As many of you may already know, I got into firearms as an extension of collecting militaria so I thought I would do a quick and dirty guide for anyone who is at all interested in collecting something military-related as it is sort of firearms adjacent.
What is Militaria?
Militaria is anything that a military has used. This can be stuff made by a military, for a military or simply civilian stuff used by a military. It can include weapons, equipment, uniforms, medals etc. It is a really broad term which includes a near endless amount of stuff.
But what sort of weirdos collect this stuff?
Lots of people but mainly history nerds like me! Due to the broad nature of militaria, lots of people collect different elements of it. Often, collections can be very focussed and specific. For example, some people collect WWI trench knives and clubs. Others might collect British medals from the Victorian period. A really good collection of just one, specific aspect of militaria may contain thousands of items. Personally, I collect very broadly, but my largest collection is medals and awards from the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. More on this later.
This sounds great and all, but I spend most of my income on firearms, how am I meant to collect militaria as well?
Militaria can be super expensive, like, forget that house, you just spent the deposit on a German hat, expensive. However, in almost all areas of collecting, it is possible to put together a collection without breaking the bank. Below, I am going to break militaria down by nation and time period to give you an idea of what you are likely to face if you want to collect that sort of militaria.
Germany - WW2 (AKA, Nazi Shit).
Don’t. Or at least, don’t start here. Nazi stuff is by far the most popular militaria out there and this makes it very expensive. However, far more of an issue is that it is super, super, SUPER faked. If you see a piece of Nazi militaria outside of a museum or a dealer who you are absolutely certain knows his shit, it is probably fake. As in, random nazi stuff that you come across is FAR more likely to be faked than legit. These fakes started to be created before the war was even over and they continue to be made today. In addition to just out and out fakes, there are also legit items which get dolled up as something else. For example, someone takes a Wehrmacht helmet and adds SS runes to it. If you simply must have something in this area, civilian awards are not as faked (eg. Mothers’ Crosses) and third class wound badges were common enough that legit ones are still easy enough to find.
- Wound badge third class - $250ish
- Luftwaffer officer’s cap - $3000ish
- SS officer’s cap - $6500ish
Imperial Germany (Including WWI)
Much cheaper and far far less faked than the Nazi stuff but rising in price quite quickly I have found. You will commonly find awards and belt buckles out there for not a huge price however uniforms are very rare and command a lot of money. An Imperial Iron Cross is a nice starting point for anyone wanting to get into collecting Imperial German militaria.
Note: I said that Imperial German stuff is not faked as much, and that is true with one exception. Anything to do with Germany’s Sturmtruppen (stormtroopers) should be looked at very carefully as they are probably the most famous WWI units and so are faked more than others.
- Iron Cross - $250ish
- Pickelhaube (the helmets with the spikes) - $800-1500, depends a lot on condition but also unit. Prussian units command a premium.
Very common and still a fair bit around with some searching but has got A LOT harder to find in the last ten years. Bits and pieces of uniform are very much around and equipment is quite common. Medals are around but not as common as Soviet medals, at least not in Australia. Not faked at all that I know of. A great place to start would be seeing if you can get an East German cap. Very common and a nice looking piece. Fun fact, they used to pad the crowns with newspaper so if you get an unissued one, they often have some east German news stories for you to translate. If you ever see any East German equipment, it will have a very unique camo pattern called strichtarn which easily identifies it as East German.
- Border Guards Cap - $30-50
- Common medal - $40-60
Super common in terms of uniforms and certain pieces of equipment. Less common in regards to medals and awards largely because they are often still used in the current German military, making them less collectible. Generally similar prices to East German stuff.
This is my jam. Very cheap and a very wide range of awards, equipment, and uniforms available. The Soviets were famous for their designs and made a heap of great looking stuff. In general, Soviet stuff is not faked due to the massive quantities they made however there are exceptions. Very rare awards, such as the Order of Lenin, are faked and reproductions of Soviet equipment such as rarer uniforms are common but are usually obvious. Start out looking for Soviet caps and common medals.
