Guarantees in Life – Guaranteed
“If you purchase our product we guarantee it will improve your life and you’ll be a happier person”. “Use this product and we guarantee you will be 150% more likely to stop smoking.” First off there are no guarantees in life; based on the theory of probability some external force with assert itself which changes the basis of the initial guarantee’s claim. Secondly, in the second example, 100% is the maximum of any given quantity. One could argue that government could, and at times will, spend 150% of a budget. However this is far from accurate as “they” have, in fact, spent 100% of the budget and then exceeded that so-called set amount by an additional 50%. This would make a guarantee only a proposed likelihood of a claim based more on speculation than fact. That is, of course, negating the possibility that the guarantee is an out and out lie in the first place. Oh man, I just realized how obsessive I am!
So, what guarantees, or more accurately “likely outcomes to a given action”, do we have in life? Well, if you cheat on your spouse there is likelihood (guarantee?) that you will be ordering dinner for one from your local Chinese Take-Out restaurant in the near future. There is the old joke of a guarantee of starting a business, any business, and after the first year having one million dollars in your bank account. The secret is to start with two million. If we apply this to collecting, and you know I will, and how to avoid fakes and counterfeit collectables there must be some rule of thumb that guarantees you will not be “taken in”. There indeed is a guarantee; one of the few cannot fail actions you can take to avoid being a victim. That action is to avoid collecting all together. If you are going to collect anything there will always be a chance you will run into the occasional fake on the market being offered as an original. You can, however, mitigate your chances of being parted with your cash by knowing your subject as well as possible.
It should be noted that there are several companies, both in the Western and Eastern “worlds” that produce excellent reproductions of historic weapons. These are meant for those who are engaged in historical recreations of battles as well as those wanting an ancient weapon without the horrendous cost of an original. For example those studying ancient Greek or Roman history may like to display one of the iconic helmets on the book shelf along with the appropriate texts. Even iconic movie swords and props can be purchased at a reasonable price compared with the original “used on set” props. The problem for the serious collector of authentic arms, or other militaria, is when these copies are aged and distressed to mimic originals. This is where the knowledge of your subject is indispensible. The one item that comes to mind at the moment is the WWII Japanese NCO sword, please, oh please do not call them “samurai swords” as they are not, these are made in China at the present time. The first tipoff is that they are pristine, a case of looking too good to be true. If you want one for your office or den and want to keep the costs down then by all means purchase one. I meant your home office not your place of work; we need to be considerate of those who do not appreciate weapons in the workplace. Personally I think a nice brace of duelling pistols in your office desk drawer sends a great message to staff. At least, here at the Home Office, staff is aware that I am open to discuss our differences, at least from ten paces away. See image below.
A resent post regarding a British police truncheon brought out several good ways to test for authenticity. Sending paint samples away for analyse, exposing the paint to black light were a couple I can recall. Taking samples is a bit too invasive for my liking though black light has been used for years on antique furniture as new glues are florescent and old glues such as hide or animal glues are not. The problem I find with any tests you can perform is that they are always after you have made the purchase. Many of the larger museums are allowed to perform tests prior to making a purchase however an amateur collector seldom, if ever, would have that luxury. This is not an indictment of those suggestions as they can indeed be helpful, but far too often we need to make decisions “on the spot” so-to-speak.
This is where we discuss the real number one way to avoid being taken in by fakes; know your subject. Even if gathering information and getting familiar with the subject of your collecting delays the actual acquiring of specimens it will be worth it in the long run. Believe me sellers, dealers if you like, do like to gossip and being easily fooled gets around, and so don’t get labelled. If you make a purchase later on after you establish yourself as a more or less knowledgeable collector it will probably be passed off as’ “it happens to everyone”. As an example, I wanted a British Mk.III (Turtle Shell) helmet for my display of WWII British firearms. In the course of my search I found several Mk, IV helmets, at shows, which were clearly marked as D-day helmets even though the Mk. IV was not issued until well after WWII. The easy to discover give-away is in the helmet’s liner. The Mk. III liner looks a lot like the liner for the Mk. II, sometimes erroneously referred to as the “Brodie” helmet. The Mk. IV has a liner that looks like a sphincter...oh, grow up (I so hesitated to use that simile, as you can imagine). Knowing this and that the rivets are lower on the Mk. III making it ride higher on the soldier’s head helped me avoid purchasing the wrong helmet, regardless of the seller’s insistence that the Mk. IVs were examples of D-day helmets. I guess they thought D-day was in the 1960s.
