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Economics 101 & Paranoia


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Gentlemen,

From time to time we refer to economics and ?economics 101? which is the standard nomenclature for entry level economics courses in American universities. ?Economics 101? is also a code name for the basic law of economics - supply and demand. While we sometimes try to apply this to our collecting of Soviet memorabilia, there as a serious flaw when doing so.

Once again, the supply side is being influenced by an induced lessening of supply in the form of the ban on export of these items from Russia. So this means two things. First, no new material will be coming on the (world) market; and that which is on the world market disappears from it once it goes back to Russia, thereby increasing the prices of what is left.

I find this policy to be both silly and paranoid. One of the huge benefits of the ?open market? policy is that it brought to light the deeds, heroism and sacrifices of the Soviet people during the GPW. Possibly more than anything else it put these things in human terms which has brought about a new understanding and appreciation by many outside of the old Soviet Empire. I would add that much of this was made possible through the perseverance and at the expense of mostly outsiders. Here we are bringing the actual recorded history to light for all to see - stories and deeds, otherwise filed away and virtually lost forever, that often surpass any manufactured material.

I am curious as to whether any fellow members can understand why this policy makes sense and how, considering the positive benefits, it can be justified.

Thank you and best wishes,

Wild Card

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Thanks for targeting this issue. I'm not sure I know the answer and it is something I struggle with (as a historian who loves unanswerable questions). Some random thoughts follow.

You are absolutely right that the migration of these medals and groups to "the West" has helped, in some circles, to open up a much richer understanding of the Soviet sacrifice in the Great Patriotic War. The "NATO-centric" view of WWII has (a Cold War holdover?) totally ignored the Great Patriotic War. Most of my students at university think WWII in Europe was all about "Saving Private Ryan" stuff and "know" (faith-based history?) that Hitler was a communist. Should today's Russia appreciate the role that these medals and their tales play and have played in restoring history? Maybe. But they don't much appreciate the GPW even at home. Ask a surviving GPW veteran whose pension has been slashed to the point where he must beg on the streets of Moscow.

When governments can't do anything to help their people, they make laws about silly things and feel good. The ban on Medal of Honor Sales in the US and the "Stolen Valor" nonsense, the Australian and New Zealand bans (effectively) on Victoria Cross exports (and the Canadian move to do the same), and the Russian ban on the export of Tsarist or Soviet ODM are all cut from the same political cloth. Stupid and trivial? Sure. But the law is the law until it gets changed and all the whining in the world (c.f. the Nazi collectors and the display of their swastika) won't help. I have no doubt that many of the medals we have in our collections were sold out (illegally) from museums after the collapse of the CCCP, I fear many of the medals we have were stolen (sometimes accompanied by homicides) from the veterans or veterans' families, other medals in our collections were sold by the veterans or their families to agents of the familiar dealers to raise much-needed cash in the post-Soviet years of hardship. I think most of us would agree that the possession of stolen or illegally exported goods is a naughty thing. And some of us recall the old days before 1991 when whatever Soviet awards came on the Western market had their serial numbers scratched out. I still recall -- I'm about to date myself -- my first OMSA (1976) when some dark-suited chaps from the Soviet embassy attended, going around and recording legible numbers from the few Soviet awards in the bourse. Guess who they were, guess what would soon happen; rather like the FBI making the rounds these days looking for high US gallantry awards for sale. I suppose this is why some collectors and dealers hide serial numbers when they present images (mnaking the images virtually useless). And we do have the fact that auction houses in the UK and Finland have had some very bad run-ins with assertions of the reach of Russian law and cultural patrimony; when INTERPOL gets in the game, you really can;'t laugh at the situation.

