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Acquiring items from Vets/families, the best way


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Most have the gear they kept, or from a family member or friend. Then there's the items they buy, on auction, at a flea market or collectors show. As well as an antique store. Also, there is word of mouth. 

Now, there is, or have been, getting an item with contact information (or re-searching) to see if they have anything else they want to part with. How would you or do you approach them, without "turning them off"?

 

 

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tdogchristy90

Lifer, I don’t really do this but in trying to regroup items for the archive I worked for I will usually contact the person I’m trying to get ahold of and be as polite and professional as I can.
 

I’ll state something along the lines of how I’m an academically trained historian or am contacting on behalf of the archive I’m working with (this is to express the professional, I’m not some guy off the street...I’ve spent time, money, energy trying to actually build a reputation) then i’ll also say something expressing that if they do not wish to talk or engage about the veteran that that is okay as well. (This is the being polite part, don’t want to burn a bridge or be rude.)

 

I think as long as you’re polite, courteous, and professional that’s what matters. If they don’t want to talk then at least you’ve laid it all out there being as nice and professional as possible. 

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Tdog christy

Glad to get your comment, which is good advice, and the way to do it. With that, you would have good results. 

Maybe someone else would add to this, or report on their outcomes.

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You don't.

 

Unless you're a real museum, it's largely considered grimy in the hobby to approach vets or families with the intent of acquiring items. It is distasteful to approach people and ask for their personal and family history. Most collectors who have acquired items from families did so by happenstance (yard sales, flea markets, etc), or were given the items after getting to know them with no ulterior motive. Neighbors, family friends, co-workers, etc who came to a conclusion ON THEIR OWN that the collector might be a good caregiver for their family's history. This is how all my direct from vet/family items came into my possession...someone just brought them in one day and thought I'd be a good guardian.

 

There have been a couple well known and notorious collectors who acquired their items from families by all manner of distasteful methods...claiming they were for a "museum" (aka personal collection), saying they were historians/authors doing research, and even ambulance chasing (calling widows of vets listed in obituaries). I'm not going to say any names, but some of these cases are well-discussed on some of the many militaria forums on the internet.

 

I have been approached a dozen times or more by collectors looking for items, particularly combat worn items, one or two while I was currently wearing those combat worn items in combat. I know how I felt about it, and thus I would never ask a veteran or family for their history.

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tdogchristy90
1 hour ago, Brig said:

You don't.

 

Unless you're a real museum, it's largely considered grimy in the hobby to approach vets or families with the intent of acquiring items. It is distasteful to approach people and ask for their personal and family history. Most collectors who have acquired items from families did so by happenstance (yard sales, flea markets, etc), or were given the items after getting to know them with no ulterior motive. Neighbors, family friends, co-workers, etc who came to a conclusion ON THEIR OWN that the collector might be a good caregiver for their family's history. This is how all my direct from vet/family items came into my possession...someone just brought them in one day and thought I'd be a good guardian.

 

There have been a couple well known and notorious collectors who acquired their items from families by all manner of distasteful methods...claiming they were for a "museum" (aka personal collection), saying they were historians/authors doing research, and even ambulance chasing (calling widows of vets listed in obituaries). I'm not going to say any names, but some of these cases are well-discussed on some of the many militaria forums on the internet.

 

I have been approached a dozen times or more by collectors looking for items, particularly combat worn items, one or two while I was currently wearing those combat worn items in combat. I know how I felt about it, and thus I would never ask a veteran or family for their history.


Brig, you bring up a good point.
 

There’s a difference between talking to a vet who is your neighbor or reaching out on behalf of an archive or University.

 

It’s something totally different if you’re seeking to hunt these people/things down like you said.

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scotty1418
10 hours ago, Brig said:

 

 

I have been approached a dozen times or more by collectors looking for items, particularly combat worn items, one or two while I was currently wearing those combat worn items in combat. I know how I felt about it, and thus I would never ask a veteran or family for their history.

You WERE IN COMBAT and someone else IN COMBAT was asking about obtaining your items? Was it like a civilian contractor or press??

