The Movie That Changed Militaria

Original D-Day Ranger Assault Vest as used by Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan

“Pre – SPR” is a term commonly read on web boards, or heard from the mouths of militaria collectors at shows. It signifies a romanticized time period prior to the 1998 release of the movie Saving Private Ryan (or SPR). This Spielberg masterpiece revived so much interest in WWII and military history that overnight, countless new collectors were born. Soon all the affordable WWII militaria dried up to be replaced with skyrocketing prices.

Many assumed that SPR had only spiked the market like other good military movies have in the past. The dust would settle and the hoards of new collectors would eventually move on to new fixations. However, July 24, 2008 marks the 10-year anniversary for the release of SPR and prices haven’t dropped. They continue to rise. A common US M1 fixed-bale helmet with high-pressure liner went from being a $40.00 item in 1998 to a current value of $275.00 or more in today’s market. Rare and elite items have appreciated even more aggressively.

Fake German and Civil War militaria has existed for a long time, but after SPR, fake US WWII militaria began to flood the market at an increasing rate, especially for elite units.

SPR cannot take 100% of the credit. The 2001 HBO series Band of Brothers has been a contributing factor in recruiting masses of new collectors and single handedly making 101st Airborne memorabilia a white collar collectable.

Many speculated that Clint Eastwood’s 2006 releases Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima would create insane demand for USMC and Japanese militaria. Their value has increased, but Eastwood’s films haven’t touched the impact SPR has had on militaria collecting.

I can reminisce about Pre-SPR just like the next guy, but I also see the value in a growing collecting community. With this new breed of collectors came more websites, web boards, discussion groups, and better networking. Worse things can happen to a hobby than increasing prices and fakes. I know of too many other hobbies that are dying off due to lack of young blood or interest. Who will these people sell their collections to over the next several years? This is something militaria collectors won’t have to worry about for a long time.

Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria and Vietnam Uniform – Military Collectibles sites.