WELCOME (BACK) TO THE BANTER
Well, I hope everyone is enjoying their summer and that most of the vacations are over and we can get down to some serious hobby doings now. I know you all hated to spend the money you were saving-up for your next dagger on the family vacation, but in order to continue harmony and keeping everything balanced, you do what you have to do. Don't worry, though, as the jobs are coming in now and it will not be too long before those raises start being handed out, as hopefully the Wall construction will begin soon and Americans will be doing American jobs and for more money. I hope Donald can figure out that fat guy with the bad haircut in Korea before he causes us or the rest of the world any real problems, but I have confidence in him. Doesn't it sound great to hear someone stand up to these kind of corrupt ego maniacs around the world - finally! It feels good to hear that America is done with taking all of this crap we have for decades. And, Congress is going to have to buckle down too and get the great tax cut through along with a decent health care plan. No one is making anything easy for Trump, but like he said in the beginning, if the person in the job can't do it - he's fired and we'll get someone that can. That works in business and it will damn well work in politics. Although there is a lot of turmoil in D.C. now, I kind of like it, as I know pulling the drain plug out of a swamp must have a lot of suction and corrosion behind it. Even worse, the drain plug might be cork and you know what happens trying to get them out of a too-seasoned bottle. They wind-up cracking and shredding and squeaking and sometimes even falling apart. Perhaps, that effect will be the desired one. Sorry for commenting on politics as it is not my purpose in life, but we are all vehemently affected by it these days, and I just can't help but stay abreast of what's going on - sorry if I offend anyone.
While I am writing this Banter, I am watching the coverage of the Charlottesville disaster. The car murder now has taken the turn of the authorities finding Nazi items at the home of the perpetrator. This kind of thing always gets the public thinking about the dangers of these hate mongers. I always worry that all of us that enjoy collecting this historical memorabilia are lumped into that category of White Supremacists, Skin Heads and Nazis. Again, this is a good reason why we have to stay low key at shows. The displaying of swastika flags on the walls in the show halls is almost a calling card for the authorities to move in and somehow stop our beloved hobby. All you need is a local news team coming into the hall and photographing the "Nazi Bund" meeting happening at the MAX or the SOS, because that is what it will look like to the average American watching TV. The authorities in Germany are trying to do it now, attempting to legally ban the sale, display and collecting of 3rd Reich material. If this happens, that will be the end of the German collectors, the German shows and also the great German auction houses. And, don't think it can't happen here. It is already starting when you see the legal removal of an historical monument of Robert E. Lee put there in 1903 as a memorial to the Civil War and the lives that were lost. This does not represent hatred or slavery when taken in the context of the historical time that it occurred. This park and the monument dedicated to southern culture deserves to remain as a symbol of our past. It's just a shame that Skinheads and David Duke are the only ones that go out to defend it.
HOW'S THE HOBBY GOING?
It seems recently that things are beginning to pick-up some, as we have had some pretty good sales this summer. A lot of it seems to have been around AH silver and related things and a lot has also been around SS daggers and swords. At least from my perspective, these two areas have been leading the Wittmann parade. And, if you think about it, how you going to go wrong with Hitler and the SS. I don't know any collector that would not want to add a Hitler Teaspoon to his collection or mount an SS Chained dagger on his rec room wall. Do you? Both arenas were fearsome things whose memory left an indelible mark on the 20th century and continue to draw increasing interest from the public, even as we progress into the 21st century. The TV documentaries continue to dominate the evening with 3rd Reich history and the movie industry now is enjoying the fruits of the unbelievable British Army escape from Dunkirk. If anything, the interest in 3rd Reich history and WWII seems to continue to be growing. And, from our standpoint, it is hard to imagine the artifacts connected with "the ultimate evil" will not continue to interest people. As like they say, "no one could have written it if it did not happen". And, when all is said and done, it certainly is exciting history.