- Common medal - $10-35
- Airforce officer’s cap - $30-60
- Order of Lenin - $4000-5000
Very rare and difficult to find and prices reflect this. In my roughly 5 years collecting and going to militaria fairs, I’ve never seen an Imperial Russian medal or piece of equipment. I have seen some belt buckles and buttons but not many. This is largely due to the mass destruction of Tsarist symbols after the Revolution plus a desire by a lot of Tsarist military officers to get jobs in the new government and so much of this equipment was destroyed. There are VERY good fakes of Imperial Russian awards coming out of Russia so be careful. No price guide for this one as this isn’t my area.
Obviously heaps of this stuff around. Medals are very common but are not that cheap and they are often still in their full bars which is good for collectors but bad for your wallet. WWI equipment is around if you know where to look but commands a premium and anything that can be directly linked to Gallipoli commands an additional premium. WWII equipment is still fairly common and stuff from Vietnam is very common. Vietnam era uniforms can still be found unissued if you have the patience. I’ve never heard of fakes but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gallipoli stuff is dolled up sometimes.
- WWII .303 bandolier - $5-10
- Vietnam era officer’s dress uniform (unissued and in original box) - $50
- Full medal bar - $350-1000
- WWI medic’s kit bag - $400
Post-WWII equipment and medals are very easy to find. Medals are very affordable if unissued and webbing is very cheap. Full uniforms are definitely available but are difficult to find, your best bet is looking to purchase from the US. Pre-WWII stuff, including WWI, is much more difficult to find and the price reflects this. The modern US military is probably the last major military in the world that still sells on at least some equipment when they are done with it. The most recent stuff I’ve seen are combat boots of various makes and winter jackets in digital urban camo.
- Unissued WWII medal - $10-50
- Vietnam era helmet - $150-200
- WW2 officers cap - $300-500
Weirdly not that common from what I have seen, with a few exceptions. Unit cap badges are very easy to find and cheap and belt buckles are also quite common. Uniforms and medals are more difficult to find and priced accordingly. Prices of all items can rise significantly if they can be linked to specific units such as the Paras.
- Cap badge - $30
- Standard issue belt buckle - $80
- Paras red beret with a genuine badge - $1000
Medals and awards are quite common and prices are fairly affordable. Equipment is more difficult to find and more expensive but it is out there. Most of the medals will have been purchased in Japan and brought over, most of the equipment will be veteran bring backs. Good luck flags are rare in Australia (far more common in the US) and are a bit controversial as many people believe they should be returned to the Japanese soldier’s family if they can be traced. Not surprisingly, almost no post-WWII/modern JDF stuff around.
- Common medal - $100ish
- WWII helmet in relic condition - $300
- NCO’s sword (machine-made katana) - $900-1000
- Officer’s sword (hand-made katana) $2500+
Very difficult to find in Australia but can be found sometimes online for high prices. It seems the only way to get stuff at good prices is to have a contact in China where the stuff is brought over by North Koreans sneaking into China to make cash. Be aware, I have found (and unfortunately bought) fake North Korean medals before. They are being made in China and sold into Australia. They came from a very legitimate seller too, see my note on fakes below.
But Nomis, where do I go to start my collection!?
Depending what it is you want, it depends.
- Ebay. Mainly for cheap Soviet stuff, Ebay is fine.
- A disposal store. Very much a dying breed. Aussie Disposals does still stock some disposals but nothing like they used to even a few years ago. Some have gone online and this can help.
- Militaria fairs. When COVID is done and these start back up, they are good to get an idea of prices and see what is around. You can find good deals but the sellers of course know what they have and what it is worth.
- A good militaria store. This is your go-to if you want to get into serious collecting. Militaria dealers can source what it is you are after or can tell you where to look and most of them can identify the random stuff you might have in the cupboard.
What is up with fakes?
So, let’s talk about militaria’s dirty little secret. Fakes exist and people get ripped off all. the. time. However, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Firstly, there are fakes, and there are reproductions. Fakes are items that are made to fool a buyer into thinking they are genuine. Reproductions never claim to be legit, and can be made for a few reasons such as for those who are into historical re-enactment (playing dress-ups) or who want to complete a collection where an original isn’t available. Within fakes and repros, there are good ones and bad ones. I have met dealers who have shown me fake Nazi badges that they couldn’t tell were fake and they look at this stuff every day.
However, the fact that these exist is not actually the dirty secret I mentioned above. The really dirty secret is that there are PLENTY of dealers out there who sell fakes. It is impossible to prove that they do so knowingly, but it is so common that at least some of them must. Many will simply not say anything, if you assume it is real and you don’t ask, that’s on you.