For whatever reason (who knows why Tsar Putin does what he does), the export ban on pre-1991 ODM is being enforced these days. At least in the near-term, what is in Russia stays in Russia. And (until recently?) with the emergence of a new class of the rich and super-rich and crazy-rich in Russia, there is the ready cash to recapture the exported national phaleristic heritage. On one level, I'm not sure this is a bad thing, that these things will go home. I know of several technology millionaires in India who have been aggressively recapturing India's plundered cultural heritage when it shows up in London auction rooms (though the Koh-i-Noor escapes then, so far); if the Greeks only had more money, the Elgin Marbles might just go home. But to repeat: What goes back to Russia will probably stay there. Until recently, the auctions and dealer's lists have been structured in the certain knowledge that Western collectors are not the marketing target. We are irrelevant, as one well-known dealer bluntly told me. An item at auction or on a list may have what seems to the poor (like us) as a high price, but someone will pay it, and that someone will probably hold a Russian passport. The only hope for Western Soviet collecting in the next generation is the fact that many of these acquisitions are sent to bank valuts in Switzerland rather than back to the Motherland. The hope that some of these Russian "collectors" are really investors and will flog their things back on the market when their next craze hits may be a source of hope?

Yet many of the new Russian collectors are very good and very serious. Some of them post here. Their language and research skills have revolutionized the base of reliable knowledge. But this has led to a partition in the field into a community of Russian (Russian-speaking) collectors and non-Russian (non-Russian-speaking) collectors. Sadly, the modes in which this distinction are sometimes expressed are not always diplomatic. We've seen some outbursts along these lines from time to time. There is, in some circles, a sense that only Russians can and should collect and understand Soviet awards and that all the good books are in Russian, all the good websites are in Russian, all the good discussion fora are in Russian, etc. While this contributes to what I sometimes fear is a growing chasm in our "hobby" (what a little word), it does have a rational basis. Has the famous British Battles and Medals been published in Spanish? When did Die Tragbaren Ehrenzeichen des Deutschen Reichs appear in Korean? What does this mean for the future? Absent RNA transplants for language acquisition (how I wish) will non-Russian-reading collectors become dinosaurs? Or has it already happened? We may have been out-evolved in the struggle of the market and of the reference book (or -- gag -- website)?

As the supplies of Soviet awards shrink (in the West), as everything that is likely to come to market appears (absent the financial necessity to sell dad's medals in order to eat), as the national phaleristic patrimony gets siphoned back to the Motherland, the basic ECON 101 principles do engage: Supply and demand. But is the Western demand in fact growing (or even stable) as prices rise? Many collectors talk about "getting out", shifting to something else, but do they dispose of their collections? Many seem to. In the current economic situation, do collectors sell that Nevsky to pay the heating bill? But who can buy it? The supply is shrinking, but is the market growing? Just last night I was looking through one of Igor's paper lists from 1998. The old saying came to mind: Read it and weep. The breadth of stock and low prices (even when adjusted for inflation) were striking. But what difference does the current global depression promise? So far we don't know. Wait and watch.

We are just now in a two month period with a series of major auctions. What happens there, what the prices are, who buys the goodies will all help us have a better picture in a few weeks. Are we watching market saturation (as nearly happened to collectors of South Asian medals when the three-part auction of the Magor collection took place a few years back)? Yet, long term, I can't see that we are watching a "tulip bubble" that will burst anytime soon, unless we all wind up selling apples and ORBs on street corners.

Sorry for such a long and rambling post.

Please, what do others think?

Edited by Ed_Haynes
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Good Lord:

I agree 100% with Ed.

One aside, Soviet awards from non-Russian states are and should still be available in the West, albeit at higher prices.

While the revanchist Russians claim these, eventually a very expensive court case will occur and the Russians will lose, as extra-national cultural claims are still void under international law (chattel that was awarded to a Ukrainian citizen is the cultural patrimony of the Ukraine and not Russia).

Meanwhile, satellite socialist items should see an increase in value and collectability.

We are already seeing this here in Bulgarian, Hungarian (ESP. Hungarian) ,Yugoslav and Albanian items.

I eagerly await a decent book on Polish and Czech awards.

One of the things that respected collectors can do is to use their collections as tools to illustrate and educate. A Russia which has its history valued abroad by a vocal and respected "fan base" will be bemused, but ultimately friendly and perhaps, will ultimately allow it archives to be reopened. Every time one of us "fogies" waxes eloquent about the GPW and Soviet sacrifices, in a public forum, illustrating it with a medal, it can not but help to improve relations between the two spheres.