Having said all of this, though, it is a fact that the introductory levels of daggers such as Army, 1st and 2nd Model Luftwaffe, RAD and Naval's (to a smaller degree) have all come down in price, as interest seems to dwindle without an infusion of young people into the hobby. Granted, a lot of us oldsters are throwing in the towel or have the nerve to die, leaving some pretty formidable collections on the market place. With the new collectors coming in, however, standard daggers, already being too easy to come by, all languish as the rare and unusual daggers in these collections all go out the door quickly. And, the longer the common ones sit, the more the price goes down. How low it will go is anyone's guess. Until the young generation gets interested in history again (half of the them don't even know who Hitler was) and gets away from all of this FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Computer Games and 24 hour phone-in-hand, I don't see much happening quickly with the introductory level daggers. The good part is, there are still enough of us serious collectors out there looking for the more uncommon and choice-conditioned pieces and that keeps the hobby alive.
It is also funny to me how the bottom seems to have fallen out of etched bayonets. I mean to tell you, these blades are absolutely beautiful and of the highest quality. They are easily on a par with the etched Voos pieces. What could be more fun than to collect the specific etched varieties made by prestigious factories such as Eickhorn, WKC, Klaas, Höller and especially the Pack varieties which are second to none. Yet, we have had in stock many of the same wonderful bayonets offered for years with no takers. Guess maybe our prices are too high, but where do you go with these works of art? To give them away seems ludicrous and would be very painful to our beloved hobby. Perhaps the fake etched bayonets on the market place have taken their toll? But gees, all you have to do with etched bayonets is deal with a competent, honest dealer and arm yourself with Wayne Techet's fabulous bayonet book, and there is no reason why you should go wrong. As a hint that you can mostly take to the bank - pass on any etched bayonet where the leather washer is behind the blade shoulders. On the real ones, the leather washer should slide off the blade. (There are exceptions, but not many). Just imagine the pride in ownership one would achieve with a couple rows of etched bayonets, with their blades gleaming, running down a well-lighted collecting wall or in a large glass-topped table. A lot of fun here and most impressive to even those that don't know a thing about German edged weapons.
Speaking of fakes, this "devil hiding in the bushes" is always the nemesis with new collectors. I don't think the Forums do much to help with this either, as many of these Forum sitters are always scaring the pants off of new people telling them terrifying, untrue things about any dagger or medal or anything being offered on a dealer's website and warning them that every dealer is a crook including myself. While it is indeed true that some of the things being produced in the Eastern Bloc countries are getting pretty good, there is still nothing like the genuine article. These predators always screw-up on something, as if they were intelligent enough to be honest, they would not be doing it in the first place. Some of these things in the fake market really burn me up, particularly the advent of modern-made damascus blades being mounted in period hilts and passed off as the real deal. These modern machine-made damascus blades are different from the period blade patterns, and if you are used to looking at the genuine article, you will not get fooled. They have the blade patterns wrong in the damascus and use patterns that we never see on real stuff. Also the methods of installation into an original hilt are usually haphazard and amateur, and if you know how period pieces were correctly fit you will know right away when tomfoolery is being exercised. The trouble is, it is almost too late now, as these Polish, Czech and Pakistani crooks have almost killed the damascus blade market - a real shame. And, as an after thought, the selling in America of these damascus blades (usually priced in the $100 area) through the well-known Texas reproduction company isn't helping anything either.
WE GET LETTERS
I get a lot of emails and letters from my customers. Most of them are terrific and speak well of the writer himself and his enthusiasm for collecting 3rd Reich militaria. Then there are those that can be really nasty. I don't get many bad letters, but I guess if you are high enough on the flag pole, someone is always going to be shooting at your ass. Just for fun, I thought you guys would like to read some of the more "select" examples of hatred (and maybe some jealousy) of your fellow dealer/collectors. Since I have been in this business a long time, they don't bother me like they used to and these days I usually just get a good laugh. Hopefully, you collectors will also find them amusing, if not just plain stupid.
Do you think I give a fuck whether some 90 year old junk hustler likes my attitude or not? You better pay me and return my property.
Dear Mr. Jones,
I don't like your attitude one bit. I don't even know you, nor to my knowledge do you know me. I do not have a clue what you are referring to with your statement about $1100 commission being charged for taking "pictures". I have done the best I can to market your items in a fair and equitable manner. Once this current business is done, I prefer not to hear from you again. You are obviously not a nice man and from what I can gather from your attitude, you do not belong in this hobby.
