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Collecting more but enjoying it less?

Brian Wolfe



Collecting More but Enjoying It Less?

Up before dawn and after a stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shop back on the road for an hour’s drive. Arriving at the “Tim’s” located in the town or city of your destination, after all, Canadian’s plan their trips in accordance to the location of a handy Tim’s. Fresh coffee in hand you pull into the show’s parking lot and at this early hour there is almost an unlimited choice of parking spaces. Dawn has broke and you find yourself in line, hot coffee in hand to help fight off the cold chill of the morning, awaiting the minutes before the doors will be flung open allowing the flood of eager collectors and hunters to stream in.

Yes, it’s Gun Show Day down Canada way!

An auditorium filled to capacity with dealers and enthusiasts alike. There are guns, swords, knives, medals and sundry equipment in abundance. People talking to people of like interest and you are able to actually pick up an item, unlike the on-line auction houses wares you may have “won”. With a bit of luck and a fair bit of haggling you may be heading home in a few hours with a new treasure to add to your, collection room, war room, Rambo room or study, whatever you call your Sanctum sanctorum.

Gun, militaria and medal shows are tactile and social events filled with sights (no pun intended) and sounds ranging from laughter to argument. Deals made, information and goods exchanged. They are the market places of old where customer met wares, the trading centres so important to the development of our countries and our way of life.

For the past decade I have more or less turned my back on shows opting instead for the ease and convenience of the internet based auction houses such as the famous or infamous eBay. There are others though this is the one I have carried out business with. It hit me a few days ago that while I was collecting a lot more I may, in fact, be enjoying it a lot less.

My mind got to wandering, which it is prone to do now that I am older, of the days when I would go fishing with my childhood buddies. On the lake in our canoes before dawn, listening to the loon song wavering over the still water. A chill in the air and the water feeling like warm tea to the touch; the joking about one of the crew having once stepped in a soft spot in the muskeg and plunging through to the putrid water below, up to his waste, while on portage. Some days the fish would bite and some days it was the mosquitoes, such is the angler’s world and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Then the years passed by, we all got busy with families and careers, some with wives and girl friends, etc. Some got side tracked with divorces when wives met girlfriends. It’s all in the timing you know. Now almost all of my boyhood friends are no longer with us, residing in a much hotter place down below us. In Florida! What were you thinking? Now I go to the supermarket and if I want fish to I pick from a vast array of different fish, both fresh and frozen. I never fail to reach my “quota” and I never provide a snack for those vampires of the insect world. I also don’t talk about the experience as it has become mundane. There is no bragging rights or accusations of exaggerating the length of a fish taken two years hence; and no defending that exaggeration - as we all know it was indeed much shorter than now claimed.

Eventually my mind did return to the topic at hand and I wondered if what has happened to my pursuit of that monster bass, pickerel (walleye), pike or lake trout has happened to my collecting. You don’t have to believe this but about four months ago I swore off eBay and any other on-line auction and started once again to attend miltaria and gun shows. To my amazement the thrill of the “hunt” has returned. The crowd has changed somewhat. The majority are a lot younger and the “old boys” with their gruff exteriors and ample girths have been replaced by...(now this is depressing)...me. The last show turned up a nice little flintlock pistol and I have reacquainted with some of the dealers who are still attending. There is a trade pending involving a Brown Bess and my surplus collectables which would never have happened on eBay.

This may not be the way to go for all collectors, especially the younger collector, trying to build a collection and especially if on a shoestring budget. I’m not bragging but I’ve built a good base collection and I no longer feel the need to add great qualities to the collection. So I am content to pay a bit more and collect fewer items of a bit higher quality. Many of these items are not available on the internet auctions and it is always best if you can handle collectables that are more expensive and rarer.

So for me, I am now collecting less and enjoying it more, a lot more.




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Lovely little article!
This takes me back to when I started collecting, just turning up at a show (or arms fair as they were known in the UK) and seeing what turned up. Now I'm collecting obscurities often ebay is the only place I'll find them, but definately feel inspired to go back to a show or two now, maybe take the eldest son too and see wqhat we find!

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Nice entry Brian!
Many thanks :cheers:

But don't you know that collecting is simply a mental disorder?
Looks like you are now heading toward recovery :lol:


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I agree... for the socialising... but (there has to be one)... as a document collector... thank god for ebay!! You would not believe how many tables I hit at shows in Germany where I ask "Do you have any WW1 Docs?"... and the seller says.."No, I didnt bring them" ...!!!!

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Thanks for your comments everyone.
After writing the article I purchased a couple of bayonets off eBay, as Nick (JapanX) says, it's a sickness.

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The hobby has changed a lot too. Thirty years ago in Toronto I had a choice of militaria shops (Wellington House, Ed Denby, Academy, etc.). All gone now (Richard moved to Oakville, same as me, but works from home). I used to get to the CSMMI show almost every month. Ever since I joined my church choir that's a rare event.

On the plus side though, research is easier than ever, and one has the luxury of researching before buying. Three hours after spotting a pair to an R.G.A. casualty I knew his family story.

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Wonderful writing style and a pleasure to read! As a well-seasoned collector (read:old), I have seen the good 'ole days and the era of the Internet. I have boxes and boxes of correspondence and photos, traded with collectors here and abroad over the past forty years. When I think about hand writing, then typing on a typewriter and then a word processor, all of those many letters, it amazes me how slow the pace of collecting was then compared to today. Deals could take months to make, as letters snaked back and forth from hither and yon. Today, it's a few clicks here and there and voila......you have e-mail or you have won a prize in an on-line auction.

As you say, much of the fun has gone, not only with the seeming scarcity of quality items, but with prices that often leave the same few buyers dominating the auction scene. Armed with the knowledge that took decades for the collectors of yesterday to acquire, relatively new collectors are much better equipped to compete and in record time. The digital and information age has put the accumulated knowledge of the past right in our hands with collector reference books and websites covering every subject imaginable and in the most minute detail. And while all this is great, there is still nothing that can match the anticipation of standing in that line, waiting to hit the floor, see old friends, talk shop and find some small gem for your collection. Although the internet has widened our reach and opened a new realm of possibilities, sitting at home in front of a computer screen will never replace the face to face relationships that make our hobby so fulfilling.


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Lovely article and well written - just wonder how many of us are now 'old hands' in the eyes of the younger element that is now collecting? I was twelve years old when I started and am now in my 58th year and what changes I have seen, sadly not for the better, with the abundance of repro militaria on the UK market and relevant auction sites.

Having been working abroad for almost five years now I haven't been able to attend fairs and rely a lot on the internet auction house of which you speak. Hopefully once my stint is done out here(22 months to go) I'll be back doing those fairs which gave me so much pleasure. Sadly there won't be as many old faces as there once was, as many have sadly gone the journey.

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