Collectors, by their odd hobby, sometimes can go where others are never allowed. I am amazed at what veterans have told and done for me because I "that medal collecting guy".

Gordon Williamson is another case in point and Ed is obviously another.

Ed, I am willing to bet money that your numismatic fascination has led you down corridors of cultural and political access denied or even undreamed of by other Asian subcontinental historians and journalists.

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There is, in some circles, a sense that only Russians can and should collect and understand Soviet awards and that all the good books are in Russian, all the good websites are in Russian, all the good discussion fora are in Russian, etc. While this contributes to what I sometimes fear is a growing chasm in our "hobby" (what a little word), it does have a rational basis. Has the famous British Battles and Medals been published in Spanish? When did Die Tragbaren Ehrenzeichen des Deutschen Reichs appear in Korean? What does this mean for the future? Absent DNA transplants for language acquisition (how I wish) will non-Russian-reading collectors become dinosaurs? Or has it already happened? We may have been out-evolved in the struggle of the market and of the reference book (or -- gag -- website)?

Please, what do others think?

To all:

Ed reinforces my long-held contention that unless/until substantive published works detailing WW II Red Army soldier valor hit the shelves of major book sellers in the West, little forward progress will be made. A review of the offerings found in the military history sections of any major U.S. book seller e.g., Waldenbooks, Borders Books, or Barnes and Noble, will confirm the absolute dearth of books on this topic.

While select specialized books authored by members of this forum have held great appeal for the Soviet ODM collecting community, their very low print volumes and basement/garage distribution systems did little to advance knowledge among a broader English-speaking military history audience. One exception, however, would be Henry Sakaida's works which did enjoy wider availability.

My personal goal in continuing to work on a comprehensive English-language book which examines the Full Cavaliers/Knights of the Order of Glory is to help fill this void.

Regards,

slava1stclass

Edited by slava1stclass
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Until recently, the auctions and dealer's lists have been structured in the certain knowledge that Western collectors are not the marketing target. We are irrelevant, as one well-known dealer bluntly told me.

Please, what do others think?

To all:

As for being irrelevant, when it becomes a matter of those same dealers pushing to procure our collections, they sing an entirely different tune.

Regards,

slava1stclass

Edited by slava1stclass
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It may sound smug, but I am confident that I appreciate far far more than any nouveau riche Muscovite an "ordinary" Red Star or Red Banner won by a real live ordinary Soviet citizen because for me it is not about the mere award-as-thing, but the person who received it.

Every Red Star... is one of millions of Red Stars. EACH Red Star was worn with pride or sadness by ONE PERSON.

That is why I RESEARCHED awards.

I repeat, as I always do--

I don't give a rat's buttocks what anybody thinks something is "worth" in National Currency Units as if it was a car or wheat or a television set or shoes or just any other "product" bought and sold.

People FLINGING clinically insane amounts of money-- unearned or otherwise-- at common items in no actual "short supply" are NOT, sad to say

Preserving Their National Patrimony.

They are speculators hoarding commodities for hoped for personal future profit-- not to preserve the nation's history. THEY don't give rodents buttocks who received those "treasures," where, when or why. All THEY see is a Thing With Perceived Monetary "Value."

Which sad to say makes ME a Better Russian than many with boxes filling with tens of thousands of immediately ignored Red Stars or whatever amassed just so they can boast about their patriotism. I am a far better Russian son or grandson than someone who would cheerfully sell That Old Junk for a new ipod or whatever the hell the Youth Of Tomorrow show off to each other with these days--for as long as the gloating lasts until the NEXT New Must Have consumer product comes along.

If it was all about money, I could sell drugs, pimp girls, extort shop keepers, or sell "art" to phonies who think culture can be bought...

but I am simply in the sadly diminishing Human Memory "business." I remember simply so that what should not be forgotten is not forgotten. If family of the blood does not or will not, then family by "adoption" must.

Somebody has to.

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It may sound smug, but I am confident that I appreciate far far more than any nouveau riche Muscovite an "ordinary" Red Star or Red Banner won by a real live ordinary Soviet citizen because for me it is not about the mere award-as-thing, but the person who received it.

