HOW WAS THE SOS?
Robbie and I attended the SOS the last week in February. Although it rained almost the whole time, at least this is negotiable, whereas this time of the year, it could have very well been snow. So, I guess we should count are lucky stars here. It is amazing that in all of the years and years of SOS Shows that we have attended, there has never been a snow storm before arrival, which, of course, could ruin the show with dealers and collectors not being able to brave the weather. A couple of years ago, we did have a major snow storm on Sunday after the show ended, but made the best of it by laying over in Columbus, Ohio for a couple of days - not a bad thing and a good way to catch up on my sleep after a grueling show.
As advertised, the OMVS Club came up to snuff and did actually provide and rent nearly 2000 tables! A massive feat in our hobby and something to be much admired in the militaria industry. A militaria show this size would have been unheard of 10 years ago. The hall at Louisville Convention Center is a massive huge room, so everyone has a good spot as there are no corners, backrooms or alley ways where the unsuspecting can get caught and suffer sales accordingly. The show is also magnificently run by the team under the leadership of Bill Combs and Brian Coates - fantastic. Check-in is very smooth and organized and runs as good as a well-oiled SA blade sliding into a proper scabbard. This is all because they have RULES that have to be obeyed. The nice part about having a full show with a waiting list is that the promoters of the show become the absolute boss, not the dealers. I guess there are always those that resent being told to do anything, but with this show, if you don't like it, you can hit the bricks, as they do not need you.
They have also solved the revenue-losing switching show pass problem that plagues all shows, as at this show, you not only have to wear your pass, but you also have to wear your club membership badge, both with your printed name on them. Everyone there, no matter whether they are a dealer or a table helper has to be a club member - ingenious and right. Why should there be people at tables or roaming the set-up hall that the club does not know? This is how thievery occurs. So, there are no more 350 pound dealers or helpers walking around with a badge that says "Sally Freidman" or something. In fact, I like it, as when you are talking to someone with a badge on, you don't have to be embarrassed calling him by a name that is not his - has happened to me many times in the past. I've even in the past signed my books over to the name on the person's badge, only to discover that this was not his name and wound-up wasting the book!
So what was the show like? Well, for the past three or four years, I have been a little depressed with the small amount of collectors that show-up, but I think this is changing. I noticed a lot of people there (other than the many hundreds of table holders and helpers, there was 2600 paid attendance), and I also noticed it in my sales. Usually, I approach a show like this, thinking it will only be a good place to buy for my inventory and most likely, I'll sell very little. Not this time. I sold a good number of daggers and other items, and I think for once, I might have covered the $3500 cost to me to attend the show and maybe even made a couple of bucks. I was very pleased.
I was also enthused with the general attitude of the people I talked to. It wasn't the usual bad-mouthing the hobby or talking about dealers they hate. The people I engaged at my tables were enthusiastic, smiling and were truly appreciative of the vast amount of militaria collectibles displayed and for sale at this show. I think we have turned the corner a little in this hobby. Whether it's Trump's tax plan or Trump's way of making everyone feel better about the economy, I don't know. But, the difference was very noticeable by me and frankly, I liked it a lot. At night, I also saw dealers and collectors having a good time at the many restaurants and bars in the area. I also attended some great room parties where I also sensed that things are definitely better. I think the hobby stalling in the past few years and the resultant price lowering may be over and it might be time to start thinking of the future and maybe for the investment potential we are looking at here. Might be time to start buying Armies, SA's, Luftwaffe's and Naval daggers again, as if the hobby is on its way back, these are the starting points.
Since I also attend this show to have fun, I have got to say, I surely did this time. There are really a lot of good people in this hobby that are certainly nice to know because we share the same interest. But aside from that, they are worthwhile people on their own. I guess it sounds funny to say, as it seems we will put up with anyone as long as he has a good dagger, uniform or hat collection, but truthfully, I am proud to say that many of the people I know and associate with are just top-notch, aside from the hobby. I want to thank some of the fine folks that I enjoyed at the show. Some of these unbeatable guys and gals are: Bill Given, Joe and Dominic Polsinelli, Wayne Techet, Walter Kanzler and Steff, Serge Masché, Johnny Van Etten, Jim Brown, and Andrew Gates. I was also happy to see my old friends Tom Johnson and Ron and Margaret Weinand, who I did not see at the last MAX as Tom was ill and Ron had a broken leg. Hard people to beat here!
UP JUMPED THE DEVIL
While attending a party in one of the hotel rooms at the SOS, something happened that nearly stopped my heart. While conversing with a group of dealers, the son of one of them got his phone out and showed me a picture of a dagger he said his father bought at the show. The photo pictures an early SS dagger with a large monogram engraved on the top scabbard, "BF".
