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    Why Collect? - The Best Answer.

    Brian Wolfe


    You might not have much of a life if you are working on compiling material for a book titled, My Most Memorable Games of Solitaire, or writing a blog titled.


    Why Collect? – The Best Answer


    In my ongoing quest to ascertain why things are they way they are and why people do what they do, I offer the following blog.


    A question often asked on forums and by people we meet who are aware that we collect is “why do you collect”.  For the sake of this discussion I will stay within military collecting but the answer to that question is generic to all forms of collecting; Beanie Babies to bayonets.


    The classic answers to this question are quite varied and I have no doubt that some are actually truthful, or at least believed so by the orator. I should digress for a moment, which I am wont to do with more frequency than my readers would prefer. There is a tendency among us sceptics to treat many answers to this common and more or less personal question with a strong dose of cautious doubt.  The Internet makes it very easy for those who may not be on speaking terms with the truth to say just about anything.  There is no chance to apply lessons learned in the field such as changes in facial features or body posture to ascertain probable truthfulness or attempts at deceit.  As an example, many years ago I was assisting a Sergeant in an investigation and we were interviewing a street person who had been known as a storehouse of useful information.  This was a chance encounter and, in retrospect, interviewing her on the street was very poor procedure, the repercussions of this lapse of protocol is a subject for a story another day.  The young lady was known by the name of “Cigarette Mary”; and she had intimate knowledge of many of the local characters. After we had written down her information the Sergeant said, “That was a very interesting story, Mary; now tell me something I can believe”. Interestingly enough she did just that which eventually led to several arrests. I will admit that I was a bit naive and didn’t pick up on Mary’s body language; however the experienced officer “had her number” as soon as she began speaking.  This would have been impossible through emails and holds true not only for deceit but in cases where the truth is being related.  I tell you this as many of the reasons given for collecting may sound a bit contrived yet can still be one hundred percent genuine. To paraphrase Mr. Ed Haynes, “Anything is possible and can happen; and probably has; twice in India”. People also tend to tell you what they think you want to hear. A collector’s spouse says, out of frustration, “You really think you need another old gun”, all the while thinking that funds are stretched far enough and that the collector’s an idiot.  The collector in a vain attempt at transferral says, “It’s an investment for the future dear, it’s for the kids’ college fund”, even though the kids are as dumb as a bag of hammers and have no hope of attending college unless it is in a custodial capacity. He is actually saying, “Get off my back!” To which she says, “If you say so” at the same time rolling her eyes.  This is “woman-speak” for “Jackass”.  Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know this as it has taken me two marriages and seven decades to decipher “woman-speak” and I still get it wrong most of the time. On the other hand it seems that womankind is born with the ability to recognize male smokescreens for what they are.


    By this I am saying that any reason for collecting has the potential for truthfulness or at the least the answer to the question is believed by the person delivering the response. I think it is a given that at times we all tend to give answers to questions from others in the form of what we believe they want to hear.  “Oh, sorry officer, I didn’t see that stop sign”, certainly comes to mind. In truth I saw the stop sign and I am anything but sorry yet I will not hesitate to insult your intelligence with this lame excuse.


    Other answers such as having a keen interest in history, or an urge to preserve history, a way to honour those who serve, a great need to research and investigate are all possible valid and truthful answers. While I don’t usually buy into these statements they are still better than, “Because I am a latent psychopathic homicidal maniac”. Though that might be a quite humorous response in certain venues, not involving an official police investigation in the sudden disappearance of your business partner.  The answer to the question as to why someone collects that I find hardest to accept with any degree of validity is as an investment.  True some may have found that magic formula to turn “war junk” into gold, however it smacks of alchemy to my ears.  Over all it is a very poor investment considering the return on your money over even a lengthy amount of time and certainly if you need to get your hands on the cash quickly...see how fast the dealer/sharks start to circle. Even the ridiculous idea of 50% on the dollar or pound would be a terrible return on investment; let alone the 20% or lower most dealers are willing to offer.  Either way it’s a loss.


