With the advent of the internet and the worldwide web, it became possible to put almost anything before the eyes of anyone with a computer. You didn't have to leave your home in order to make purchases, communicate with others or share opinions with anyone on the planet. Regarding those opinions as they apply to military collectibles - just how accurate are they and what are they worth?
The Evolution of Opinion
With the advent of the internet and the worldwide web, it became possible to put almost anything before the eyes of anyone with a computer. You didn’t have to leave your home in order to make purchases, communicate with anyone on the planet or have access to a wealth of data and information on any subject imaginable. Transmission and reception of photos, text, website links and email were now at the user’s fingertips.
Next came a profusion of online blogs, social media sites and small businesses. It was now so easy to put your thoughts, your photos, your life, your products and your opinions out there for all the world to see. After all … isn’t that for what countless patriots gave their lives protecting and insuring for us all … our God given, “inalienable rights”?
Foremost among these precious rights in this country is that of the freedom of speech. We all thoroughly enjoy it while at the same time taking it for grant every day. We enjoy these freedoms because someone paid for them. It would be prudent to remember what every veteran already knows … and that is … freedom in NOT free!
So we now come to what was the natural and predictable off-shoot of our freedom of speech … the freedom to express our opinions … and thus … the evolution of “The Forum”. For the most part this was a good thing. Every hobby, every interest, every topic had a forum to discuss, exchange information and give an opinion on a given subject. They have become an invaluable resource and guide for both the experienced individual and the novice alike. However, somewhere along the line a few of these forums have taken on a life of their own and become a tool for slander and vindictiveness.
Particularly In the field of military collectibles, the forums have come to be accepted as THE final word as to what may or may not be an authentic piece of militaria. There are individuals on these forums that the novice collectors revere as “experts” in the field. This is the prevailing belief. If the forum says its “good” or “I like it.” … then the piece is considered to be absolutely righteous and the collector who put the piece out there for scrutiny can go to sleep and rest confident that his piece is, without question, an authentic piece.
On the other hand if the forum “experts” say that a piece is “not good”… or “I don’t like it.”… or “How can that be original? Originals are hard to get.”, then the piece is considered to be definitely not good … a fake … a reproduction … a fraud. The collector is then crushed and made to feel that he has been victimized by some unscrupulous dealer. Whereas this may be true in some cases, in the majority of them … it is not.
Faceless “experts” on these forms have ascended to the point where they now have the power to condemn a perfectly good piece and poison the mind of an unknowing and somewhat inexperienced collector who values their opinion as gospel. It amazes me how quick some of these so called “experts” are to reply to something that is posted on a forum. Within minutes the cascade of opinions is under way and the inquisition begins. “I don’t like it.”, “Here is a picture of the ones in my collection. Yours is not the same.”, “This isn’t correct.” Or “That shouldn’t be like that.” And on and on it goes until the vote is tabulated and the popular consent has been reached by “Those in the know”.
This collecting by democratic vote has become the norm in the field of militaria. What to do if there are varying opinions on a piece? What then? Who does the original poster believe? What to do then? Does he accept the “pro” or the “con” opinion? Does he count up the “goods” vs. the “no goods” and accept that as the final word? And what does he do if the pro vs. con count comes out in a dead heat?
The point I am trying to make here, is that collecting by democratic vote is ludicrous in the extreme and that the only thing a form is able to do is to provide an opinion … an opinion. That is all it is … an OPINION. That opinion did not come out of the burning bush or come down from Mount Sinai. It is the opinion of an ordinary person who is not perfect. I, myself, as an individual and dealer are far from perfect. I will be the first to admit it. The only individual that I know who is truly perfect does not live on this planet. The value an individual places on an opinion should be predicated upon the source from which it comes. No one knows it all, has seen it all or has handled it all. In the end, even in the “democratic vote” form of collecting, a decision has to me made by the individual seeking the advice. It is he or she … and he or she alone who must make the decision … and he or she alone who must live with it … for better or worse. The most we can do as collectors is to make an educated decision about a piece. But an opinion is only an opinion … EVERYONE has one.
On a final note, I can personally attest to known “experts” making incorrect assessments of a particular piece. To make a long story short, many years ago I purchased a piece from one of the most high-end and most expensive “experts” in the field of Third Reich medals and badges. I was content that the piece was “good” because of their reputation and the quality of the pieces they offered for sale. There was a distinctive flaw on the reverse of the piece I purchased and when I asked the dealer about it I was told that, “It was a normal characteristic of that particular maker.” Several years later I had to sell a large portion of my collection to pay college tuition for my children. I took the badge back to the dealer from whom I purchased it. I offered it to him at half the price I paid for it. He inspected it and then floored me by telling me that it was not good. When I showed him the flaw on the reverse side he told me, ‘You did not get that from me.” I had spent a great deal of money with this dealer in the past but that was the last time I had any dealing with him. So the lesson here to be learned is that there are no real experts. There are only ordinary people who profess to give “expert” opinions.
There are those on the forums that are considered to be “experts” and their opinions are generally accepted by forum members as unshakable and decisive. For the most part, they are NOT accepted by those who know better. Those people who render these valueless opinions and who are venomous and critical not only of the piece itself, but of the individual who may have sold it, are doing nothing more than slinging trash and putting another person or dealer’s integrity in question … and doing so from afar. They immediately throw out that a piece is “no good” and the individual who is trying to sell it is a crook who is trying to steal your money. “Just listen to me. If you want to see a real one, go to this or that website and you’ll see it. Just look at the photos!” “This guy is just trying to rip you off!”, “What does HE know? I’m telling you what you should believe.” This type of pontificating is truly sorrowful and of absolutely no consequence.
There is nothing that will prevent these individuals from continuing to spew their poison, their ignorance, their jealousy and their slander upon those who do not know any better. Those who DO know better … just ignore them. For as many people as those to whom you may show a piece and they say it is “good” … you will find those that say it is “no good”. Believe in yourself and what you know. Expertise comes from years of experience obtained by handling know examples, studying their characteristics, their detail, their quality, and their construction techniques. EVERYONE involved in the hobby of collecting militaria has been burned at one time or another … ask the next ‘expert’ whose advice or opinion you may seek if it is not so.
With the prices of artifacts being what they are today, you want to be sure of what you are purchasing. This is only logical. If you are not sure of what you are purchasing … then do not spend your hard earned money foolishly. As I was told many years ago by a wise old collector … “Don’t talk yourself into buying a particular piece because you WANT it to be real or the story to be true… and most importantly … IF YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR JEWELS … KNOW YOUR JEWELER.” And to those that feel the need to rebut what I have set down here, I say … if the shoe fits wear it. The only ones who will be offended by THIS opinion … are those who ARE offended by it.