Sunday, February 24, 2013

My History as a Collector Part II

Outside of the odd pick up here and there from the gun show or flea market, I really did not do much collecting  through my junior high and highschool years. Well, I guess "much collecting" is a term of varied definition. Let's say that I didn't do any consistent collecting -- either in time frame or scope.   Over those years,   I purchased a Civil War era NCO's sword made by Ames, a Japanese cavalry sword dating to the Russo-Japanese War (February - September 1905), a large calibre Belgian made flintlock pistol, a Springfield trapdoor rifle (the successor to the Springfield percussion cap rifle) and some WWII rifles -- British Mark III and Mark IV rifles and a Japanese Arisaka rifle.  I guess that's not so bad for a fellow without steady income.  

For the majority of my young life, my historical interests were soundly rooted in the U.S. Civil War with a smattering of WWII  and the ancient world, especially ancient Egypt.   Where I lived greatly influenced my interests, well outside of ancient Egypt.  I guess Cecil B. DeMille is responsible for my interest in ancient Egypt.  I lived in the middle of the South with one of the major National Battlefield Parks only 45 minutes away.    WWII had only ended 40 years or so ago at that time, so media interest was still pretty high (plenty of movies and TV shows --- Midway, A Bridge Too Far, The Bridge at Remagen, Battle of the Bulge, Von Ryan's Express, Baa Baa Blacksheep, Rat Patrol and Hogan's Heroes were still routinely shown on television.   With this influence, its not hard to see why my collecting interests were what they were -- no I didn't collect anything from ancient Egypt.  I did, however, make a wooden mummiform coffin and mummify my Robin action figure in tissue paper. (The last time I was at my parents' house, I noticed that Robin remains in his coffin in my desk drawer.  His bandages still secure.  What will an archeologist 2000 years in the future hypothesize about that find?)   In 1985, my interests broadened due to a move.   My father was transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  We packed up and moved in December of that year.  

I had lived in the same town since age 3.   I had never changed schools.  My siblings were all staying in Mississippi.   This move was not going to be easy.    I traveled  to Tulsa  with my parents on a house hunting expedition in the Fall of 1985.    Bored in the hotel, I picked up the phone book and browsed for a hobby shop.   I loved to build models as a kid and had a pretty good hobby shop in Jackson.   I was hoping that there would be a suitable replacement in Tulsa.    Browsing the listings, I found a shop called "The Hussar" on South Sheridan Avenue.    I knew that a hussar was a cavalryman, so I decided to check it out.   The shop was a dream come true.   This shop was not the typical plastic model shop.  It featured historical miniatures made out of metal and resin, books of all types, historical prints and toy soldiers.   Most amazing to me was the decor.   The walls of the shop were covered with prints of historical subjects and shelves featuring militaria.   British guard uniforms, leather flying helmets and accoutrements of all sorts were placed upon shelves.  Glass cases had the finest painted military miniatures and dioramas.  I saw WWII soldiers, brightly colored soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars, Queen Victoria's soldiers and Zulu warriors.   I purchased a figure -- a French First Empire Polish Lancer made in lead -- and took him back to Jackson to be painted.  

After we moved, I found myself quite lonely.   I trudged through the school year and made  frequent visits to The Hussar.  I got to know the owner, Mike Davidson, pretty well.    I wondered what in the world and I going to do all summer long  in Tulsa, Oklahoma?    In early May I screwed up the courage to ask Mike for a job.   Mike loves telling the story.  He recalled me coming into his store one day after school and asking him for a job.   Mike said, "I don't really need an employee."   This is the part he loves -- I replied, "mister, you don't understand, I'll work for free."    Well, Mike was good enough to hire me, trust me with his shop when he wasn't there and actually pay me.  Mike also gave me a nice discount and carte blanche to paint figures and make models when I wasn't busy helping his customers.  

So how did this influence my militaria collecting?    Mike and his shop exposed me to many different historical eras.   We became good friends and attended many a gun show  together -- one of the finest gun shows in the nation is in Tulsa.    My horizons were broadened. I learned about the uniforms, equipment and weapons of world history.   Seeing these items in books, paintings, prints and reproduced as military miniatures was all well and good, but I wanted to see these items for myself  and, if possible, touch them.   

I left Tulsa in August of 1987 to attend the University of Mississippi -- Ole Miss.   I was back in the cradle of the Civil War.  I didn't do much collecting during my undergrad and lawschool  years.  Graduation in 1995 changed all that.