Collector’s Mantra: “Buy the Item, Not the Story”

To the informed and educated collector, buying militaria is like traversing a minefield, poking and prodding the ground, seeking to avoid the triggers and tripwires prior to each step. New collectors however plow through the field that is laden with Bouncing Betties without a care in the world and without realizing that they have suffered devastating wounds.

Online selling has opened the floodgates for collectors to more easily locate hard to find (dare I say rare?) items. Included in the vast array of internet listings are sellers seeking to pad their revenue by creating a fantastic story to accompany the item or group.

Other sellers are less nefarious as they attempt to properly list grandpa’s uniform items in hopes that it will be seen by the right buyer as something extraordinary. They think that they know enough of the story of their beloved veteran and fill their auction description with glowing accounts of heroism and touches of greatness for an otherwise ordinary marine, airman, soldier or sailor (I am not disparaging those veterans who, like the majority of our servicemen and women, served bravely regardless of their assignment, unit or theater of service). If there is no accompanying documentation (military records, photos of the item in context) to provide provenance, the story is nice but adds no value to the item.


While this listing has issues (it isn’t a Naval Aviator Uniform as described), it is difficult to determine the seller’s intent.

In some listings (as with the above actual listing), the seller may be trying to pull the wool over the unsuspecting buyers with an inaccurate description which includes a subtle caveat stating that he/she isn’t certain if they have been accurate with the way they have presented the item. This could lead buyers to think, “Aha! I’ve found an item that is worth a lot but I am getting it at a bargain price because this seller doesn’t know what he has!” When in reality the seller does know what they have, but they are merely trolling for a vulnerable customer.

In either of these scenarios, the unsuspecting buyer could wind up severely overpaying for an item that is rather common or mundane. While there is no rock-solid way for militaria buyers to protect themselves from overpaying for an item, educating oneself prior to making a purchase can certainly limit the risk.

Prospective buyers maybe asking themselves, “okay, how do I go about educating myself about militaria?” Fortunately for new (all) collectors, there are several online forums whose membership contains passionate individuals with countless years of experience as well as access to hard-to-find publications who can provide almost instantaneous feedback as to the identity and veracity of an item. Many will offer their knowledge and wisdom to nurture interest and assist in making intelligent purchases.

Some helpful collecting forums:

There are many expert communities with websites dedicated to specific types of items such as:

A great place to begin your education is at your local library. There are several militaria-based books already in print that can guide you. Consider also reference materials such as era-specific uniform regulations (each U.S. military branch has produced them since the late 19th century) as they have invaluable details on what officers or enlisted personnel wore (or could wear) on their uniforms.

One simple rule to follow is that if it appears too good to be true, it probably is. In the militaria collecting world this is all summed up with one simple phrase, “Buy the Item, not the Story.”


Posted on January 16, 2016, in General Militaria Collecting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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