Posts Tagged WWII

Flying High With Aviation Collectibles

2 September 2010

Human powered flight encompasses a large area of collecting interest.  Aviation is equal parts technology and romance.  It occupies a small slice of the span of human history but is a defining element of the modern world.  Airplanes fascinated me as a kid who spent many hours in libraries.  I poured over all the books that showed airplanes and explained how they worked.  The magazine racks held Model Airplane News magazine.  I was one of those kids who hung on the airport fence and watched the planes take off.  After high school I got distracted by popular culture but came back to my earlier interests as I got settled into a steady job and home ownership.  I put the necessary time and money into getting a private pilot’s license which was one of the highlights of my life.  Virtually every aspect of Flying, it’s history and continuing development, civilian, military or commercial is part of an ongoing love affair..

The kind of feeling I grew up with for aviation is what makes a collector tick.  A lot of people have that feeling for automobiles, trains, dogs, horses, stamps, coins, you name it.  I have the same thing for sailboats, hence my other blog: Seaward Adventures.  As a dealer in collectible items, buying and selling to make a profit was the main consideration.  Aviation was one of the few areas I collected for myself.  My pride and joy was an assembly of aviator’s wing badges.

When I first started selling collectibles I naturally gravitated toward items that interested me personally.  My interests payed off surprisingly well.  I had stumbled onto the formula that became my business model.  Artifacts that relate to an activity engaged in by well educated people with a passion for the activity and a healthy income to support the activity equals profitability.  Lets face it you don’t see any poor people climbing into a Cessna 172 to go for a hundred dollar hamburger.

The aviation demographic was grown by WWII and the postwar economic growth that allowed many Americans to pursue their personal dreams. My customers were frequently people with good stories to tell.  I always enjoy some good hangar talk which is why my favorite podcast is Uncontrolled Airspace.  Jack, Jeb, Dave and the various other contributors to the podcast are entertaining and educational in a way that makes a pilot feel connected with the flying community.

Some interesting items I have handled in my business or personal collection are:  Pilot’s operating handbooks for various vintage aircraft, early variations on the E6B flight computer, parts for Jacob’s radial engines,  early pilot’s goggles and way too many other items to remember.  I divested myself of all those collections.  I still dabble.  I have a few items on eBay right now.   A recently acquired WWII item was the subject of a previous Adventures in antiquing post.  You may view it at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=220663480133.

I find that people have fond memories of the aircraft they flew once upon a time.  The old sales literature with full color photos of prosperous young folks traveling cross country on business and pleasure have been good sellers.  I three examples on eBay right now.  See the Vintage Beech Sierra Sales Brochure 1973.

Sales have slowed down a bit because eBay is not a happening place lately.  Aviation itself is feeling the effects of the economic downturn.  Certainly some people will slow down their collecting as they tighten their budget.  Ultimately what sustains the market is passion.  Pin your business model on that

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WWII, the Home Front Tells a New Story

26 May 2010

I got into the antiques and collectibles business to do more than just sell stuff.  I’m not even a very good salesman.  I like the cash to flow but I’m also very interested in the things I sell.  If nothing deeper mattered and I was a good closer I would sell insurance.  There’s more money in it.  The historian in me analyzes my trade goods as artifacts.  Sometimes I get a priceless glimpse into the past.

Last Saturday I bought a book at a local antique shop and put it on eBay.  Click here to see. While scanning the photographic pages I detected a distinct slant to the presentation.  It’s a WWII era photographic booklet, We Keep e’m Flying.  It shows life for the men and women at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee. The 44 pages are replete with black and white images of the camp and it’s happy, smiling personnel.  Besides showing training scenes with guns and airplanes there is a heavy emphasis on recreational activities  and social life. You would hardly know there was a war going on.

I’ve handled a number of the yearbooks published for various military aviation training bases.  They tell a story of a generation of Americans who took loyalty to their country seriously.  The patriotism is openly expressed.  The subtext is often more telling.  In case you doubt that society has changed since the 1940’s look at  books, magazines and films the government published for consumption on the home front.  Some call it propaganda some call it public relations but that flavor is present as a matter of intent.