    So what is the answer to the question of why we collect, barring any of the usual fantasy answers that may actually be true in a few cases?  I think the best and shortest answer in almost any case is, “I like collecting and it makes me happy”.  At the end of the day isn’t that what should really matter?



    Happy New Year Everyone.









    Recommended Comments

    Hmmm, that's strange as it is in print and every knows that if it is on the television or in print it has to be correct and 100% believable. 

    Have I been wrong all of these years and if so how can I face the upcoming year knowing this? 

    Happy New Year



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    Well, maybe not wrong.  But woefully out of date.  The internet has taken over for everything "on the television and in print."  And the internet if full of fake news.  So...

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    A few months ago that question of why we collect came up during a concerted effort on the part of some people to stop a military collectors' show.  Some of may know of the Ohio Valley Military Collectors Society and it's annual Show of Shows.  There are several videos of past shows that offer pretty representative examples of the type of activity at these gatherings.  After outgrowing several other venues, for the last several years the OVMS has rented space at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville, Kentucky, to hold the show.  This year, however, there was considerable doubt that the show would occur.  As some of you may know, the political left in the United States has been striking out at anything and everything it deems inappropriate or offensive.  Well, after several left-wing lunatics learned that a vendor at another gunshow held on the grounds had Nazi christmas ornaments for sale there, they demanded that the Kentucky State Fair Board not rent its facilities to the OVMS.  Essentially they claimed that anyone who owned, sold, collected or even looked at anything with a swastika was a nasty, hateful, racist person and therefore should not be allowed on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds much less be allowed to rent space there.  The OVMS tried to address the concerns of the Fair officials (ironic term isn't it?) and finally managed to convice them that the OVMS was not a "nasty, hateful, racist" organization, but only just barely.  The Fair Board agreed to allow the SOS with certain conditions such as no reproductions.  This was not an isolated incident.  Since the 1960s, gun collectors have been under attack by the political left.  More recently many of these same people and their younger political allies have attacked anything to do with the Confederate States and the Civil War.  The point is that, at least in the US, collectors are increasingly having to defend themselves.  A good and convinceing answer to the question of "why do you collect" is becoming a matter of life and death for those of us who enjoy it.  Thanks!

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    Thank you for your comment.  So far, here in Canada, we are not under such attacks.  However, as is said about many other issues, it is only a matter of time.  As to that designation I must say that I am a nasty, hateful and racist individual as are most people to some degree or another (seriously I don't really see myself in those terms but isn't our own opinion of ourselves quite sterile).  I would put the question to those with high PC ideals as to whether their lives could stand the scrutiny they apply to others. Whatever happened to that worn out statement, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it". A good slogan for racist groups should be, "Forget about us, please forget".



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    For some reason this read in the voice of John Cleese during the Sex Education scene of The Meaning of Life. Well done.

    Edited by SemperParatus
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    Simple answer as to why I collect is because I can.....and am I a nasty hateful racist for collecting items with a swastika????


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    My reason for collecting was accidental. As many of you will know I worked for Sotheby's and for the last 18 years Morton and Eden auctioneers cataloguing and valuing coins and ODM. I gained great pleasure in being the temporary custodian of some of the most fantastic medals and groups available including many VCs, Sir John Franklin's NGS, the Younghusband group and Oates polar medal. I decided that as I would never have the funds to afford anything of quality and would avoid mixing business wth pleasure.

    In early 2005 this all chanģed. I was cataloguing a nice collection which had quite a bit of Indian interest, amongst which was an Indian General Service 1908, 1 clasp Waziristan to an employee of the North Western Railway. I made it a weak single lot estimate £30-40. I was criticized for lotting it thus and I then made the fateful statement "If nobody else wants it I will buy it."  I  ended up with the medal as well as a 4 clasp IGS 1908 to a mountain battery which cost £95.

