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Chris Hughes—Seeking a Collectible’s History

by Mark Jaffe (04/26/09).

The airborne trooper’s uniform was a mystery—who was he, where did he serve? There was no name attached with the garment. The only clue was a laundry ID number. But that’s just the kind of challenge that whets Worthologist and WorthPoint product manager Chris Hughes’ interest.

The search took him to a database kept in Holland on airborne units. In the case of a commando uniform, it took him to the soldier’s widow in Omaha, Neb.

World War II war correspondent army uniform

World War II war correspondent army uniform

world-war-ii-war-correspondent-army-uniform-1

(For more information on a pictured item, click on the image.)

Tracking down those stories is for Hughes as important as obtaining the items. In fact, it is more important. “The items removed from their history just don’t interest me,” he said. “These people sacrificed, and their stories shouldn’t be scattered to the winds.”

While Hughes is an eclectic collector of Americana—from vintage electric guitars and clothing to pottery and furniture—militaria hold a special place. “Every item has a story, for a chair it maybe how it was made, why a particular wood was used,” Hughes said, “but with a piece of militaria, you have a piece of history.”

The material itself can tell tales. American gear was basic, while the German equipment was finely made. “We looked like we were going to change the oil,” Hughes said. “The Germans looked like they were going to march down Main Street. We were very utilitarian. That’s why we won.”

Hughes’ first collectible was a helmet liner he got as a birthday present. As a boy, he donned the liner and stormed the beaches of Normandy in his backyard. Since then, militaria and the stories they hold have been a continuing pursuit for Hughes. In 2000, Chris started Rally Point Militaria online, which is rich in both military collectibles and stories.

1940s U.S. Navy midshipman hat

1940s U.S. Navy midshipman hat

Sometimes, Hughes is searching for stories that even family members have never heard as in the case of getting the material in the footlocker of World War I machine gunner. The veteran’s son told Hughes his father had only spoken to him once about the war. Hughes’ research was able to fill in details, such as the man being wounded in a gas attack on Nov. 1, 1918. In turn, the family offered details about the man Hughes said he could never get from just picking up items in an auction or military show.

The stories, memorabilia and the Internet are fueling interest in militaria. “This is a growing market, an international market,” Hughes observed. “Right now, I am getting a lot of interest in Vietnam stuff from people in Poland and Japan who don’t really have any link to the war.” Speculation isn’t a good reason to get into the market, Hughes cautioned, but he noted, “Militaria outperforms the S&P index. There are some pieces that appreciate 15 percent a year.”

Vietnam War MK2 Conetta bayonet fighting knife

Vietnam War MK2 Conetta bayonet fighting knife

Korean/Vietnam wars M7 bayonet for M16 rifle

Korean/Vietnam wars M7 bayonet for M16 rifle

As compelling as the militaria market is, Hughes said, every collectible group has its stories and challenges. “The vintage guitar has everything to do with rock ’n’ roll,” Hughes said. “It says little about innovation because most musicians would agree that older is better for tone and feel.” When it comes to vintage clothes, he said, it “has to do with nostalgia and earlier romanticized times . . . vintage jeans are cooler than new jeans.”

1960s wool cape

1960s wool cape

Vintage lace dress

Vintage lace dress

Hughes, who is known to friends as “the Treasure Hunter,” is constantly on the lookout for it all and for the stories that come with each collectible. “In a way, it is like a jigsaw puzzle,” Hughes said. “At home, I’ve got a lot of jigsaw puzzles, and I hope I can put in more pieces.”

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3 Responses to “Chris Hughes—Seeking a Collectible’s History”

  1. jack says:

    We have one of those WWII Uniforms in our garage. It is a Canadian Uniform worn by an American who enlisted to fight Germany. George Knowles Sr.thought the American politics of the time was alarmingly wrong not to get into the fight so He enlisted in Canada’s Armed Forces. He never received any pension or post service benefits from either country since he was serving outside his domain of origin.
    We would gladly send you this uniform for the cost of the ship just to have our garage space available. George Senior went on to achieve 17 patents for Coors. One of which is the Aluminim pop-top beer can. Quite a man-!

    • Chris Hughes Chris Hughes says:

      Jack,

      That is greatly appreciated. I will email you for details. This uniform sounds like it would be great fun to research and author an article on!

      —Chris

      • casey millard says:

        hey chris a have a WWII trunk from 1943 and a CCC Trunk from the Roosevelt new deal era. I was wondering if i could send you some pics or info to inquire if they are collectible or worth anything. thanks!

        casey millard

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