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September 2018

TALKING ABOUT THE HOBBY

It's been a couple of months since I wrote my last Banter and oddly, I get complaints about it not being more forthcoming, so I guess it is time to sit down and do this one. These writings, of course, are my observations on our somewhat strange hobby and the life style we live in order to keep doing it, and to also let you know what's going on in the hobby from time to time. We are in the process of packing for the upcoming MAX Show, kicking off on September 20th. We are leaving for the show in a week, so it is helter-skelter to pack-up the things that we hope the attendees will be interested in seeing, and also many buying. Although it is always good to sell some things, I think the main purpose of us attending the show is to "show the flag" and make a good impression of our hobby for those that will be attending. Most of your sale are made on the Internet anyhow. But, at the MAX, we go out of our way to always present a vast array of goods and also try to display them in such a manner as to appeal to the eye. Everything will be in our fine old wood show cases or properly propped-up with a stand made for the purpose. I found years ago, that impacting the viewer with material that is displayed properly can go a long way, not only for sales, but when things look like they are important, they are usually appreciated as such. It used to be at the old shows of the 1970s and 1980s, dealers would arrive with a big banana box and basically turn it upside-down, dumping the contents haphazardly over a splintered and show-worn wood table. It looked like rubble and in a lot of cases, it certainly was. Good presentment can make a so-so item all of the sudden very desirable. The potential purchaser thinks to himself, "Wow that looks good there, so it will look just as good when I get it in my collecting room". I know it sounds trite, but this psychology actually works.

I remember when I first started in the business, I looked at most of the dealer's tables and thought, "what a mess that so-called display looks like." Well, nobody ever heard of Tom Wittmann and I had the same basic material the rest of the guys had, so how could I get an edge on these characters? Obviously, a luxurious-looking table cover would go a long way to stand out in an old dim-lit armory gym. I also thought that since I had the same daggers they did, maybe if I cleaned them up a little, and displayed them all on a lined-up, even angle, it might juice-up the appearance. I also noticed that the majority of the dealers were hardly dressed to the nines, wearing wife-beater shirts or sweat shirts that I would have given to Good-Will a long time ago. Maybe making a good appearance would have some affect? So, I tried to dress a little better than the average Joe and got a haircut once in a while. This is not elitist thinking, as I have been accused of in the past, but are obvious tools to making the right impression on potential customers. Do you trust the guy more that appears comfortable in his surroundings, has a neat table and is friendly, or are you more apt to buy from the person that looks threatening in his appearance and grunts at you if you ask him a question? This stuff is all common sense and a little of it goes a long way. I found that these simple motions worked, and that other dealers, after noticing my increased sales on the same stuff they had, were beginning to spruce up their act also.

Another thing that always bugged me was how a 6 foot table was piled so high with junk, that it was nearly impossible to see anything that was being sold. A rusty bayonet scabbard sticking out from under a pile of greasy duffle bags was hardly a sharp marketing tactic. At shows, potential customers tend to walk by the tables and stop when there is something that attracts their attention. The only thing that attracts anyone with a piled-to-the-ceiling table is the urge to get by quickly before it all falls down on top of you. Show tables are usually pretty cheap, and it is a fact that you will sell more if the customers can see the merchandise. The extra sales derived from renting another table, of course, will more than pay for the cost of the extra table. Another thing that annoys me are dealers that don't put a price on any of their wares. I guess they do this so they can size-up the potential customer and blurt out a price that they think the guy looks like he can afford. In reality, though, the no-price-tag-on-anything table will turn-off most people. A lot of collectors are shy and a lot of them are even scared at these shows because the potential is there to spend your hard-earned dollars on something you may not know much about. Trust is a huge factor in this business, so many, when they see unmarked goods they will not ask the price. I know this is a fact, as I usually don't ask either, as I don't want to get into a pressure sales pitch or the like, when all I wanted to know was the cost of the thing.

Now that most of us in the business have a website, a lot of the above is not valid. But, the thinking behind it is. A good website is not expensive to set-up, considering its potential ability to make you money. Your business and wares are now being displayed throughout the globe. Your website should appear and be friendly. Your pictures should also be excellent and disclose the good and the bad of your product. You should be able to write a good description, as photography does not disclose all. And, the practice of not pricing your wares on your website is not a good one. Collectors surf the websites trying to find out the approximate value of the item they want for their collection. The attitude that some dealers have is that they don't want everybody to know what something is worth for free. Many also push the delete button when questions are being asked about items they own in their personal collection or they are seeking advice about artifacts in their family. Being friendly and forthcoming can produce a world of good things and it is a way to develop new customers. I could never understand this attitude of not sharing information. Collectors that are familiar with what they are buying are much more apt to part with their hard-earned funds. The one danger is that occasionally you inadvertently build-up "pen pals" and that can take-up a lot of valuable time, but it is part of the business.

