COMMENTS ON COLLECTING
Collecting militaria, specifically US Air Force militaria, can be fun and rewarding. However, there are a few common sense guidelines and or rules to keep in mind when one collects, especially uniform items. Authentic and original flag rank officer uniforms command high prices. There are numerous people who would like to sell you items that are misrepresented and identified to USAF officers and personnel. Anyone can put together a USAF general’s uniform with very little knowledge. Old uniforms are abundant in military surplus stores along with old insignia and ribbons. With little knowledge, a general’s uniform can be pieced together and made to look as an authentic uniform owned and used by a flag rank officer. I have seen numerous examples of misrepresented uniforms being sold on Ebay and in military collector stores.
The most important question one should ask is “How is the uniform identified to the general?” Of course, this same question could be asked about any military collectible item identified to a person. I could write a book on the folklore and military tales I have heard used on items since I have been collecting. The following is an example of such a tale: “This old Ike jacket use to belong to General Henry “Hap” Arnold himself. A friend of a friend of my daddy during WWII was the personal aide to the general and obtained this jacket.” Without any proper identification of the general and or other direct historical ties to the general, the Ike jacket is just another old Ike jacket with a lot of pretty ribbons and insignia. Military folklore and tales abound, do not be fooled.
An identified piece may take many forms. One such form is the tailor labeling if the uniform was custom produced by a private tailor or company. The tailor labeling and identification tag, in many cases, were placed on the uniform as the garment was being produced. They are sewn inside the breast pocket and usually carry such information as the person’s name, rank, service number, customer number and date of manufacture. Many of the tags have the information typed and or presented in a way which is custom made to the tailor company. This means the information had to be placed on the tag prior to being sewn onto the uniform. Such tags when found are great for identifying and dating uniforms.
Figure 1: A number of examples of custom made tailor
identifications tags and labels.
In many cases, full tailor identification labels and tags are not present. Sometimes it may be a tailor tag with the embroidered name of the individuals. In other cases, it may be an embroidered name inside the jacket but with no tailor label. There are also specialized labels produced by the US Air Force.
Figure 2: Tailor labels with the name of the individual
embroidered inside the uniform.
Figure 3: Experimental Test labels are excellent sources of
identification. These labels are only produced and used by
the USAF Air Materiel Command. Usually, the information is always
hand written on the label tag.
Figure 4: In this case the general hand wrote his name and dated the uniform. However,
the name and date is also backed up with a period union label, the maker label,
and embroidered initials of the general. Because of its position, the embroidered
initials were placed on the uniform as the uniform was produced by the tailor.
If all generals had there uniforms tailor made with all the proper labels and tags it would make collecting an easy task. However, generals like anyone else, use the base PX, base clothing sales outlet or even the base used thrift shop to acquire uniforms. In these cases there may be little or no identification found inside the uniform and one may have to rely upon other methods of authentication.
Figure 5: Government nomenclature labels.
clothing sales outlet. The top example the general
wrote his name on the label and the bottom example
the general just used his initials.
If the piece is obtained through an estate sale of a general, the family of the general or estate sale company will be running the sale. If there is no proper identification inside the uniform, one should ask the family or estate sale supervisor for a small brief signed note of authentication that the piece in fact came from the estate sale of the general. A brief description of the piece in the note is always desirable. Even with proper identification inside the uniform it is always good to obtain such a note. The more authentication one has on the item the better it is for the future sale of the item and or its display and use.
Figure 6: A typical estate sale certificate which is desirable to
help authenticate items from an estate sale in lieu of or addition
to other identifying information.
Sometimes items are obtained directly from the individual. In this case the person receiving the piece has direct firsthand knowledge. However, without proper identification or authentication of the piece it does not matter whether the person has firsthand knowledge or not. If there is nothing to tie the item to the individual it will eventually become one of those folklore pieces mentioned above even though the information is correct. The original owner may be satisfied that the piece was obtained directly from the individual but the future owners of the item do not have the satisfaction of the original owner. Without a proper tie-in it’s just another unidentified item. Along with proper identification on the piece, the individual should also ask for a signed letter or note from the individual describing the piece and stating that it is from the person in question. Such a note is invaluable to the authentication of the item. The same rule-of-thumbs applies for garage sales and auctions by the individual whether through Ebay or an auction house. If an item is obtained at a garage sale or through an auction by the individual obtain a signed note or letter from the individual.
Figure 7: A signed letter from General Gabriel
authenticating the service dress uniform found in this collection.