    The India theme suited me as my father  had served in India with the RAF and RIAF from 1943-47 and in the process  had "gone native". As a child I remember him talking to Indian bus conductors in fluent Urdu which resulted in us avoiding  paying any fare.

    Unfortunately buying medals was like taking heroin, a serious addiction from which I was unable to kick. 700 odd medals later, almost all British campaign medals to Indian recipients, the addiction is stll as strong as ever. The marvellous thing about medals to Indian recipients is they are not researched to death like many medals to British recipients where in some cases we even know the make of underpants they wore into battle as a result I have been able to secure some real gems for next to nothing including a WW1 Afghan pair to a captain Mehta who was medical officer and later CO at the prison where Gandhi staged his famous hunger strike and is mentioned several times in Gandhi's diary as MO he knew Gandhi literaly intimately and a Malabar 1921-22 named to the Nizam of Hyderabad.

    I hope this gives a glimpse into why I collect. 



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    Thank you very much for this most interesting response Paul; I'll admit to a touch of envy as I read it. 

    I think we need a lot more such personal collecting stories here on the forum.





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    As a kid, I was a coin collector.  That continued into my young adulthood.  While posted to Berlin in the early 1980s, my wife and I would often visit the flea markets and I would pick up a few coins on every trip.  One day I purchased a Hindenburg cross and and 1870/71 medal.  At the time, I had no idea what they were, but thought they would be good souvenirs of time spent in Berlin.  As we traveled around Europe, I gradually found it more interesting to pick up an old military medal at flea markets as a souvenir of visiting different countries rather than coins.  Slowly this grew to deliberate searches for particular medals.  Gradually, I found myself buying fewer and fewer coins and more and more medals.  The rest is history (or an obsession).

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    I never knew My Grandfather, (he died in ‘43) I knew he had served in WW1, after research and attaining his service record, Unit War diary etc, I wanted something more ( I have his medals and Cap badge (Buffs) And so a P1907 Bayonet was purchased ! 17 P 1907s and a SMLE No 1 III* (de activated) later. I then progressed to Swords and esp Cavalry Sabres .

    Regards RGJ DeeAE567B1A-EE0C-415B-B0A3-F998D112A585.thumb.jpeg.a9408017f3b8f6edfbb5e8078ce633ab.jpeg

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    Hello RGJDEE,

    Great photo of your grandfather and the stacked (proper term?) SMLEs. 

    You've progressed to swords and especially cavalry sabres? I'd say you are going in the correct direction! ?

    Thanks for the comment.




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    Thankyou Brian, 

    That photo was taken “ somewhere in Kent “1916, He was posted to France in Sept 1917, and joined the 10th West Kent’s.

    Heres another Photo taken prior to going to France in 1917. 



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    People ask me all the time about collecting as an investment.  I tell them that most collectibles are pretty lousy investments, if that is all they are looking for.  If you are buying and selling at auction, you pay a 15-20% commission when you buy and another 10-15% commission when you sell.  Storing your collection can require anything from a good size gun safe to a good size room.  It can take years to liquidate a collection once you decide to sell.  People who collect do so because they are collectors and get something out of it that others get from water skiing, traveling or any of the many hobbies that we take up.  If you happen to break even or make a few bucks in the end that is gravy but, not the point of it all.

    Edited by Beau Newman
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    I also started collecting as a kid and it was general militaria, most of which has now gone to a new home. However, when my late Father who collected police badges, passed away I carried on collecting for him. The bulk of his badges that covered a large area of the UK, were sold off to help with a bridging loan to purchase a house next door to us, but he kept his local to him, badges (Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and all the towns within these Counties.

    I never took a dedicated interest in his badges like he did, but when he left them to me they became mine and the collecting bug along with them. Collecting for him kinda keeps him alive somehow for when I make a purchase of something that he did not have, I think about how thrilled he would have been. It has been fun over the last nearly four years since his passing, picking up some badges quite cheaply and on the other hand paying some horrendous prices too. I have completely re-arranged the boards that they are mounted on and have truly made it my own personal collection. I know he would be only too pleased!

