Friday, February 19, 2010

Repro Madness

I am convinced that everything that was ever made, or ever will be made, will get reproduced. Such is life.



I try and stay on top of these, as if I don't, I could get taken by a sharp dealer. Case in point- shu-mine boxes. I just noticed IMA is making them. They are simple to make, and there's probably no real way to tell them apart. I've owned about 3 of them over the years - Stupidly traded off all but one.


I am sure they will start turning up on ebay soon with the right fuse. While at IMA I also saw they are making copies of the somewhat rare WW1 era US Cavalry bandoleer. Thankfully, that copy is decent enough for a reenactor, but I don't think would fool anyone with any experience. Not that it will keep someone from aging and finding one 'at a barn sale.' And now an even better copy is being made by WPG. 103635000


I will keep saying to my dying day that the only responsible thing is to mark stuff as reproduction in a reasonable way (inside pocket, etc.) but it'll never happen. Things I buy as a reproduction I mark myself. Which means in the future that when my estate gets sold off it will be worth more. On one hand because I am a famous author and historian (I have had people actually say they want to buy an item that was used in one of my books), and on the other hand because my reputation will help reassure people they are getting real stuff.


This has nothing to do with greed on my part, but a sense of pride in my collection.

And after all, a true collector takes pride in his work!

Are Dealers Necessary?

It was pointed out to me that I seemed to have come down hard on dealers. Not so. I have come down hard on crappy greedy dealers. The ones that lie, cheat and steal as the only thing they collect is money, with no care for what they sell (or respect for whom they sell to).

Of course, one might ask- are dealers necessary? Yeah, probably. Before the internet certainly. Now it might be possible to do only collector to collector exchanges (such as on ebay), but good dealers do play an important role. Not only do they work as a sort of collectibles bank (storing items until a buyer can be found) but most importantly they can be vast repositories of information. Assuming of course they do not sway their info to make a sale. Which, sadly, far too many do when their next meal depends upon making a sale.

In some ways the cost you pay to a dealer actually includes the value of his experience: identification, checking authenticity, and just in general having spent many years learning about the stuff.

I'd make a terrible dealer. I've tried. I hate to sell anything. Even just to trade it off. No matter what it is, I always end up missing it.

Big Important Collector Rule Number 3

They will always say "buy the best quality you can." Well, yeah. It's true.

And I will explain. A lot of new collectors are more concerned with quantity than quality. They prefer to buy a lot of stuff, rather than one nice thing. This means they tend to but a lot of cheaper items (which means more common) than an expensive one.

I am guilty of this. In my misspent youth when I had started seriously collecting militaria I had a bad tendency to go to shows and try and come home with no money. I normally did this quite well. I liked having 'one of each' and would often buy a few $5, different, but common items. This means my collection expanded fast, but it was probably a mistake on my part.

I spent money on such common things as canteen and pistol belts. There was very little written about such 'junk' at the time so I essentially collected by seeing what looked different. In some cases (and not many) I lucked out and ended up picking up a rare variant not knowing what I was doing. In most cases I bought decent average examples of things, which have gone up slightly to moderately in value.

Some very common items, such as WW1 canteens which are pretty hard to destroy) turn up so often in flea markets and such that I think by now I have about 8 of them sitting in a box. I probably paid the going rate for the first one, and now a days due to the large number of them the going rate is not much more.

But in my quest for one of everything, I bought a lot of 'filler' quality. Jacket with a hole, or a repair, or something. Webbing with a small tear and a bit dirty. Helmet that was somewhat dinged up. Good honest wear, but not top quality. The value of these has not gone up all that much, and there is plenty of average quality still on the market.

Because I was too concerned with how many items I could buy, I passed over a great many really good quality things that are now very scarce or rare. So I now find that I can go out and easily buy the poor to average quality stuff with no real problem for not much more money, but the rare stuff, the unique stuff, the mint condition stuff- well that is not always easily found, and that equals higher value and price.

So Big Important collector rule # 3 is that once you figure the focus of your collection, don't buy poor quality unless it is dirt cheap, and try and only by the very top quality. If you collect Elvis plates this means don't buy the 5 chipped ones for $50, save the $50 for one in good condition. Pass on the 3 very common Elvis plates to save the money to get the rare older plate. Thos common ones will always be available. Dabbling collectors who buy those will always be getting out of the hobby and selling them off- sometimes for far less than they are worth.

And yes, I regret many of my purchases, and kick myself for passing up some amazing stuff. But it has all somehow entered my collector's data bank and made me what I am today. I just wish someone had told me when I was young.

Oh wait, I think they did. They just did not explain it very well. I just thought they were being snobby.

Big Important Collector Rule #2

Everyone will tell you this. Everyone ends up ignoring it.

The Big rule #2 is to do your homework before you start buying. This is generally refined down to "buy the book before you buy the item." Meaning, read some books on the subject before you start picking things up.

If you don't you WILL end up buying stuff that is junk, or overpriced, or fake. Then you'll eventually find out about it and become bummed. IN some cases you will then feel so crappy you will lose the joy of collecting. This has become a major problem in collecting German WW2 items, because 98% of everything sold in this field is fake. Or maybe 99.5%.

