Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My History as a Collector Part IV

In 1996, my wife and I moved to the Jackson area.  I started a new job.  I also started a new area in militaria collecting.

I had always been fascinated with British military tradition, but new very little about British military weapons and accoutrements outside of knowing that a Brown Bess is a British flintlock musket (little did I know that there are several models of the musket) and the British WWI and WWII era weapons and vehicles.  A new thing, called the Internet, changed all that.   In the infancy of dial up Internet, I found British militaria dealers that listed items or sale.  There were no pictures, only a written description.  Ordering an item was more than the simple click and pay that it is today.  I had to identify an item in which I had interest based upon written description, email the dealer to see if it was still available and, if so, request that pictures be emailed to me. If I liked the item, I attempted to negotiate a better price.  If a deal was reached, then I had to arrange for payment -- an international transaction.  Payment was typically by credit card -- a safer way to operate internationally in my opinion, because all purchases are somewhat insured.  If I didn't get the item, then I could dispute the charge.   Over the years, I became acquainted with one particular dealer in the United Kingdom.   As the Internet progressed, the dealer's  website technology improved and pictures were included with the description.  Pictures made things much more simple.  With this particular dealer, I developed a business relationship from which ensued a typical dialogue. For example:

Me:   Hello, Bob.  Do you still have item no. 354768, British pattern 1845 infantry sword, and, if so, what is your best price?
Dealer:  Hi Andre.  Yes the item is in stock.  Best price is £345 including shipping.
Me:  Thanks.  Let me think on it.
Dealer :  Okay. I'll hold it for you.

In most instances, we reached a deal and in case you are wondering, it takes about a week to get a sword England to Mississippi.   I did purchase from other dealers in the United Kingdom and France, but mainly from old faithful.  I am pleased to say that I never had a bad transaction with this dealer.  The few that I had that were unsatisfactory were rectified to my benefit.  The Internet allowed me to collect European  swords and firearms from the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries as well as a few uniforms and accoutrements.  At one point I had several British uniforms on mannequins in my office.  I'll admit that it was creepy.

The Internet also allowed me to connect with people who share my interest in old guns and swords.  I'm proud to say that I have made the acquaintance of one very knowledgeable people  from all over the world, some of them published authors on the subject of militaria collecting.  The Internet is not all good, though.   It is much easier pass off fakes when the buyer is making a decision based upon pictures.  I have not been immune to this problem.   Let me say that eBay is a great avenue to buy and sell.   It is  the world's largest garage sale, but  it is also a very dangerous place to buy antique militaria.   It was in an eBay transaction that I was swindled.

I have always like heavy cavalry swords, especially those from the 18th and early 19th centuries. Swords with huge, straight blades with basket hand guards that are meant for business appeal to me.   These swords, however, are expensive.     I had 18th century British baskethilted heavy swords and French heavy swords in my collection.  I wanted a German example.  I hoped to find one of the really cool examples bearing some Germanic noble's royal coat of arms incorporated in the hand guard.  I did some scant research to learn a little bit about what I wanted and decided that I would look for an 18th century pallasch--a German heavy sword.   The pattern originates to the to the 17th century, but I had seen  images of 18th and early 19th century German Kuirassiers, heavy cavalrymen wearing chest armour, armed with a pallasch.  I did an internet search,  hoping to find a dealer with a pallasch for sale, but couldn't find one.  I resorted to ebay and found one.  In my exuberance I forgot a cardinal rule of collecting.   You see, Internet buying is the pinnacle of buyer beware.  It should be the mountaintop of caution.   eBay is no different.  I have had numerous great ebay transactions. In all of those I knew what I  was doing.  Here I was in uncharted waters.   I didn't ask the question that my father asked me many years ago, "how do you know that it is real?"   I also forgot the other cardinal rule.  "If its too good to be true, then it is."  What I mean  is the the price was too low for what the item was purported to be.

What I bought came to be known as "the duck sword."   When I finally received the sword, I found that that it had an excessively heavy and inflexible blade.  I knew that something was amiss.  18th century swordsmiths were very good at their trade.  Genuine antique blades are well balanced and quite flexible.   An unbalanced sword is difficult to control.  An inflexible blade will break.  Knowing that an 18th century swordsmith probably would not turn out a product like this, I still rationalized that perhaps this sword was just not well made.  Actually, I had a  feeling that it had been made in either India or Pakistan in the 1980s.   I looked at the prized coat of arms in the guard  and found that it bore a poorly shaped duck with an equally unsophisticated crown over its head.  I did more Internet research, hoping in vain that this ugly coat was the cypher of some minor European royal.  Nope.  Nothing came up.  I ran it past my internet friends.  It was a duck sword.  At least it didn't cost that much.  I was able to return it, minus shipping both ways.

Its been nearly 20 years since I started this phase of my collecting.  I've  collected some amazing things.   No, I have not kept them all.  I've had to sell items to get other items, but I have had the opportunity to study them first hand where many people have only been able to read about them or look at pictures. I guess you can say that I have developed a broad knowledge base.  As my college advisor exclaimed when  he reviewed my transcript with my diverse coursework in history, art history, anthropology and business courses, "sh*t, you a renaissance man!"   Presently, I have returned to my collecting roots, so to speak.  Over the past 5 or so years, I have returned to Civil War collecting, after a brief time collecting WWII German firearms.  In my recent years in Civil War collecting, I've been fortunate to acquire both Union and Confederate swords and a few firearms.    Who knows what I will get into next.   I've always thought that it would be really cool to own a Roman legionnaire's short sword.   Hmmmmmmm....................

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.