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    In the summer of 1972 I became bored with going to the cottage with my parents; I was shy and never met any girls there (many were from Buffalo NY and I was in Toronto, so a non-starter there) - I resolved to find a summer job next year.

    After seeing a newspaper item of a young man being awarded "Guard of the Year" at Old Fort York, I applied and was hired.  We drilled with old Snider-Enfields, there were Martini-Henrys in the barracks racks, and we were issued repro Brown Besses (the quality wasn't great - once when mine was in for repairs I was issued an original Bess).

    I started off collecting British military longarms, before I finished university.  Badges were an adjunct. Then came medals, which became my focus. The photo is me in 1975 with a SMLE and CFA uniform.

    My collection does not give me happiness - I am old enough to have learned that things can only give you pleasure.  But that's enough.

    Plus I am a fairly talented researcher, which has enabled me to bag some "sleeper" items.



    Edited by Michael Johnson
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    Part of the answer for me is not the items themselves but the process of collecting - i.e. it's a great 'excuse' to travel and when I'm visiting museums I have a much more focused eye for certain things. With that travel (as well as the acquisition process) also comes getting to know and sometimes meeting people from all walks of life: business exec's, non-profit, politicians, security service, 'criminals', etc. - that's also fascinating.

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    I started to collect when I was a young boy when I was shown army cap badges from my grandfather who served in the second world war in the home guard. I brought a few cap badges from markets and shops, but then just went away from it as had too many other distractions as a lad. My other grandfather served in the Gordon's in the great war and I loved and was proud when seeing him wearing his medals, as well my father served in the RAF during the second world war, I have also served so that's maybe where it started

    I then started to revisit collecting again about 12 years ago when I came across a Soviet Order of Glory III at a flea market in Bristol, paid £30 for a early issue award. I then found you could research the award and I was hooked. I collected Soviet awards mostly OG III and groups and grew my collection to close to a 1000 awards many with documents and have had about 40% researched.

    Then as a result of work I found myself working in different location globally and found markets that allowed me to further expand and add to my collection and then over the last 5 years I have looked more towards WW1 medals which now includes over a 100 + trios, then this flowed onto interwar then WW2 medals, mostly groups. I then thought would be great to have a cap badge for each regiment I had in my collection. before I knew it my collection had expanded to a massive array of items.

    I have now downsized my collection and have learned that it is better to look at a smaller area of interest so now my collection is based around WW1 Medals to British units, Canadian, New Zealand and South African units; WW2 groups with LSGC, GSM, TEM medals attached, Soviet OGIII and groups, and cap badges. Even though the collection has been largely reduced I still find myself with close to 2000 medals which is still growing.

    I have through collecting managed to acquire several medals of men who belonged not just to my grandfathers regiment, but the company he served in which gives a feeling of association

    Yes I agree with many that collecting is addictive and sometimes hard to retrain one's self. I love to collect as it gives me great  enjoyment and allows me to be a custodian of history, and I have through researching found some amazing stories and association of the medals recipients to which often puts many things into prospective. In summary i think we all collect for different reasons and that reason is personal.



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    I know the way I got into collecting is like so many other people; through a sibling. I also know that my love of history is barely unique in a place like this. So I know I have a shared background with many people. A less shared area - perhaps - is that I've always loved the thrill of the chase. When I decide I want, say, a 1914 trio with an original bar, to a cavalry unit, the utter thrill of getting out there and, (a) finding groups that fit the criteria and, (b) comparing them re: ranks, units, KIA?, price, etc, I find very, very mentally stimulating. Actually getting the trio at the end of the process is less thrilling than the chase and almost always I put it away for a year or two, or even longer, before I pull it out again, like some brand-new thing I've never seen before, and I will start on the research or whatever. And while this might not be unique either, I think it's maybe less common among collectors (many of whom would dive into the research immediately)?

    Edited by Rob Irwin
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