One of the first things I did years ago back in the middle 1980s was to unconditionally guarantee the authenticity of the items I was selling and agree to put it on paper if desired. I was the first dealer in the industry to do this - it worked. Today, there are no prime dealers in this industry that do not do this. Why would you want to deal with someone that will not guarantee what he is selling? Despite this, we still see collectors that get stuck and usually a certain amount of it is their own personal greed as the item was SO cheap and they are being blessed by God by being able to buy the item before someone else does! We see this happen a lot with auctions, estate sales, yard and garage sales, and even still at shows. Unless you are knowledgeable yourself, these types of venues should generally be avoided as they are homes for deceit and dishonesty, being the perfect place to anonymously dispose of something that is no good. I for one, have always encouraged new collectors to talk to other collectors, go to shows and look and handle the merchandise, and lastly, and most important, buy and READ the books. Today, there are many totally reliable references available on almost ever collectible. If you are not sure what you are doing, try to cement a relationship with an honest dealer that you like and buy from him until the time comes when you feel comfortable with your hobby. If you do this, you will find that your hands will not be shaking when you hand-over several hundred dollar bills. Knowing what you are doing in this hobby can give you extreme happiness and satisfaction.

HOW IS BUSINESS?

Well, I am happy to report that the "Trump Effect" is beginning to show results in our beloved hobby. As most of you know, the hobby has been off the past four or five years. Our business had been adversely affected and for the first time in many years, I had to reduce the hours my staff was working and had to start pricing out suppliers, insurance policies, advertising and anything else that consisted of overhead in this business. I never worried about this kind of stuff, because in the past, no matter what I bought always sold at a profit and the dream of making a hobby into a business was always a success. I don't like being a businessman, but I have had to over the last few years or all of the sudden I'd be working at the 7-11 instead of down my cellar where I belong. It has not been fun, as my employees are always mad at me and the overall situation can become tense. But, you have to do what you have to do. Since our new President, though, I see business changing for the better. We are getting new customers all of the time and the general enthusiasm for the hobby is beginning to return. Now we are selling SA's and Armies again, and let's face it, the entry-level artifacts are what pays the light bill in this business. We have gone back to our normal hours for the staff and the email and phones are humming. I knew it would, as these things we love contain extremely interesting history that never could have been written if it didn't happen and the quality and beauty of the artifacts is still there. Let's face it, daggers and swords were originally made to appeal and cement morale for Hitler's military and Party organizations. Something that is beautiful and is quality-made works the same today as it did in the 1930s. Our tastes in clothes may change, but an old painting, a German Luger, or a 1st Model Luftwaffe does not go out of fashion. I have received many emails and calls from collectors that have not been doing anything for a number of years, and now want to get started again. We also get many emails from new collectors buying their first dagger or armband or flag. This is great and I see a much better future than I did 5 years ago. I expect to see a much larger collecting base at the upcoming MAX Show, as I was beginning to worry that it could turn into a "dealer" show and that's not what anyone wants.

Hope to see a lot of you there at Monroeville. If you don't make it, I'll be doing at video again with my son, Robbie, handling the camera. If the camera is a little shaky sometimes, we beg your forgiveness, as most of the time when we are at shows, we probably enjoy ourselves a little too much the night before. We're starting to make the videos a little longer, so we plan on that too at the MAX. I get a lot of collectors from all around the world that comment on their appreciation for these U-Tube things. A lot of Europeans and Asian collectors are thrilled to see what goes on and the amount of material available here in America. They say, especially British collectors, that their shows are nowhere near the size, and in general, complain about the "quality" of the goods at their shows. I don't know why it is, but, in general, artifacts coming out of Europe don't seem to have the condition of our vet bring-backs. Hard to believe that American G.I.'s took better care of their trophies than did Europeans, but life was tougher in Europe after the war up until the 1970s, so this may account for the reason. If you have a comment on the videos, please feel free to express yourself on the computer spot designed for this. Sometimes we get comments that are very disparaging calling me a "crook", and "when are you going to die old man". They have also called some of the dealers I interview, as sleeze balls and unsavory characters. I don't understand this, unless some people just like to be nasty. If you don't like what I am doing or who I am interviewing, just don't watch. It's all for free, so it strikes me odd that some people can be so bitter. If I were a woman, I'd hate to be married to some of these guys, or more than likely, they are not married, as who would put up with their attitude? For the most part, we get great comments, many saying that they learn so much from them. I am glad when that happens. This makes me feel that my time was worthwhile, because believe me, I don't have to take the time to do them and frankly, probably lose sales at my tables while we are out scouting around with the camera.