Every Red Star... is one of millions of Red Stars. EACH Red Star was worn with pride or sadness by ONE PERSON.

That is why I RESEARCHED awards.

I repeat, as I always do--

I don't give a rat's buttocks what anybody thinks something is "worth" in National Currency Units as if it was a car or wheat or a television set or shoes or just any other "product" bought and sold.

People FLINGING clinically insane amounts of money-- unearned or otherwise-- at common items in no actual "short supply" are NOT, sad to say

Preserving Their National Patrimony.

They are speculators hoarding commodities for hoped for personal future profit-- not to preserve the nation's history. THEY don't give rodents buttocks who received those "treasures," where, when or why. All THEY see is a Thing With Perceived Monetary "Value."

Which sad to say makes ME a Better Russian than many with boxes filling with tens of thousands of immediately ignored Red Stars or whatever amassed just so they can boast about their patriotism. I am a far better Russian son or grandson than someone who would cheerfully sell That Old Junk for a new ipod or whatever the hell the Youth Of Tomorrow show off to each other with these days--for as long as the gloating lasts until the NEXT New Must Have consumer product comes along.

If it was all about money, I could sell drugs, pimp girls, extort shop keepers, or sell "art" to phonies who think culture can be bought...

but I am simply in the sadly diminishing Human Memory "business." I remember simply so that what should not be forgotten is not forgotten. If family of the blood does not or will not, then family by "adoption" must.

Somebody has to.

I think that General RR (Rick Research) is 100% correct. I'm going to take a beating on what I say next but I dont care. I think that it is SICK that people collect for investment and a DISGRACE to the heroes who won these awards! If only the heroes could see how their awards have been traded, sold by SOME sellers/collectors who screw others in the process or hoard awards just to make a buck off of them. they would turn over in their graves. This, obviously, does not apply to the people who collect and give the awards a good home. I'm confident the heroes would be very happy that they be displayed and cherished instead of being in a shelf.

What has this hobby become? Good people, who would give these awards a good home, are priced out; likely friendships have been broken over bad deals, etc.,etc.,etc.

A

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Dead on target, Rick (no pun intended), it isn't about value in National Currency Units, but about our ability to feed our habits, getting a phaleristic fix, by having more (and more and more and more and . . .) goodies to research and understand and to which to restore humanity and history. The Economics-Babble merely speaks to supply (limited) and demand (great) not to nastier capitalist stuff.

As you know, things have changed: Red Stars aren't sold by the kilo any more.

Edited by Ed_Haynes
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But it plain that some people are BUYING them by the kilo, now.

Metal and enamel barrels of oil or pork belly futures. That's all they are... to that sort of buyer.

Look how childishly excited we get when Good Research comes in--it's better, more exciting--and truly inspiring than any fiction. REAL LIVES. INDIVIDUAL lives.

Not ...

things.

It's become as deranged as 2008 oil speculators... or the 17th century "tulip mania."

Personally-- I've moved on to other areas. Areas which will possibly mean NO research will ever be possible... but in which the utter lack of information makes the joy of DISCOVERY-- of once again Collecting The Unknown like being a child again, and every day Christmas.

Soviet collecting was fun while it was possible to get research done. It was enjoyable while sanity lasted. :beer:

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But it plain that some people are BUYING them by the kilo, now.

Metal and enamel barrels of oil or pork belly futures. That's all they are... to that sort of buyer.

Look how childishly excited we get when Good Research comes in--it's better, more exciting--and truly inspiring than any fiction. REAL LIVES. INDIVIDUAL lives.

Not ...

things.

It's become as deranged as 2008 oil speculators... or the 17th century "tulip mania."

Personally-- I've moved on to other areas. Areas which will possibly mean NO research will ever be possible... but in which the utter lack of information makes the joy of DISCOVERY-- of once again Collecting The Unknown like being a child again, and every day Christmas.

Soviet collecting was fun while it was possible to get research done. It was enjoyable while sanity lasted. :beer:

Well said! Well said! Well said! Bravo General RR!

