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May 2021

HOW'S THE HOBBY

Well collectors, we all probably wonder how the hobby is doing after the last year of challenges with the virus. I wanted to describe it right, so I looked in my Thesaurus for the words for "great". They are "magnitude dimensions, immensity, enormity, and might". These terms do indeed correctly describe the hobby today. Last year we had the best year in probably 20 years, and so far this year, it is even better. I don't really know why suddenly interest has spurred internationally in our beloved Militaria hobby, but maybe some of the reasons are that many folks stayed home for a year, and maybe had nothing to do but look at the Internet. Another reason (good or bad) may be some of the free money that the government has been handing out. And yet another reason might even be the U-tube seminars I have been doing over the last year discussing and showing many of our collectibles as well as talking about authenticity. For the first time in years, I see hordes of new collectors coming into the hobby. What a tremendous thing that is. New blood! And, a lot of them are young people that suddenly have taken a shine to the adventures of collecting war relics. It is truly wonderful. I must get 50 emails a day dealing with questions and looking at photographs of collector's new purchases. It is very invigorating for me, as I have always enjoyed helping where I can in the hobby. As you all know, the hobby is fun when the collector understands not only what he is purchasing, but also that it is authentic. Oops, suddenly a little of my "inner joyfulness" has now shrunk, because as I am writing this, I just got off the phone with my accountant, as he somewhat gleefully announced to me the amount that I have to cough-up to Uncle Sam this week for having a good year. Damn, the annual "leveler" is always there - just when I thought I was doing good.................

I don't know whether all of this hobby action is just a fluke, but I hope not. It also makes me believe that upcoming shows like the OVMS Corn Field Show in Wilmington, Ohio on June 11 and 12, the OVMS Show of Shows in Louisville July 23 weekend and then the MAX Show in York, Pa. on September 16 thru 19, ought to be jam-packed with dealers, collectors and those that want to be. There virtually have been no shows for a year, so most of us are more than ready to hit the road for the action and to see the many friends we have made over the years. I have found that keeping inventory has been a challenge, so these shows we'll also be an opportunity to do some re-stocking. Although I like all of the Internet sales, I must admit that my vault is about half empty these days, something I have not seen in a couple of decades. So, I hope you guys will venture out to one or two of these great shows. You got to bring your wallet, or failing this bring some material to sell, as either way, I am certain these shows will be the best we have ever seen. It is also wise to make your hotel reservations early, as normally the close-by places are filled if you wait too long.

U-TUBE SEMINARS

When the virus first hit I wondered what I could do to stay in touch with collectors and at the same time give them something to watch and occupy a little of the time that was on their hands. We have made U-tubes for years giving tours of the shows we attend, but I had never really thought of conducting a seminar where I can talk face-to-face directly to you collectors. My purpose was to somewhat entertain you, and also try and share some of the things that I have learned over the years. I was amazed at the success of the programs. Each episode can hit 10,000 views! I think Google is actually starting to like me, as they seem to run a lot of commercials during my presentations. Who even knew there were that many potential hobbyists in the world, let alone looking at Wittmann. The emails I receive from the seminars are very fulfilling. Collectors really seem to appreciate the authenticity tips I give, as well as being able to see some very fine collectibles. Some even tell me that they watch the things over and over, driving their wives bananas. I even got an email from a guy in Mongolia! Can you imagine that! Who would believe that U-tube was even available there, let alone the fact that a Mongolian was interested in collecting!

I also get emails asking stuff like what kind of cigars am I smoking and what am I drinking during the presentations? I guess I shouldn't be doing any of that, but honestly, the smoking and the drinking kind of puts me at ease during the filming. I am usually kind of nervous when I start a presentation, so drinkin' and smokin' helps. If I start slurring my words though, I'll have to cut back a little. So far, no one has written to me about that, so I am in the clear. I have had people complain that my house must stink - depends on what you think "stink" is, as I like the smell of cigar smoke, but, of course, Marie does not and I am not allowed to smoke in the house - she only puts up with it during the presentation time, and then barely. Anyhow, the narrow bumpy-looking cigars that I smoke mostly all day are called "DeNobili" and they come from Italy. They have a subtle flavor of anisette and I think they are satisfying and I enjoy them immensely. They are also the same cigar you will remember Clint Eastwood smoking in the Spaghetti Westerns, probably because they were filmed in Italy and some producer spotted the cigars in a store and thought they would go well with Eastwood's character. Also, if you watched the fantastic DeNero and Joe Pesci movie, "Casino", there is a neat scene where Pesci is on the phone with the Kansas City mobsters. He says something to the effect, "I'm working my ass off here in Vegas, while you greaseballs are sitting around smoking your De Nobili's". I like that! These cigars are anything but "cultured" and I guess no self-respecting cigar connoisseur would be caught dead with one, but I like them. In fact, I remember when I was a teenager working construction, all of the Italian bricklayers smoked these cigars. They really aren't very pleasing-looking either, appearing to be an old knotted rope (or worse) in your mouth.