Some of it is so good that unless you've been handling it for years, and have stayed up to date on what is going on in the field you just can't tell. And of course there are dome really evil, shitty, hell bound people that write books on the subject that knowingly show a fake as real- so as to enable them to sell junk. A friend of mine was once threatened with physical violence for writing articles on how to spot the fakes. Another was threatened with an advertiser boycott of a publication because the magazine printed such articles. I'm told that certain major dealers in Britain that drive really fancy cars have hired goons to deal with this issue.

More beginning collectors have started out by buying a few items, generally not that cheap, and when they find they have been screwed, they stop collecting. I used to predict this would really hurt the market as a lot of people who might have stayed in the hobby would leave, and thus remove a lot of customers, but there is a sucker born every minute- and two when it comes buying Nazi stuff.

Mea Culpa. I've been there. You see something you did not know you could actually get, and your eyes become too big for your brain, and you plunk down good money assuming this is a bargain, or it is a once in a lifetime chance, or that you cannot wait one more minute to start in on this new hobby. I'm pretty good at avoiding this, but to my shame I will tell you the last time I was took.

I discovered you could buy inexpensive roan coins that you got to clean, and figure out where they came from and what time period. No problem there. I read enough before spending money on some. I got my money's worth and had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I still dabble in ancient coins when I need a diversion. But I was suckered by a similar area.

I spotted on ebay a guy selling roman coins that also had some roman artifacts from an "ancient battlefield." Now being really interested in the Roman Army I HAD to get some before this great opportunity went away. The dealer was a bit cagey in his answers, but I fell for it. I sent (not a large sum of money, but probably a good 3-4 times what they were actually worth. As I learned more I found that the same kind of old metal junk is found all over the place in Europe, and I probably could have bought a whole bag of odd bits that were similar for a lot less. I fell for his description of them coming from a field where Roman battles Germanic tribesmen. Great story- but almost certainly made up as it sounded cooler than "old metal bits that look Roman in time period that come from the leftover detector finds that no one wanted." I still have them I a case to remind me not to jump on something before doing my homework.

So, two days ago I stumbled on something that I thought would be kind of fun, but I did not buy. I read. I read all the ebay listings., I searched the web for collector's groups, I read the 'how to' web pages kind people had put up. I learned a lot. In the end I went into it with eyes wide open and buying material from a reputable source instead of a "get rich quick" ebay junkseller. I'd say what it is but it is part of a cunning plan for a gift for someone that I do not want to tip off.

And the
Corollary to this rule is "do not trust dealers." If someone is making money by selling you something, they are tainted. Now, many dealers are honest, but many are not. They will sing you a song about how this button was only worn by the special guards at Abraham Lincoln's funeral, or that this doll arm is the hardest part to find on a 10" Shirley Temple. Anything to make the sale.

Just say no, until you have really looked at the hobby and fell you have a handle on it. Ebay makes this so much easier. Case in point. There are 10 million unissued WW2 era US rifle grenade sight kits out there. There is no proof at all they were ever even used in the war. Everyone has them for sale, and every collector probably bought one early in his collecting days as he figured it was a cool item, but they are pretty much worthless (OK, so maybe $5). Now in the old days if you went to a gun show and saw one for $30 you might think it was hard to get and snap it up. Today, a simple search on ebay will show 10-20 listed at any one time. Some for very low prices, some for very high.

Love or hate ebay- it can give you an instant snapshot of a collector's field from the comfort of your own home. Don't trust all the wacky stories tell you (found in the attic of Abe Lincoln's tailor's grandson), but use it to get a quick idea of what it out there. If there are more than 10 of something on ebay at one time, it's probably not all that rare.

Big Important Collector Rule #1


I guess I have to start addressing all the BIG and IMPORTANT collector rules that we all know, but somehow keep breaking and end up regretting it.


Rule #1 Collect what brings you joy.


Sounds dumb right? Wrong. Too many people collect stuff they do not really care about as an item, but only see dollar signs and profit in it. They are not collectors- they are dealers (and generally greedy ones as well).


If you get a tingle in your toes when you see a Speed Racer lunchbox, that's cool. If you read a story about how you can make big money in matchbook covers and start grabbing them up, that's not cool. The reason? Collect as if the resale market for your stuff was to become non-existent. Then if you are stuck with a room full of worthless Pee Wee Herman memorabilia they will still be of value to you. (or you can give them to me cause I love him).


Digression- stupid collector thing. I found a large talking Pee Wee Herman doll at a yard sale. It was cheap because the voice box was messed up and it spoke way too fast and high pitched. I snagged it, found a long wig, put it on the doll, and made an instant Cousin It doll! I am happy, and people are amazed at it.


Ok, back to the rule. A lot of people collected Beanie babies. Most thought they would be come rich on them. Most ended up with a room full of dumb worthless little stuffed animals they ended up giving away to kids. They wasted their time and money, when they could have been collecting John Wayne commemorative plates and actually LIKED them.


So collect stuff you like! People that aquire things for resale are not collectors. They are dealers. If these dealers really don't care much for the items, then they are dealer scum. The ones that don't care if they screw over a new collector, or fake something for additional profit.


However, if you buy a Shirley Temple doll for love, then find a better one and want to resell the older one to another collector so get some money to put into more collectible stuff, that's fine. You care about the items. You want to see them go to good homes, preferably with another collector.


When they die, a true collector wants his (or her) collection to either:

A. Go to a museum.

B. Be sold off to new younger collectors with love of the stuff.

C. Take it with them.


As for me? I prefer C !