Equality blossoms in the war effort.

We all know about Rosie the Riveter.  She began as wartime propaganda and letter became a feminist folk hero.  In this book there are a surprising number of women shown  working along side of men, handling mechanics duties and training in the same ways.  One wonders if the emphasis was overstated compared to the reality.  The summer camp flavor of the piece stands out in contrast to the realities of life in a combat zone.

I recently sold a yearbook for a pilot training base in Kansas.  The ranks of photos of eager young cadets showed only Caucasian faces except for one training squadron that was all black.  We Keep ’em Flying presents a parade of fresh white faces except for the photo of the base laundry.  Here young black women wield irons as they press uniforms.  A solitary black male sweeps the floor.  It seems a sad note in the cheery picture.  It probably went unnoticed in 1945.  Now it leaps out and grabs our attention.

I do not mean to be too critical of the people of the time, context matters.  After all, out of the same crucible of war and societal upheaval came the Tuskegee Airmen.  No reasonable person questions the value of their contribution or denies their sacrifice.  Valor has no color or gender.

We all live in the context of our times.  What we do today may be judged differently tomorrow.  More than ever our lives are recorded for the future to see.  When our children look at us smiling back in artificial images will they only see the movie and not get the message?

The contrast shows behind the scenes

A collector is motivated by appreciation of  his acquisitions to value them for meaning as well as worth.  As dealers we tend to think of the bottom line.  The artifacts we engage with contribute to our worldview as we examine their place in our culture.  To paraphrase a  navy recruiting slogan: It’s more than a job, it’s a  classroom.

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How Cooperative Are You?

2 May 2010

The antiques business is filled with characters. It seems to appeal to people with eclectic tastes and individualistic temperaments. I have met very few boring dealers or serious collectors.  Not many people start up in this business early in life.  Most of us come to it after having gone through earlier job or career cycles.  Retirees are common in the trade.  There are a lot of part-timers supplementing their primary income.  Auctioneers are a whole subspecies of their own.

At one time I was in two different antique mall cooperatives. The personalities involved were interesting and sometimes challenging. A co-op is a weird assembly, a sort of  team effort but with the understanding that every man is in it for himself. At both places there was a requirement to work at the establishment for two days each month. I found the experience was good research into buyers habits and desires yet some dealers chose to pay other coop members to stand-in for them.

One co-op was in a large, drafty, former milking barn. Winter days found us huddled around the woodstove giving the place the ambienceof an old country store. The social interaction was great and we really got to know each other.  I heard stories of people from many walks of life.  I knew a guy who was an aide de camp to a general in WWII.  He was still in the army during the Bay of pigs incident in Cuba.  There were people who experienced the great depression.  We could learn a thing or two from those folks now.

In the other mall we had good heat and a tight insulated building.  we also had some old timers who knew there way around the business pretty well.  There was a husband and wife who were retired and sold antiques both to supplement income and as a way to stay active and engaged in the community.  He had been a music teacher at the local high school and she was a former District Justice.  They were both well read and didn’t lack culture.  He was a distinguished gentleman who seemed to be constantly in search of the “perfect Manhattan.”  They knew everybody and their kin for miles around and were a better guide to local history than any book was.  In his younger days he ran with some fellows who learned the trade by going “on the knock.”  Their guide to finding antiques was to look for old houses with lace curtains.  Nine times out of ten there would be an old woman living there and it could be well worth the trouble to stop and inquire if she had any old furniture she wanted to get rid of or a garage or attic needing to be cleaned out.

Most of the old guys I knew who had that kind of chutzpah had a barn stuffed to the rafters with good old stuff to sell.  While most dealers put a lot of effort into presenting a neat display of there wares in the particular booth they rented.  Some of these guys created a studied disorder that created an impression of clutter to draw buyers into the idea of finding special treasure amongst the obvious junk.  Some people seem to like something more if they “discovered” it.  The most successful dealer I knew operated this way.  Just keep things messy enough to make people feel that they are in terra incognita and hang up a 10% off sign and the world will beat a path to your door.  It always seemed to work with the tourists from New York.  and we loved New Yorkers.  But that’s another story.

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