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cutiger83
4 hours ago, scotty1418 said:

You WERE IN COMBAT and someone else IN COMBAT was asking about obtaining your items? Was it like a civilian contractor or press??

Doesn't matter who it was. Asking anyone for their items in any way shape or form is horrible in my opinion. 

 

...Kat

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6 hours ago, scotty1418 said:

You WERE IN COMBAT and someone else IN COMBAT was asking about obtaining your items? Was it like a civilian contractor or press??

No, forum members sending me PMs after reading my threads here, I'd find them in my inbox on the occasion I got to check my email every couple months

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postmanusnac

That’s gross. I have 22 years worth of stuff, because I can’t throw anything away. I can’t imagine someone asking for anything, let alone pestering my son.

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Bob Hudson

I run newspaper ads and families call me. I also have a sign on my van and get a lot of calls from that. But, as Brig notes, it's kind of tacky to try to reach out to vets and/or families who didn't contact you first. About the closest I get to that is at garage sales, where I'll sometimes ask if they have any military stuff. I am amazed at how often they go pull a box out of a pile, stuff that was not spread out for the sale. 

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scotty1418
2 hours ago, Brig said:

No, forum members sending me PMs after reading my threads here, I'd find them in my inbox on the occasion I got to check my email every couple months

Collectors thinking a veteran ON A COLLECTING WEBSITE would want to part with anything is about the most tone deaf extreme I've seen in this hobby...

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tdogchristy90
5 minutes ago, scotty1418 said:

Collectors thinking a veteran ON A COLLECTING WEBSITE would want to part with anything is about the most tone deaf extreme I've seen in this hobby...


I second that sentiment Scotty.

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Airborne-Hunter
On 5/26/2021 at 9:00 PM, Brig said:

It is distasteful to approach people and ask for their personal and family history. 


I think asking for items is inappropriate. A collector having a specific item and contacting the relative is dicey. Contacting a vet or relative for information isn't too bad. 

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easterneagle87

OK, I wouldn't come right out and ask someone, say a vet wearing a Vietnam themed hat, "Hey, you bring anything back?" That does seem a whole heap of tacky. Reading an obit in the paper and seeing they served in Korea, then going to house and asking if the got any military stuff, is pretty much a foul ball. 

 

But, there are times when you happen to be in a conversation with someone and you tell them about your interests or you experience.  They say, "I got a bunch of stuff in the basement you want to look at?" OR "Wait a minute, I'll be right back." and they bring you out a cool item and give it to OR sell it to you. You didn't ask for it, but it started a connection. The next step, "Can you tell me where it came from, whom it came from, history behind it, etc." How do you expect to know about it and it's origins if you don't ask? That's the great part of this hobby! Learning the history behind it. No history, then it's just another piece of STUFF ... yes, stuff that you have accumulated. We all have STUFF. Basements, garages, war rooms, etc, are full of STUFF. The difference is, do you have a story for your stuff.    

 

What's the old saying they told us in the Army? The only dumb question, is the one you didn't ask.  Maybe I missed the point here. But I've laid out a couple of scenerios where I see both points of view. I'm not a ballsy or forward person, so maybe by not asking I've missed items. So be it. I didn't have it yesterday and tomorrow is a new day.        

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Persian Gulf Command

I've been collecting for 40+ years.  I've known many veterans, many of whom were friends of my father and fathers of my friends.  Here are a few observations I have.  Almost all those who were in combat brought back very little, a pistol, a knife, a flag, perhaps some regalia in a cigar box.  Many had items that were given away, lost in various moves, stolen by the neighbors' kids long before I knew what they had or did when they were young men.  Honestly, except for their own GI issued or awarded items the "War Booty" they brought home was not that important to them, especially into the 1970's when I began my interest in WW2 items.