As to the booze I'm drinking, I again have to fess-up, that it is nothing fancy and probably something none of you would want with all of the fine single-malt scotch and Irish whiskey around. Actually, what I drink is an extremely cheap Rye whiskey called, "Imperial". I am ashamed to say it cost $16.95 for a half gallon bottle. It tastes identical to "Seagrams 7", which I drink when I am not at home and can't get "Imperial". I mix it with a little "Diet Pepsi" and love it. I guess it is not good, but I'll confess that I drink every night, usually with a 5:00 o'clock post time and quit at about 6:30-7:00 o'clock being dinner time. Somehow, I manage to consume a half gallon of this stuff every week, but I don't have to borrow money from the bank to afford it, and I don't get hang-overs So, there you are - you're finding out more about me than you probably wanted to know....

I also get complaints from some guys because I handle expensive artifacts with my bare hands and don't use gloves. Well, if you want to wear gloves to handle your Hitler Youth Knife with sharpened blade and broken grip plates, by all means be my guest. I realize the potential of the oil and acid in our hands to eat into blades, but it is not going to happen between the time I put the weapon down in the video and later wipe it all down with a cloth when I put it away. So, for you guys with the gloves, do your thing, but please leave me alone. It's my stuff for the moment and I can do what I want with it.

I also get remarks that you have to be a "rock-star" or a "maharaja" to afford some of the things that come from my collection. I guess that would be true if we were buying everything at once. But, for you guys that feel that way, remember, I have been collecting since 1965. I remember when I first saw pictures of a Chained SA High Leader, about 1970. I thought, wow, what a fabulous dagger - I'll never be able to afford anything like that. Well, you can't really think like that, as this hobby is a long term affair. If you start when you are young, yes, it is difficult financially to acquire some of the rarer officer daggers. But, you do it one-by-one, year-by-year. Hopefully, you will be making more money as you get older. And, as that happens, then you buy the Chained-SS. Maybe you can get lucky and also find a piece or pieces that are underpriced, buy them, sell them for a nice profit, and then buy that Government Official you always wanted. I have been fortunate to have been in this business full time since 1981. As I buy things and sell things, there is always something that I would like to have in my collection. Usually, that can be accomplished if your business is successful. The only thing you have to worry about though, is that you can't keep too much, otherwise, there is no business. And, let me tell you, I have sold many, many, many pieces that I would have liked to put into my collection, but I understood the rules. Today, it doesn't bother me as much as it used to, as I have most of the pieces, and if you already have a nice Himmler dagger, you don't need another one. I have also found that upgrading pieces is an excellent way to really get a fine collection. Many times I would buy something from a collector, and his piece was better than my personal example. So, I was able to put his piece in my collection and sell my other one, usually for the same price that I could have sold his. So, there was no out-of-pocket hit and I got a better example for my collection. You can also scour the Internet, yard and garage sales, go to shows, auctions, estate sales, Craig's list, Gunner Broker Auctions, etc., and many times you are likely to find something that can be way underpriced. Here is an opportunity to make a few bucks, but, of course, you have to know what you are doing, as these arenas are also the favorite places where the dishonest move the fakes. So, if you are a young fellow, try to think about the hobby as long term. If you can only buy one piece a year, there is nothing wrong with that - in 30 years, you'll have at least 30 pieces! And, it is normally money-in-the-bank, as rarely is there a loss on nice pieces kept over a period of 10 to 30 years. It is also a good way to think of retirement. Your collection can be a buffer to your 401K plan.

WHAT ABOUT IVORY AND THE CURRENT LAWS?

