As this is the last blog for 2022 it is fitting that I speak of events and trends experienced during the year. Impediments that I see of a business of this kind can be broken down into three categories.
– Lack of Knowledge
– Lack of Capital
– Lack of opportunity to find items worthy of investment
Of these three the greatest challenge for me has been the lack of finding quality, collectible items to invest in.
Knowledge of military items continues to expand with the proliferation of the Internet. More and more I see the buyers for these items as other dealers all wanting to make a quick buck without investing in a store, in advertising and in a website. Few are collectors that are buying items because of the history that item represents.
This hobby was started by our fathers and grandfathers who brought back the souvenirs we now cherish. 95% of the things that they brought back have been discovered and are in collections all over the world. This leaves everyone scrambling for that remaining 5%.
I started this business 10 years ago. At the time I believed that the price of these collectibles were going to go down. The major reason I believed this was the imbalance between generations of collectors. The older collectors those in their 60’s – 80’s were sitting on large collections. There was little interest and less capital in the young collectors in their 20’s – 30’s. I reasoned that this created a classic imbalance that would be solved by a dramatic drop in the prices. This has not occurred, and I have been forced to reconsider this belief.
Why hasn’t this occurred?
1. The Ascent of International Buyers
This is now a worldwide hobby. There are collectors in countries that did not exist 20 years ago. Wealth has expanded to countries that can now afford to indulge in what once was a western middle-class hobby. While attending the Show of Shows in Louisville, KY. last February I witnessed two Russians in the hotel lobby cramming their suitcases full of German blades and then laboring to carry their bags to an awaiting cab. What was so ironic was this was the exact day that Russia started their Ukraine invasion.
2. The Impact of the Internet
The Internet has changed the hobby and will continue to have major impacts on how military collecting is conducted. The first change is that there are many more “experts” who acquired their knowledge primarily through internet forums. It has also changed business models. People can shop 24/7 on their phones. They can even shop while they are in a military store or show. I know one individual who will come to my table at a show and take pictures of my items. He will then send those pictures to his customers trying to sell items he does not even own. Once they agree to buy an item he will then go and purchase that item. One sees how he is avoiding risk that some item may be a copy while also not needing large amounts of capital to invest in inventory. I am certain that there are more ways the internet continues to act as an instrument of change and a disrupter of the status quo.
3. Military Collectors using Large Auction Houses to Sell Collections
The proliferation of large Auction houses and their successful seduction of collectors to consign their collections in return for obscene prices. Each edition of the “Military Trader” is full of auction houses seeking collections while advertising unbelievable prices on items they have recently sold. The truth is once you consign an item it becomes the property of that auction house to dispose of how they best see fit. One is totally dependent on their honesty. Are they really acting in your best interests or in the interests of their other stakeholders? Are they selling your helmet or someone’s else’s? Selling your collection through an auction house is the final solution and you never know what outcome you are going to get until it is all over.
Writing this I find myself depressed by the state of the hobby and my hope for its future. Let’s hope that 2023 brings many changes!