1. Invest in Reference Books
Collecting militaria can be a minefield (pun intended), filled with misrepresented items and down right fakes. A good reference book can cost upwards of $60-100, but it will save you money in the long run. Many reference books are self-published or printed in small runs and become collectible in their own right. Having a reference library gives you an advantage over collectors who do not buy reference books.
2. Use Discussion Groups
Online forums and discussion groups are an excellent resource for collectors, but use caution because they are often homes for self-proclaimed “experts” that spread inaccurate information. Forum moderators are typically chosen because of their expertise, so follow what the moderators are saying until you get a read on the other members.
Two excellent militaria forums I frequent are US Militaria Forum and are Wehrmacht Awards.
3. Utilize an Inspection Period
If you are dealing with someone that does not offer an inspection period and you are not 100-percent confident about the item offered… walk away! For live or traditional auctions, the inspection period is before the bidding starts, so if you are not sure about an item, do not bid because all sales are final! Many eBay sellers offer an inspection period, but they are not obligated to. Make sure you read and understand the seller’s terms before placing your bid.
Make sure you utilize the inspection period. Items, such as this WW II face mask for a rocket launcher is very fragile and stiff from sitting in its original box for 60 plus years, and is being sold as-is. If you are not 100-percent confident about the item offered… walk away.
4. Buy the Item, Not the Story
You are going to hear a lot of stories as you build your collection. The only stories that are worth paying extra for are ones with verified provenance. Items with ironclad provenance sell for double or even triple what the item alone would bring. Provenance depends on the item, but may include: original bill of sale, photographs, affidavits, newspaper articles, oral histories, service records and other government documents.
5. Build your Network
Look for Militaria shows in your area and attend them. They are an opportunity to meet other collectors and build your network. Military Trader has an excellent event calendar. In online militaria groups and forums, follow posts by members that collect things you are interested in and email them, or send them a private message introducing yourself.
6. Collect the Best
Whether you are collecting military postcards or Damascus German daggers, strive to collect the best examples. If you are contemplating the purchase of an item you intend on upgrading later, don’t waste your money. The flaws you see in the item are the same flaws a future buyer will see when you try to sell it. Items with detracting features are seldom investments because their rate of appreciation is not significant. It’s best to hold off and wait for something you cannot upgrade.
This WWII Imperial Japanese Army helmet with a 2nd pattern cover is in very good condition, and 2nd pattern covers are actually harder to find than the 1st pattern. If you are contemplating the purchase of an item you intend on upgrading later, don’t waste your money, as the flaws you see in the item are the same flaws a future buyer will see when you try to sell it.
7. Be Patient
It takes time to learn that some “collectible” items are always available, while other collectible items appear on the market in intervals of: every few months, once a year, every couple of years, or practically never. New collectors understandably lack the experience to be able to make distinctions on scarcity. Being patient will save you money in the long run because it will lessen the odds of making purchases you will regret later.
Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.
WorthPoint—Discover Your Hidden Wealth
Join WorthPoint on Twitter and Facebook.