Militaria: The investment you never thought of …
Most savvy investors are aware that “collectibles” have always been a good hedge against inflation and have proven to be a good investment when it comes to capital gain. When they think of collectibles, the usual antiques, stamps, coins, art, etc., easily come to mind. However, very few think of “militaria”.
What is militaria? It’s not even in my Webster, so I’ll define it myself. Basically, it is any type of military or paramilitary collector’s item. This can range from weapons, uniforms, medals, badges, badges, campaign equipment, etc. If it is of military origin and people collect it, it is militaria.
There is someone who collects everything you can think of. If you looked for enough I’m sure you would find someone who collects and wants to buy Argentine Army Combat Boots. I don’t think it would be a very good investment though …
The most popular regions or countries for collectors are the United States, Great Britain, France, Japan, and Germany. While one can find collectors interested in all countries and periods, perhaps the most popular period is WWII. Because this article is about investing, I’m going to focus on the area that has proven to be the best long-term investment. Fortunately, this is the region that I have collected for over 35 years … Third Reich Germany.
Even before the firing stopped in Europe, the GI’s were in the process of “releasing” memories of German prisoners and off the battlefield. Soon after, a flourishing trade developed between the soldiers as they traded items, not really knowing what they had or what they were doing, and basing their dealings on the purely personal attraction of ‘an article. For a few years after the war, these memorabilia were sought after by a few “die-hard” collectors. They appreciated the historical significance and artistic qualities of the relics. Yes, the full dress uniform of a “Nazi” officer can be beautiful!
It was in the 1960s that the hobby really “took off”. What contributed the most to its growing popularity was that it was around this time that background material began to become available. Before that, collectors had very little information. Reference books meant that a room could be identified exactly what it was. The “old German jacket” was now a Panzer captain’s parade tunic “and the” swastika pin “was now a gold NSDAP membership pin.
Now that collectors had an idea of what they really got, they could start putting realistic values on their items. No one would trade a 2nd Class Iron Cross (millions made) for a rare Army General’s dagger anymore. The hobby was getting organized.
In the 1960s there were a number of “dealers” who bought and sold the German militaria part time or, in some cases, full time. Interest was growing as more and more people (mostly men) realized how fascinating this hobby was. As interest increased, demand increased, and as demand increased, prices increased. There was a steady increase in prices for the next 30 years.
A full history of the hobby is beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll skip ahead. We are now in 2007 and the prices charged for the German militaria have exploded! I would estimate that over the past 5 years, the value of most German military personnel has increased by 500%, and in some cases even more. Still, collectors can’t get enough of it and prices keep rising higher and higher with no end in sight. Some areas of the hobby have always been more popular than others. Among these are the daggers, of which there are more varieties and variations than you can imagine, and the SS. I know; evil SS! Let’s face it, bad guys are always more interesting than good guys. After all, which one would you rather own, the outfit worn by Luke Skywalker or the one worn by Darth Vader?
So what does this mean for you as a potential investor? It could mean big profits in the long run. A rare medal, dagger or uniform purchased today for $ 5,000 could be worth $ 25,000 in a few years. It is, or of course, if things continue as they are. Unlike the stock market, the German militaria “never” drops in value. I base this on many years in the hobby and personal experience. At worst, the increase will slow down for a while, but prices still keep rising.
I’m not suggesting you go buy “Nazi stuff” at the local flea market. On the contrary, caution is required in this area, as in any investment. There are a few pitfalls for the “beginner” in our hobby.
Unfortunately, as the values of collectibles have increased, so has the number and quality of counterfeit or reproduction items. Spending a lot of money on one of them as an investment could turn out to be disastrous. Be careful! Here are some suggestions for an investor with limited knowledge of our hobby.
1. Buy quality. Do not buy parts in poor condition. And don’t buy shoddy parts. Better to buy a really good item than a bunch of junk.
2. Make your purchase through a reputable dealer. It will take some homework on your part, but it will pay off in the long run. The Internet is full of dealers, some good and some not so good. Check them before processing them. Another place to find dealers is “militaria shows” and gun shows. There are also several auctions on the Internet. Again, be careful who you are dealing with.
3. You may want to ask an experienced collector to act as an advisor. Make sure it’s someone who has no financial interest in your eventual purchase.
4. Be prepared to hold on to your investment for a while. Don’t expect to buy it one day and sell it the next day at a profit.
I cannot guarantee that you will kill by investing in the militaria of the Third Reich … no one can. However, if you buy quality parts at a reasonable price and keep them for a while, you should do very well!
This article was written to familiarize potential investors and collectors with the hobby of German military collecting. The author does not believe in or support the ideals represented by these collectibles.