OK sir. You know what I tell you? Take your pieces of bricks and build a Berghof yourself. You wanted to stab me asking $200 for 4 shitty pieces of brick and this is the way you treat me after waiting one month for a photo. Don't answer me because your emails will go directly to the rubbish bin.
Thanks for the email, but I will put the Berghof bricks back in my shed. No, I do not want to pay the shipping cost as it would be about $80 to ship them to Spain - can't do this for free. You are too difficult to deal with and have wasted a lot of my time - sorry.
Happy New Year--------are you senile, or physicotic (sic) ?? I called you asking if you had any dagger parts...you said you would get back to me. Months passed. I called again and talked to your son. Did you reply? Hell no! Why not? Didn't your mother teach you any manners??? Then, I wrote again! Still asking the same old question. Did you answer..Hell no. Exactly what is it that you do? In your case, IGNORANT, is a compliment. Learn to reply to people or retire.
Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know I am still thinking about you from time to time. Usually this is when I am going over your updates and answering the mail they generate as to the disgrace to the hobby you have become. Today I saw your beautiful SS Watch with dog tag and letter of provenance for $3295.
I went and did some research and I know you like to be a patron of the hobby and I found the original owner in Mogadishu. I am thinking you can maybe fly out there and do a visit and good faith Banter and return the booty to its original owner.
As a side note, I also watch your videos with Walter and his shitty toilet paper and your cigar-chomping bullshit and think to myself that it is a good thing. I like this guy because he thinks we are all fucking idiots when he lists his items.
I see airfare is discounted to Mogadishu and first class as well. You're a fucking disgrace Tom.
Have a good day, you hack.
Well collectors, I hope you enjoyed this group of "fan" letters. It doesn't happen very often, but I know that if you deal with literally thousands of people every year, there will be times when things go wrong. Most people are pretty nice about it and believe me, we try very hard to please everyone. But, as you read in the above letters, it doesn't always work. All you can really do is just shrug your shoulders, apologize where necessary, or if the relationship or situation just has no saving grace, it is best to ask that perhaps this person would do better with another dealer.
SOME STORIES FROM THE PAST
I usually like to talk about my late best friend Bill Laret in these Banters and we will do this again. One of Bill's European friends was the curator of the Dutch Ship Museum outside Amsterdam, the renowned naval and antique weapons expert, J.P. Puype of Holland. Bill had asked Jan if he could set up a personal visit for yours truly to the Kaiser's Estate in Holland, called Huis Dorn. When the Kaiser went into exile after the Great War, fortunately, Holland allowed him to live there as long as he did not exercise any political ambitions. Wilhelm II left Germany with 96 railway cars full of belongings and much of it arrived at Dorn. The estate was purchased from the grand parents of Audrey Hepburn and was perfect for the Kaiser's exile life. It allowed for him to remain low-key, yet he could still have the room to maintain a social life worthy of an ex-monarch. The main house was equipped with enclosed separate stairs, doors and passageways that allowed servants to move about without disrupting the family, entering family rooms thru hidden doors. Wilhelm II lived there with his second wife, Princess Hermine, until his death in June 1941. Afterwards, the estate with all of its contents was confiscated by the Dutch government for non-payment of taxes. Hitler had cut-off the Kaiser's pension in 1936, so to some degree, Wilhelm was on a budget and often found it necessary to sell personal possessions to keep things going.
After the war, many of the Kaiser's possessions were put on display in Huis Dorn and a museum was created. Many uniforms, edged weapons, china, paintings and state gifts were put on display on the main floor. Jan arranged with Dr. Schmidt, the curator of the museum, for Bill and I to tour the estate. It was indeed one of the greatest days of my life. Schmidt took us everywhere, including private quarters where the public was not allowed. There were marvels to see that were beyond belief. To hold in one's hand the Kaiser's Grand Admiral's Baton is not something you forget easily. Nor was viewing the monarch's mint-conditioned gilt Guard du Corps helmet with silvered top eagle or his Grand Admiral's Naval uniform being complete with a presented Imperial Naval dagger with dedicated damascus blade from his brother, Prinz Heinrich.