These are a part of history. Sad, sad, sad that they are viewed otherwise. Also, research does rock!

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Gentlemen!

I sincerely thank you all for your responses and input. Your collective effort has produced one of the best discussions I?ve seen in a long time. To mention specific points would be redundant and surely, in the process, I would miss one or two. Please feel free to continue.

I would, however, like to isolate one point for possible expanded discussion. Ed Haynes mentioned ?...the fact that auction houses in the UK and Finland have had some very bad run-ins with assertions of the reach of Russian law and cultural patrimony; when INTERPOL gets in the game, you really can;'t laugh at the situation.? Frankly I question the legitimacy of these incidents. This could be a classic con; but that?s another discussion, so let?s assume that they were on the level. As I understand it, these (attempted) seizures were based on the fact that the material was stolen. This issue goes on to the question of whether any of us might have stolen pieces in our collections. Now, I do not want to go into ethical issues but would rather deal with a key point.

As we all know, one of the unique features of Soviet decorations is that, for the most part, they are numbered; and this fact alone can make each unique when dealing with stolen goods. Now, when INTERPOL or today's version of KGB tries to grab your collection, they must have a list of numbered items in hand to match the pieces. In other words, there must be a list, registry if you will, of stolen Soviet decorations.

Now, assuming that such a registry exists and that there is a sincere commitment to solving these thefts, why not share this information? Yes, and share it with the collecting community. After all, many law enforcement agencies throughout the world seem to feel that this approach (wanted posters) works in exposing and catching criminals and terrorists. This might (1) turn up pieces in various collections (what the owners of those pieces choose to do is another subject) and (2) hinder the trafficking in stolen pieces. Make this information public through collecting organizations such as OMSA, OMRS and BDOS. A step further would, of course, make this information available through web sites such as GMIC. What?s the big secret? What do you think?

Thank you again for your thoughts and collective words of wisdom,

Wild Card

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I agree. A PUBLISHED registry of declared stolen awards with names, dates, and places would be ENTHUSIASTICALLY scanned by obsessive compulsives like us. I cannot imagine any greater satisfaction than righting such crimes.

The fact remains, however, that aside from a few REAL very high profile cases, any assertions of murder-for-medals etc etc etc are largely "urban legend" UNLESS these highly publicized crimes concern INTERNAL Russian atrocities and NOT robbery-for-export--

once again, domestic James Bond super-villain wannabes who "honor" their Great Patriotic Heroes by STEALING FROM THEIR MURDERED TO ORDER CORPSES. :violent:

When I was buying Red Star groups in the mid 1990s they were worthless here as well as there. NOBODY was being bumped off by Russian Mafia hit men for Red Stars-- OR Red Banners--in the late 1990s. It would of course have been sad if grieving widows trapped in the senescent ex-Soviet Federation HAD to sell their late husband's "old medals" but for what these sold for THEN-- and what the poor old ladies were getting from their very own Proud Government to live on every month... the prices paid were not "theft" by ANY stretch of the moral equivalence imagination but rather a miraculous windfall.

I was laughed at for "wasting my money" on "that trash" as recently as the first year of this century, folks. Back then DOLLARS ruled and NOT "war surplus souvenirs."

The award groups that I obtained from the then and still (barely) independent peripheral Republics were--let us be very clear on so recent memories-- embarassing JUNK-- the UNWANTED reminders of a discreditted dictatorship, forced resettlement of alien populations to dilute the native inhabitants, and decades of lives made worse than anywhere else on the planet so Party apparatchiks could live like the old boyars.

Just like GERMANS IN 1945... what was not destroyed by the owners was cheerfully passed along for anyone SILLY :speechless: enough to hand over good money for things the locals-- then-- did not want at all. Value for... dross.

Far from "robbing" babushkas-- we foolish early pioneer collectors may well have paid money that made the difference to them between food and no food, heat or freezing, medicine or dying.

Ironically enough-- I very much doubt that those same old babushkas are doing ANY better NOW. :rolleyes:

NOBODY-- not them-- not us-- EVER thought what has happened in less than 10 years would bring what amounted to rubbish picking into prices that art museums once paid.