WHATS HAPPENING IN MOORESTOWN?

Once in a while I like to keep you abreast of the goings-on in our little town. Our main street is filled with little shops selling gifts, hardware, bakery and the usual string of deli's, cafe's and restaurants. And, of course, there's a Star Bucks. They even let you use the bathroom in Moorestown even if you didn't buy anything. I recently served as "best man" for a local couple that met at the Star Bucks. Although my best man days are pretty much behind me, I was flattered to be picked to do this job and, of course, make the speech and the toast. It's kind of hard to seriously give all of these sugar-sweet comments about love and the beauty of marriage when you're in the business of selling Nazi stuff, but it all went well and fortunately, I didn't step on the bride's four-foot train and rip it off the dress. It was a good excuse, though, to dust off my tuxedo. The only problem was that I lost 50 lbs over the last couple of years and the Korean tailor lady told me that she can let clothes out, but couldn't take this much in. So, damn, I was forced to buy a new tuxedo and probably the next time I wear it I'll be in a box. I hope they can get the bow tie straighter than I was able to.

Well, there's no liqueur licenses in town, so this keeps things pretty calm and its rare to find an eatery open past 7:00 because of this silly law. Hard to imagine having a cucumber salad with anchovies at the "Healthy Haven" and staying past seven o'clock without something to drink. There is a place that let's you bring your own bottle - which I like. I like to fill up some of those neat period flasks I have in my collection and tuck them into a pocket. The only problem is that usually the cork in the top stopper has been dried out for 70 years, so by the time you are ready to take that baby out of your pocket you're pants are soaked and you falsely smell like a drunk. But, it is still worth it, imagining the better places than a Moorestown restaurant that that tankard visited in its heyday.

Moorestown has been concerned over the lack of parking meters on Main Street, so after lots of argument from residents and shop keepers, they finally slipped a new law ordinance through in the middle of the night and the next thing you know we have parking meters, complete with a 6'9" cop to give a 20 buck ticket for scoff laws. Well, after a month, about 50% of the parking meters were broken, which didn't make too many people sad. I guess all of the kicks and slams out of frustration with a computer-driven parking meter doesn't help their life. Anyhow, the township got them repaired, but the other day as I was coming out of the deli, a Moorestown township trash truck backed up and knocked down three of the new meters. Talk about not being able to blame yourself! Now we have free parking for a while in those spots as it may take a new ordinance to replace them. All of this seems rather unproductive, as many of the town's stores are struggling to stay in business and we have a lot of vacancies. They are still waiting for the "Trump affect". Meters don't help and arguing with that 6'9" parking meter enforcer is enough to keep me out of that "Healthy Haven" salad place. I understand the two funeral directors are picking up the tab for their customer's meter fees, so its good to know that their businesses are healthy. I say that, but I have noticed that the Cadillac hearse for the Catholic Funeral Director and the Oldsmobile example for the Protestant customers are starting to show their age. In fact, I think Oldsmobile has been out of business for a few years, but then again, the one-way trips are not all that far. I once mused that the two undertakers ought to switch hearses and see what happens.

ALL FOR NOW

That's about all that is on my mind for now. I do hope to see many of you at The MAX Show - do yourself a favor and make the trip. If there is something on my site that you would like to see in person, I would be glad to bring the item to the Show.

If you have something to consign or sell, please don't forget about me. Our consignment business continues to grow in leaps and bounds. If you are getting up there and figure its time to cash-in, there is no better way to go, as you will always receive a lot more money consigning your artifacts than you will selling them outright. As long as there is time and no great rush, consignment is the best. It's fun to get a monthly check!

Also, don't forget we are in the restoration and fix-it business. It you have a broken SS, RLB or Postal grip, we can do wonders with these things. We are also very good at getting dents out of Naval daggers or other types. And lastly, if you need a 1st Luftwaffe dagger or Sword scabbard re-leathered, we are the best. We have the original leather and our workmanship is second to none. Call us for your needs - 856-866-8733.

SEE YOU AT THE MAX!

THOMAS T. WITTMANN