Swords, my current obsession, also have “tells”. If a British sword simply doesn’t feel correct in the hand, that is to say the balance is too point heavy as an example, you should be wary. This is not true of all British swords; however, if the “fit and finish” seem off then don’t touch it. Even if this particular sword is authentic you don’t want a specimen where the fit and finish is “off”. There will always be another one coming your way in time so be patient and wait a little longer for a better example; one you are comfortable purchasing.
Another point I will discuss is in regard to dealer and collector/sellers. Dealers have, we hope, a reputation to maintain while a seller has little to nothing to lose if you are “taken in” by something he is selling. Caveat emptor [buyer beware] should be a warning for the buyer, however, far too often it is the defence offered by the scam artist; a defence minus a refund or an apology, of course. So should you trust the dealers? Oh, Hell no! My advice is to trust no one, not until they prove themselves trustworthy. In collecting the question is not, “Are you paranoid?” but rather “Are you paranoid enough?” I don’t have a lot of spare time on my hands to search for swords so I purchase all of my specimens from one collector/seller whom I have grown to trust completely. My spare time is limited so this makes collecting less stressful for me and allows me more time for our business which always seems to “run” into the weekend. I also like to handle specimens before I make a purchase therefore I avoid on-line dealers and certainly on-line auctions. It reminds me of the old saying about buying a “pig in a poke” (Google it if you have never heard this before).
Finally do not get caught up in a collecting “one-upmanship” competition with a fellow collector. That often leads one to making rash decisions on purchases. That has not ever happened to me; however, one time at a show a sudden bout of the flu hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks (tonne in metric). I was rushing to get out into the fresh air and spied a sword, stopped and made a rash decision to purchase based mainly on price. I suppose there were alarm bells but I dismissed them as just the spinning and ringing in my head caused by my flu symptoms. Yes, it was a copy, which I gave away to a fellow who wanted it to hang in his living room over the fireplace. He was a happy camper, his wife not so much so.
Last caveat and story, I promise. First the caveat; do not pay a nickel, or a penny for that matter, for a story. They are not to be confused with provenance and worthless other than for entertainment value only. While at a show I stopped at a table of a “seller”, a man in his mid sixties, I would estimate. On the table was a selection of Third Reich memorabilia and a few WWII Italian items. Among these was an Italian Fascists dagger that had an extremely elongated eagle’s beak. You see these from time to time at shows, the real ones (see image below), and they are called Italian Air Force Officer’s daggers or Italian Fascists Youth daggers, I’m really not sure which they are. I do have two originals in the collection, one that my father brought back from the war. He was flying British soldiers back from Italy to Britain and during a “lay-over” he purchased the dagger from a kid for two cigarettes, yes a kid and for two cigarettes...again grow up, it was the times. Mean while back to the show, I said to this seller that the dagger he had looked like a piece that was made post war for sale to the returning veterans and not an original. This was fairly common and many returning vets wanted a souvenir of their trip. Everyone both in Italy and Germany in the post war era needed to make money so it was pretty well open season on gullible tourists. The seller was infuriated, to say the least. I will be blunt now. Why do fat guys think they are intimidating? One punch in the chest and they go down like a bag of potatoes (Solanum tuberosum, for you science guys and gals) and away to prison go you. It’s a no win situation so rein it in chubby! Yes, I too am over weight and old so I would probably not survive an altercation either; no prison for a corpse. Is that a positive spin to that scenario; perhaps not.
He insisted that he got the items from a former high ranking German officer who was a friend and neighbour of Hitler himself (this just kept getting better and better). He went on to say that he had purchased the whole collection and had to take the “Italian crap” to get the good “German stuff”. I am part German and we know the Germans make good stuff, however my wife is part Italian and now he was treading on thin ice, not a good idea for such a rotund gentleman. I said, “So this German officer was a neighbour of Hitler’s?” “Yes”, he replied,” they lived on the same street.” To this I quipped, “Do you think they car pooled to work every day?” To that I was told where to “get off”. You can always tell when a bully type is backed into a corner, they can’t control their temper. A little life skill tip: On the “street” the one who can’t control their temper becomes the target.” There is my community service tip for today. See what you can learn here at the GMIC?
Interestingly, in closing, the dagger was worth something in that it told the story of the history of these daggers, in a manner. His story, while mildly entertaining was worthless, however pissing this fellow off was, for me, priceless.
Until we meet again here at “News from the Home Office”, happy collecting.