I talked about ivory involving edged weapons during my last seminar, but thought it would be best if I write down some of the specifics here. About 5 years ago, laws were passed throughout Europe and America banning the purchase of ivory. The law is designed to stop the butchering of elephants in Africa and India, something I am sure we all support. The problem is that the laws tend to affect the innocent much more than the guilty, similar to many of the gun laws. It is not the law abiding people that are killing others on the street, and it is not the law abiding people that have anything to do with elephant slaughter.

I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to give legal advice. However, I want to explain to you collectors the laws as I understand them and what we can do to preserve our hobby. Many edged weapons, going back to even the 1700's are equipped with genuine ivory grips. Despite the fact that the grips come from animals from well over 100 hundred years ago, it is illegal to sell them in America. You are allowed to own them, but can not sell them legally unless certain steps are taken. First, if a given weapon is over one hundred years old it is considered an antique. But, it has to be over 100 years. So, if you have an Imperial Hunting Cutlass with ivory grip plates, it can't be sold as is. There has to be a certificate executed by a qualified appraiser certified by the government's Fish and Game Department, which comes under Homeland Security. The appraiser will examine the ivory to determine that it is indeed ivory. If the piece is over 100 years old, he will issue an "Antiques Exception". With this certificate the weapon can now be sold, but only in America. Europe has its own laws. Along with this "Antiques Exception", the amount of ivory can not account for more than 50% of the volume of the piece, nor can it account for more than 50% of the value of the piece. Normally, this is not a problem with swords and daggers. I might mention that many of the states in America have slightly differing individual laws pertaining to ivory exemptions, so it is best to check with the state from which you live.

OK, so now you say I have a Nazi piece with an ivory grip and it is not 100 years old and therefore is not an antique. What now?. Well, there is a certificate that is called, "De Minimus Exemption". This certificate states that the ivory on the weapon was removed from the wild, prior to 1976, which, of course, would be the case with a 3rd Reich era weapon. The 50% rule also applies here. But, with this certificate the 3rd Reich piece can now be sold in America.

These certificates are available for a cost of $200 and need to be issued by an approved Fish and Game appraiser. If you are wanting to do this with a piece or two that you may have, I can help with this. Also, if there are any repairs to the ivory, there can be problems with the certification. And, also, if the ivory exceeds 50% of the item, there is no proper certificate that can be written. As an example, I have a small ivory tusk in my collection that is about 14 inches long. During the 1920s it has had a cigar clipper fit to it and also has an applied coat of arms in silver. Since the bulk of the piece is ivory, it can not be certified, despite the fact that it comes from pre-1976. I am allowed to own the tusk, but can not sell it.

So that is a brief synopsis of what we are looking at here. Although these laws are something we do not welcome as collectors, they have been passed and we need to abide by them. In addition to destruction of illegally sold artifacts, penalties and fines can be very severe. There is no reason to panic if you have an ivory-gripped piece. It is just a matter of going through the proper steps and everything will be fine. As I said, I am willing to help anyone that would wish to obtain certifications. I would also think that once a certification is had on a given artifact, it then becomes something that collectors will want. Ivory pieces have been in a slump the last five years, as collectors do not know what to do with them. I am offering the answer here and if the proper steps are taken, we can all go on to enjoying these ivory pieces and marvel as they increase in value as the desirability for them increases. After all, they are very beautiful artifacts, representing extremely important history. Don't they deserve to be properly certified? Think of it as, "what's an unregistered Thompson machine worth, compared to a registered one with all of the proper papers and licenses?"


An ivory certification document

Another ivory certification document

Above are copies of the approved cerification for Imperial and 3rd Reich weapons with ivory grips.


IS IT TIME TO SELL OR CONSIGN YOUR COLLECTION?

If you are getting up in years or are contemplating retirement, we are specialists in selling a few pieces or entire collections. Our proven record of positive sales of thousands of daggers, swords, and other militaria is known throughout the world. We would love to help you to dispose of your collection in the most profitable manner, just as we have done for countless collectors and families over the years. If you are handling a collector's estate, please contact us, and we would be happy to help you. The hobby has been on a very positive up-swing the last year or so, and it is a good time to receive a fine return on your investment. We do all of the work and checks are sent the month following the month the item is sold, completely paid for and is received by the purchaser. Please give us a try. I am sure you will be pleased with the results.

Best to all,

Thomas T. Wittmann