So how do you avoid buying fakes? There are three main ways:
- Do your research. The internet is a great resource and you should use it. If you are looking at a Nazi Iron Cross, do you know what is going to give it away as a fake? Well if you’re about to drop $400, you bloody well should. How large is the ribbon ring? Is it one or two piece construction? Who was the maker? What is the date of manufacture? Was that maker making Iron Crosses at that time?
- Shop at dealers who have a lifetime return guarantee. This means, if you buy that Iron Cross and it then turns out it is fake, you take it back and they return your money. If you ask about this and they get all high and mighty and offended that you would even ask the question, RED FLAG.
- Ask questions. If you’re at a militaria fair and are dealing with some random dealer you don’t know, ask them “so is this all genuine or are there some reproductions in here?”. A good dealer will often have them clearly separated on their table. Google the dealer’s name. Militaria in Australia is a pretty small world and you might find some information that will help you decide if they are legit or not.
General Thoughts and Observations
- Anything that can be linked to a specific individual is going to cost you a lot more as you are buying the history as well as the item. For example, a US Bronze Star, unissued, costs about $40. An issued one will be several hundred.
- Continuing on from the last point, make sure the history you are buying is legitimate. If a seller stands to make several hundred (or thousand) more dollars on an item if it can be linked to a bit of history, it is no surprise that some dodgy ones will alter items to fit.
- If you are going to be buying Nazi stuff, you are going to be dealing with white supremacists a lot. Accept that now.
- There are bargains to be had buying from overseas. Of course, this means you can’t hold the item before you buy but prices can be much lower. If you ever visit France of Belgium, stock up on WWI stuff.
- WWI Austrian stuff is underappreciated and can be cheap.
- Surplus seems to come in waves. I assume there are only one or two importers in Australia and they bring in shipping containers of the stuff once every few years. For example, ten years ago, every Aussie Disposals had East German border guards hats and they have totally disappeared but I’ve just noticed they are now back in stock at Mitchells.
- If you find Chinese medals for sale, they will have little red ribbon they hang from and look like they have been sat in manure for a year. This is because they have. They are fake. They are all fake. I don’t care what the seller tells you, they are still fake. I have NEVER seen a legitimate Chinese medal in my time collecting. I see these fakes at every militaria show.
- The War Relics Forum (https://www.warrelics.eu/forum/) is the place to go to find information, prices, and to have items authenticated. Especially Nazi stuff.
- Under the Red Star (https://undertheredstar.com/) is a brilliant resource on Soviet hats from all branches of the military and civilian services.
- The militaria collecting subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/Militariacollecting/) has some very knowledgable people and also plenty of cautionary tales showing why you should do your research. My favourite is the guy who paid $400 for a 1950’s pocket knife because someone had engraved SS runes into it.
- Dave Wright Militaria in Ballarat is a great shop with an amazing range of stuff. Dave is also a wealth of information and can usually point you in the right direction if he doesn’t have what you are after. He is my first port of call for anything rare of difficult that I am after and he also offers a lifetime return guarentee if anything he sells you turns out to be fake. His website is useless. If you ever see him at a militaria fair, make sure to check out his bargain bin.
- Will’s Backyard on Ebay (https://www.ebay.com.au/str/willsbackyardmarket) has a good range of common Soviet medals and awards. His prices are OK, you can find cheaper at militaria fairs but he has a good range and is good to deal with. He also sells plants if you’re into gardening.
- Going to add this Spanish Ebay seller in here (https://www.ebay.com.au/sch/militaria-girona/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_ipg=&_from=). I can’t vouch for them as I haven’t bought from them before and their postage is high but they have full Eastern Bloc uniforms, with medals etc which is not very common to see.
- Mitchells Adventure (https://www.mitchellsadventure.com/) is a disposals store that still has a lot of military surplus. I’ve ordered from them before without issue. Their prices are OK but the have a great range. The Melbourne CBD store is also worth a look if it is still around after COVID.
- Army & Outdoors (https://www.armyandoutdoors.com.au/) is basically the Kiwi version of Mitchells. Very good prices on surplus items. Thanks to @Martini for introducing me to it.
Thanks for reading this far! I hope this guide has been somewhat interesting and I will continue to add to it as I think of further detail that I want to mention.