Though the uniform is identified to the general, the note further
supports the uniform authenticity.
In lieu of sufficient identification, many collectors use a sixth-sense that is obtained through knowledge and exposure to your collecting field. I call this sixth-sense “IT DOES OR DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT.” It is the sum of knowledge the person possesses which gives them an inner sense of security or lack thereof in regard to an item. It allows the person to feel good or not feel good about an item based on one’s knowledge of the field. Knowledge linked with a gut feeling about the item and or situation. On many occasion I have heard a collector say “it doesn’t feel right” or “it feels right” about an items that is questionable. They are giving their opinion based on their collective knowledge of the field and what their gut tells them is correct. However, one has to remember that an opinion, where hard facts are not present, is personal and opinions change from person to person. In this type of situation, go by your own sixth-sense and the gut feelings of a number of collectors you trust who also know your field. How do your fellow collectors feel about the item in question? Gather a collective opinion of people you trust to help you make your decision. Its always good to know other trustworthy collectors.
One would be surprised to find out where some items may be obtained. In a few cases, I have literally found items in trashcans. Though there is no financial risk involved with this type of item, it is always desirable to obtain some sort of authentication on items with little or no identity. In such cases one may have to use their sixth-sense, accomplish research or become a detective in order to substantiate and historically link the item to an individual.
Many uniforms and items may be obtained through a base thrift store, used civilian clothing or thrift store such as Goodwill, and general local rummage sales. Such places located in or near a military installation is an excellent place to look for items. Many military families donate items to such places as they move on to new assignments and or retire. In addition, money will probably not be an issue if items are found at such places. However, if there is little or no identification one may have to go through steps as mentioned above.
Military collectible stores or trade show venders may charge premium prices on items knowing they could have a potential value. They will always charge enough to recoup their initial investment but also charge enough to gain a profit. And from my past experience, they will try to gain the largest profit possible. If there is little or no identification on the item be very cautious of the situation. Do not accept any folklore or military tales. Remember! A uniform is just a uniform without any historical or factual tie-in to the individual. It is good to know the reputation of the storeowner or trade show vender. It is also good to know other collectors who know these people and have had dealing with them over a period of time. Are they reputable and do they have a return policy if it turns out their information on the item is erroneous, misleading or incorrect?
Ebay can be an excellent source for obtaining items for your collection. From time to time I also sell extra items from my collection and buy items on Ebay. However, it also the worst place I have ever seen for misrepresented, misleading and down-rite wrong information. I am sure this is done in many cases unwittingly and in many cases where the person selling has full knowledge of what they are doing. One has to remember that anyone with little or no knowledge of the collecting field can sell on Ebay and it is clearly seen in many of their entries. I have witnessed a multitude of folklore and military tales used on items with no or false tie-in and factual information. There are also people on Ebay who sell for the only purpose of taking advantage of people with little or no knowledge. I have seen many items sold on Ebay for premium prices that were totally wrong and misleading.
When buying on Ebay one has to be very cautious. Is the item properly identified with good tie-in and or factual information? Is the item presented properly with good photos for the collector to examine? Does the seller have a good reputation on Ebay? Ask other collectors for their insight on the item. Do you know others collectors who have purchased items from this seller to gain a personal insight? Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as possible. When emailing the seller, does he answer? Does the seller answer with helpful, knowledgeable and clear and precise information to your question? Does the seller have a return policy? These are just a few questions to keep in mind when purchasing an item on Ebay.
And finally, as a rule-of-thumbs, there are a few things that will affect the price of a flag rank officer uniform. The more documented factual information and identification on the uniform the better. Highly documented uniforms tend to run higher than those with little or no documentation. The older uniforms tend to be more desirable especially if the uniform has direct embroidery in lieu of medal insignia and clutch back ribbon racks. A brigadier general (one star) tends to run a lower price compared to a four-star or full general. If the general is a person of note, e.g. Chuck Yeager, Curtis E. LeMay, WWII ace, Chief of Staff, etc., the uniform will command a higher price. Condition is very important. If the uniform is in poor condition it may drastically take away from it value. Some uniform types tend to be more desirable by collectors. The general’s blue USAF Ike jacket will probably command a higher price because there are less of them to be found and the Ike jacket is favored over the service dress coat by collectors. Specialized uniforms such as those with Experimental Test labeling and those considered prototype uniforms run a higher price.
It is my hope that the comments above help new collectors and old in their endeavors to enhance their collection.
27 March 2007