Last summer I handled a valuable consignment deal from two different dealers. The consignment consisted of a mint Eickhorn full SS Röhm dagger, a mint maker-marked Jacobs SS dagger with exclamation point motto and a pair of weapons belonging to SS-Sturmbahnführer Dr. Bernhard Frank. The pair consisted of an early silver-hilt SS lion head sword and an early SS dagger with his monogram on the obverse upper scabbard fitting. Being an extremely capable and loyal officer, Frank was assigned to Himmler's staff and was in charge of the SS at Berchtesgaten at war's end. When Göring telegramed Bormann that as per his agreement with Hitler signed in 1939, he would now take over the Reich as it was rumored that Hitler's health and mental faculties were failing. When shown the telegram by Bormann, a raging Hitler ordered that Göring be arrested and shot. At war's end in April 1945, Göring was holed-up at his mountain chalet on the Obersaltzberg near the Berghof. It was Dr. Frank's job to carry out the order. Since Frank knew the war was nearly over, he did arrest Göring, but did not have the heart to carry out the execution, especially after Hitler had committed suicide. Frank was instrumental in getting Göring to surrender to the Allies. Frank wrote a most interesting book about the episode and lived to be in his late nineties.
These four historical weapons were sold by me to a Russian for the sum of $100,000. Since we can not send parcels into Russia, the box containing the four weapons was sent to the cousin of the Russian, to his factory in Finland. Along with the parcel was a separate package that contained an album with a research dossier, as well as photographs depicting a 97 year old Frank holding his SS dagger which clearly showed the large engraved initials, "BF" on the scabbard mount. Since my basic insurance plan with Collectible Insurance was for $50,000, I had a $50,000 rider put on the policy specifically for this shipment. After about a month, the worst possible words were sent to me in an email, "We have received the dossier package, but have not received the parcel with the edged weapons". I was so worried that I was physically shaking. How could this happen to me? After requesting a search with the post office, it was discovered that the parcel left the country and made it as far as Amsterdam where it disappeared from the postal chart. What a disaster. I had lost some of the best and most historic edged weapons to surface in years.
With great sadness, I paid the consignors of the pieces and proceeded to file a claim with Collectibles Insurance. I never told the consignors that the pieces were lost, as I did not want it to get around that "Wittmann loses your daggers in the mail". Because of the loss amount, the insurance company actually sent representatives to Amsterdam and Finland, questioning the appropriate postal people as well as the Finish cousin at his factory. All the while, I did not know if I would get paid and more than once worried that the Russian customer was sending someone over to America to cut my throat as I explained to him that he would get his payment after the insurance paid me. It took about 6 months of agony, but finally I was paid. This is something you never forget and never want to happen again. Collectibles Insurance are very good people and I highly endorse them.
Well, there was the picture of the dagger with the unmistakable monogram, "BF", staring me in the face atr the party. I lost my cool and yelled, "That dagger was stolen in the mail. Where is it". The silence was deadening and remains so. It appears that the box was not lost in the mail, but must have been stolen by a European Customs agent or a Postal employee and now the piece(s) have made their way back to America. I have reported this incident to the insurance company as it is my signed obligation to do so, as recovered items are the property of the insurance company. Failure to do so would be a breach of contract and would lead to much legal trouble for me. It is my belief that the insurance company will leave no stone unturned in this matter and wouldn't it be wonderful if these historic and important edged weapons can be returned. I truly hope so.
So, for those of you out there that scour the Internet and auctions, please keep an eye out for these SS edged weapons. I have posted pictures below of the four pieces. If you buy them, you are dealing in hot goods and if caught, the weapons will be confiscated and you could be in legal trouble. If anyone knows where these weapons are, please let me know and you will help with solving a major theft here. We all have an obligation to help if we can, as put yourself in the same place and see how you would feel. Our collectibles are everything to each and everyone of us. Let's all help and see if we can't solve this deceitful crime.
GREAT HOUSE WITH SUPERB COLLECTIBLES
Every so often I get the chance to visit a collector's home and view their life's work and passion. Recently, I had the supreme pleasure to overnight in the upper New York State home of advanced collector Craig Jacksland. When we hear the word "New York" most of us we think of the large buildings and turmoil of NYC, but for those of you that are familiar with the upper part of New York, it is anything but this - beautiful mountains blended with breathtaking lakes and countryside, much of it literally untouched and virgin. Craig has taken an old barn located on half-wooded and half grass-covered land and converted it into a magnificent residence with trimmings that are completely jaw-dropping.
There are many staircases, coupled with high-vaulted ceilings, fireplaces and wood stoves and a bar here and there, even in the garage. His wall spaces are tastefully filled with artistic, hand-made decorative shelving that lends itself to the display throughout the house of not only his outstanding 3rd Reich collection, but with antiques from all eras stemming from Revolutionary, Victorian, Edwardian and art deco, to even modern pieces. There is even a mounted zebra and stag shot by Craig on a safari trip to Africa to greet the viewer as stairs are climbed to reach further pleasure areas. A couple of bear skins rest on the railing to further comfort the efforts of the climber.
