During the past few years, and through the process of my genealogical research combined with efforts to recreate uniform representations of various veterans in my family, I learned how to truly appreciate the scant few militaria pieces that I inherited. While no military service can be regarded as average or ordinary, I realized that none of the recreations I am developing are easy to achieve as most of my family veterans served in unusual capacities.
Recreating uniforms from period items is a worthy venture for me, but it would be ideal to have the original pieces. The only uniforms in my collection are from my maternal grandfather’s WWII naval service, which I inherited years after he passed. When one of my uncles (a veteran of WWI, WWII and the Korean War) passed away, I unknowingly had an opportunity to get hold of his uniforms. His caretaker held onto these items for years before they were donated to a charitable organization a few months prior to me learning of their existence. Saddened by the missed opportunity, it was at this moment that I embarked on my uniform recreation mission.
Needless to say, I have developed a considerable appreciation for the value of maintaining one’s family’s military history. By researching each individual, sending for military service records and researching the histories of the units in which they served, I am slowly creating a narrative of substantial history that I will assemble into a volume that can be handed down to future generations. With all of these accomplishments so far, it would be difficult to place a value on what I’ve assembled. The idea of selling away any elements of this collection solely for monetary gain is incredibly foreign to me.
Watching the various television shows regarding antiques is one of my carnal pleasures, especially when militaria items are discussed. It is quite entertaining when the owner of an item has a fair understanding of the piece’s history and how it is associated with one of their ancestor’s service. When a monetary value is assessed to the item, the hair on the back of my neck begins to stand up as I can almost see the owner begins to formulate spending plans subsequent to the selloff of their family history.
One of the shows that I frequent is Pawn Stars (seen on the History Channel). If you’re not familiar with the format, the reality TV show is centered on the owner and employees and the business transactions in the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, located in Las Vegas. The cast of the show has fun with each piece that is brought into their shop, some of which they buy either to sell or for their own personal collections. It seems that without fail, militaria pieces are brought into the shop and the viewers are then treated to a brief history lesson as local experts are called to the shop to provide analysis, authentication and appraisals.
When I sat down to watch the ‘Put up your Dukes’ episode, I was eagerly anticipating a segment in which a man brings in what he believes is his grandfather’s Spanish-American War dress uniform coat. When they show the man arriving with the coat, a rush of emotions ranging from excitement to frustration arose within me as I listened to the man tell what he knows of his ancestor’s service and how he came to inherit the uniform item. Although he states that piece is from the “Philippine-American War,” his story is met by the staff with some apprehension, since there was no such war. The customer is really unsure of his grandfather’s service but doesn’t seem to be too concerned with the details.
When the pawn shop owner, Rick Harrison, asked the man what he wanted to do with the piece (pawn or sell), I cringed at the response – that the owner wished to sell the uniform so that it would be better cared for by someone else, saying “I am just hoping to get some money for it… a large amount of money.”
As it turned out, the uniform was a beautiful example of an M1902 that belonged to a first sergeant (gunner) who served with the Coast Artillery Corps. While it was missing a few pieces, the condition of the coat looked to be outstanding. Missing from the collar are the “U.S.” collar brass which would be placed next to the artillery devices (crossed cannons), closer to the front of the collar.
After a few moments to collect myself following the conclusion of the show, I arrived at the idea that there are many people who are detached from their family history for myriad reasons, and they might be in considerable need of the cash. Rather than hold onto the militaria, they opt for the financial compensation which is understandable, especially considering the current economic climate.
[Pawn Stars, HISTORY and the History “H” logo are the trademarks of AEN. Collectors Quest is a partner of AEN.]