And worst of all-- there is absolutely no sane reason that JUSTIFIES the prices on items awarded by the millions and hundreds of thousands...

as loose, anonymous, unresearched... THINGS.

But don't hold our breaths waiting for an Official List online when the declared national policy is that everything ever produced under the monster Stalin belongs forever and exclusively to the current Russian State. The extortion lie is a far better con than reality would be--

with Napoleon back in Moscow.

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To all:

Ed reinforces my long-held contention that unless/until substantive published works detailing WW II Red Army soldier valor hit the shelves of major book sellers in the West, little forward progress will be made. A review of the offerings found in the military history sections of any major U.S. book seller e.g., Waldenbooks, Borders Books, or Barnes and Noble, will confirm the absolute dearth of books on this topic.

While select specialized books authored by members of this forum have held great appeal for the Soviet ODM collecting community, their very low print volumes and basement/garage distribution systems did little to advance knowledge among a broader English-speaking military history audience. One exception, however, would be Henry Sakaida's works which did enjoy wider availability.

My personal goal in continuing to work on a comprehensive English-language book which examines the Full Cavaliers/Knights of the Order of Glory is to help fill this void.

Regards,

slava1stclass

Slava, both your point of view and Ed's one complete themselves. But will there be a demand from the public for such an equilibrate history? As Ed pointed it, this could be a cold war consequence.

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Merridales' book("Ivan's War") two years ago was a start and 'The Destruction of Army Group Center" @ 13 years ago was a surprise publishing hit. Orlando Figes books are excellent, but paint a broad background to the era.

It takes an Ambrose to take military history to the next level of popularity.

There is some REAL world class, writing talent on this board (for example) and it could be used to edify the entire world as to the historical value of many events. I hate to think it may come into being as a Festshrift one day though.

Three years ago I was asked to give a 45 minute lecture about medals to an introductory western history class at a university in Boston. It was mostly done I think so my old college roommate didn't have to lecture that day. I chose three medals: An EK1, the Soviet order of Labor and a Kings medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom.

Each has a story to tell. The EK1 given to Hitler was an indirect catalyst of the Third Reich. At his rank, its prestige and what it symbolized, the "frontkampfer"-vs- ""Dolchstoss" mentality (which he blamed upon "Reds and Jews" propelled his career.

The Labour of Glory medal I had for a fishing Captain who operated a Superboat off the Arctic shelves in the 1970s. Want to know why tuna fish and Cod cost more than tofu? That medal is the reason.

The Kings Medal was awarded to a socialite/DAR lady from New York who was a minor figure in the Bundles For Britain association. However, her real claim to fame was her Democratic Party activism in the late 1930s and 1940s and funneling campaign contributions via Canada to targeted New York Congressional races. (Mostly) Republican political Isolationists were targeted by British Agents of Influence and their allies/friends throughout the war years. American radicals and leftists were also targets. The MI6 files on US activities are still sealed and will probably remain so throughout my lifetime, but many of the activists are quite happy to talk about who, what, when and where Churchill's agents were active in the USA. It's the last great untold story of intelligence gathering and usage in WW2.Recently a book on Roald Dahl has come out that goes into greater detail on this subject.There are a few other minor books on the subject. Those personal ties continue today, 70 years on.

An English translation of the available Russian medal books (Glory /Heroes biographies etc.) would increase collecting popularity in the West.

Over the past few years I have changed my mind as to whether this is a hobby. It is a nexus of military history and art.

I now view it as a highly idiosyncratic form of art collecting at the upper strata.

In some cases, that means a mania.

In these economic climes the rarer pieces will continue to sell, the common ones will not. Prices will adjust accordingly.

For many medal owners, like US house owners, that adjustment will be a hard shock ("my silver wound badge is only worth $50! No way").

I reckon this recession will last between 2 and 3 years. Next year, in the Summer, is when real fire sales begin to occur.

If you have cash then and are economically secure, you will do "well".

OMSA maintains a stolen registry database. It is a start.

Edited by Ulsterman
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