Craig logs his own firewood from his woods in the back and has three year's worth staged by time for continual instant heat and for grilling the best of steaks. Going to a museum is always fun, but to have a home containing one to enjoy each and everyday has to be the best of both worlds. Craig is truly a man's man complete with the happiness and fulfillment that is only generated by Mrs. Jackson's always positive attitude of his creations - what a lucky man!
While viewing Craig's pristine '62 Corvette in his handsome garage, he showed me a picture of his grandfather's barber shop from the 1940s. Here on the hair-cutting wall are hundreds of vintage local G.I. pictures and sweethearts, coupled with their captured German armbands, insignia, edged weapons, helmets and topped in the center with a "Stars and Stripes" shield with the banner declaring, "God Bless America". All of this is fitting and awe-inspiring positioned over the barber's basics of after-shaving lotions and bottles of Trol, Kreml and Jeris powder proclaiming that this is the America that won the war seen from the prospective of a small-town barber shop.
Craig's grandfather was Raymond Calvin Thompson, born 1903 and died 1999. When the U.S. entered WWII he photographed the service men and women in their uniforms and civilian clothes. He also painted on the barber shop wall the European nations that were involved the war. Daily he would place a needle where the day's action was - no doubt this produced lively conversation while getting a shave or haircut. When service men returned, they always made a point to stop into "Ray's Barber Shop" and say hello. A great patriot! I have shown the picture below in the Banter, and I think that you will agree that this photo captures one of the best period war-time expressions to be seen from small town America. Is it any wonder that Craig's inherited genes have produced the splendor and taste reflected in his home.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MY YOUTUBE VIDEOS?
I get quite a few comments from our show videos and would like to know what other collectors feel about them. Oh, I know they are amateurish, but I think everyone can get the idea. The noise of the show background is tough to overcome and without a hand-held microphone, it is sometimes difficult to hear the speakers, but if you listen hard and turn up the sound, it is not too bad. The good part is these videos cost nothing to produce and what better way to show collectors around the world what goes on and what is offered at our fabulous American shows? I guess some feel that I am on an ego trip with these, and although I admit I do enjoy watching myself clown around on the TV screen, I still try to educate where I can and attempt capture the exciting atmosphere and fun that these shows generate. Although admittedly, the videos are somewhat self-serving, the main reason I do them is to hopefully encourage new collectors and also try to sure-up the investment that many of us have in our collectibles. At the last SOS and also at the Roberts Center Show previously, I was blown away when at least a dozen different young people came up and introduced themselves, saying that they never knew about these shows and that is why they are there! What a great thing, eh?
As most of you know, I work my butt off always trying to promote our great hobby. I think these videos are the #1 way to encourage new collectors. Oh, I know I probably lose a sale or two at my tables while my son Robbie and I are out on the show floor videoing, but in the end, it is worth it. I feel that I am actually bringing new collectors in, no matter the corniness of the productions. We certainly do not rehearse anything and I am known as "One-take Tom", so what you see is what is really happening. You know, sometimes I question what many other dealers do for the hobby, other than make a lot of money. In fact, few ever do anything, other than count the hundreds in their pocket and move on to the next customer. While as long as they are selling real stuff and guaranteeing their wares, I guess there is no harm, but for the few of us that actually promote the hobby, these dealers are cashing in big time on the work what we have done in the past and continue to do. This is not to say that other dealers are not instrumental in the growth of the hobby, as a good piece is a good piece no matter who is selling it. As the saying goes, "Fine feathers make for fine birds".
Off the top of my head, though, guys like Tom Johnson, Jason Burmeister, Paul Hogle, Bill Shea and a few others are also hard workers continually promoting the hobby through their desire to talk to collectors face to face, or through their professional Internet sites, or through the works they publish or provide on video. Actually, if you think about it, every edged weapons dealer in the world owes much of their living to the initial dagger books published by Tom Johnson. If it were not for these references, it is doubtful the hobby would have ever come any further than $15 Hitler Youth knives and $25 SA's. I think it is every dealer's obligation to do as much for the hobby and its collectors, as they do for themselves.
SPRING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Well, with the SOS done now, there are no real big shows to look forward to except the MAX in the fall. But there are plenty of smaller shows to attend including the Pomona CA show in May and the Roberts Center Show in June. I hope to see some of you guys at these shows.
For those that may not be aware, we can send you automatic updates of our new inventory. This way you may be able to grab that piece that you have always wanted instead of the guy in front of you that is getting the updates. All you have to do is go to our website and it tells you how to do it. Also, don't forget, we are in the restoration business also and if you need a grip repaired, a scabbard re-covered with leather, a dent removed from a scabbard or some other work done to an edged weapon, please keep us in mind.
HAPPY COLLECTING TO ALL!
Thomas T. Wittmann