But probably the best part about the day was Schmidt's allowance of Bill and I to travel to the attic. There, packed in closets were about 100 of the Kaiser's uniforms, all with the one short arm and all loaded with the finest bullion embroidery and regalia one could imagine. We knew that the Kaiser had a uniform made for him representing each and every one of his regiments - and most of them were still there hanging in the closet. Additionally, there were many boxes containing the appropriate head gear and other accouterments. In another closet there were swords piled up literally like cord wood. We pulled a few out of the closet and took a look. They were all presented blades to Wilhelm from the king of this country and the duke of that country and on and on - fantastic. There was even a Samurai that seemed to be about 6 feet long with beautiful historic blade. We asked Schmidt about the things in the closet and he kind of waived us off saying that most of the things still had to be cataloged and it was obvious he did not even know what was in there! Here was untouched history in the flesh, all laying in front of us. It was an incredible exhilarating experience.
Schmidt took us around the Kaiser, the Kaiserine's and also the Kaiser's second wife, Princess Hermine's bedrooms. There were many beautiful little presentation boxes, small bronzes, porcelains, mementos and pictures of the voyage the Kaiser took on the Imperial yacht, "Hohenzollern" to Jerusalem in 1898. Fabulous items never seen by the collecting community. The Kaiser had a small desk in his bedroom and the chair was a saddle! Schmidt told us the Kaiser was an avid horseman and felt most comfortable working at his desk while seated in the saddle! Schmdit went on to say that much of the old aristocracy came to see the Kaiser during the 3rd Reich time, despite the fact that it was forbidden by Hitler. Bill asked Schmidt whether Hermann Göring had ever visited the Kaiser at Dorn, and Schmidt's eyes lit up. "Oh yes, he did - once!" and went on to say that Wilhelm could not stand Göring and did not want to let him in when he came to call unannounced and not "properly" dressed. But, Wilhelm was finally convinced by staff that it would be best if he did. Wilhelm wondered what Göring wanted of him to make this visit. As it turned out, predictably, Göring wanted the Kaiser to grant him a title! The Kaiser fumed with anger and after Göring finally left title-less, the butler was brought in and ordered to take the chair Göring was sitting in, down to the furnace and BURN it. Which he did! Must have been one of Hermann's few disappoints in his outrageous life.
When Bill and I left the main house we went out into the garden. There was a grave stone for "Senta", who was the faithful Dachshund that had accompanied the Kaiser's side throughout the war - kind of touching. At the back of the property is a mausoleum where Wilhelm is buried. One of the many good parts of my trip to Dorn with Bill Laret and J.P, Puype was that Marie was armed with our VHS video camera and with Puype's permission, we were allowed to video everything including the Kaiser's wardrobe closets and personal areas. The only stipulation was that I was not allowed to copy or share the video, which I have never done. The only problem is that my VHS machines have long since broken, (and they don't make or fix them anymore), so there is no way to view the old videos. So all of the treasures of my Dorn exploits will remain in that banana box together with scads of others containing the greatest video ever, "Debbie does Dallas" and the many very exciting exploits of the likes of John Holmes and Ron Jeremy, probably never to be viewed again - damn. Why do all of these machines get out-dated so quick.................
MAKE US AN OFFER IF YOU WANT A DEAL
I spoke above about having a lot of common daggers. I meant it. They are all on our website. If you are interested in one or two or three pieces, why not make us an offer. Don't worry about the prices on these pieces. The prices on these daggers are not in stone, and we are willing to make a deal - something that is good for us and good for you. Take a look and give me a call.
Also, don't forget we are in the restoration business. So, if your Luftwaffe leather is bad, or your Naval dagger has a couple of dents, or if your SS grip is chipped or if you need some sharpening removed from a blade, or, or, or, or - there are lots of things we can do for reasonable prices to help out an edged weapon that is in need. Please give us a try. In most cases the turn-around is in a week or less.
I WISH EVERYONE THE BEST!
Thomas T. Wittmann