-mail and digital cameras. This creates an opportunity to build interesting collections for very little money.