 

I was given some items by the vets, once they knew I had an interest and was sold some items by the sons' and daughters' of the vets.  In the later case the vets often saw the transactions as a way to allow their children to make some money.  I always asked if their dad knew they were selling me the item.  However, I have to admit that I can not be sure that all these transactions were done with the knowledge of the veteran.   Even as a teenager in the 1970's I made a promise that if I knew the veteran personally their item was off limits to trade of sale in order to facilitate my collection. Long story short, I have asked the question, "Do you have any items from the war?" and have never felt I was offending anyone.  Every time it has happened a stimulating conversation resulted, which was well worth the ask even when no items came home with me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Checking back, it was interesting to see all the comments from tdogchristy, brig, scotty, postmanusnac, airborne hunter. eastern eagle and persian gulf command. Having this subject come up at a Veterans event, it was the hot topic of the day. . Whether it's an un-written rule, protocol. etc., it is done all the time, and (most of) us, have encountered this, at least once. With the point/counter points mentioned,, you can either feel "flattered" or take offense. Regardless of the approach, you can just say no. 

As tdogchristy mentioned, I don't either. Others don't for reasons stated. Nothing wrong with that. Agreeing with some, as to chase a widow down. That's not good. 

Eastern eagle seem to have cover this best. 

 

 

 

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I have a question along these lines so I hope you don't mind my tagging onto this post. I bought a bunch of WWII/Korean War uniforms from an estate sale. The veteran had posted some of his pictures from the time on an online web page from the unit. Including photos of himself in said uniforms. That page has since gone out of existence. I would love to get copies of these pictures to put with the other stuff I bought. What would be the best way to approach the family to ask for copies?

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You could try the archived website search

 

Approaching families is a very touchy subject...often times they didn't know items were sold, or pretend to have had them sold unknowingly if they learn these items are worth money. There are dozens of horror stories on this forum about families. But there are also many good tales.

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Hi albatrosdva

(don't mind at all, as that's another good question) Never having done this, which was the purpose of the post. Along with some of the others points, I would say to contact the estate people. That seems to be safe and remain neutral. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained. 

So lets stand by for follow up comments. 

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I have a question along these lines so I hope you don't mind my tagging onto this post. I bought a bunch of WWII/Korean War uniforms from an estate sale. The veteran had posted some of his pictures from the time on an online web page from the unit. Including photos of himself in said uniforms. That page has since gone out of existence. I would love to get copies of these pictures to put with the other stuff I bought. What would be the best way to approach the family to ask for copies?

https://web.archive.org

If you can remember the name of the website.
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Trying to find the web site would seem to be a hit or miss thing. Having the estate planners as a fall back option. Since working with the family. 

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16 hours ago, albatrosdva said:

It sounds like you already have an address for the veterans family? If so, I would send a letter and stress how much you appreciated the opportunity to purchase those items.  Then broach the subject of getting copies of pictures- at your cost of course.  The main thing is to keep the conversation non-aggressive and respectful. Include a stamped envelope to make it easier. If they don't respond, then you'll know. 

 

I have a question along these lines so I hope you don't mind my tagging onto this post. I bought a bunch of WWII/Korean War uniforms from an estate sale. The veteran had posted some of his pictures from the time on an online web page from the unit. Including photos of himself in said uniforms. That page has since gone out of existence. I would love to get copies of these pictures to put with the other stuff I bought. What would be the best way to approach the family to ask for copies?

 

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Couple of things from my experience (listed in no order of importance):

1. I don't think I'd ask a fellow collector for something that belongs to them personally, from their time in the military. That said, not everything is a hard and fast rule. I'm tossing all of my uniforms the first garbage day after my retirement. Except for my all-weather jacket, which I might sell on here because 1. I don't really like it, 2. Never really wore it, and 3. I can get some good money from it. I sold off quite a few of my camouflage uniforms from the last time I got out of the military, and they were snapped up by European collectors at the Show of Shows where I had them on the table. Gave me more play money to buy stuff, so I was happy. 

 

2. I've served with quite a few officers who have become general or flag officers during the course of their careers. All of them knew I collected militaria in my discussions with them while we served together. I have asked several for a uniform when they retired to include in my collection. I have received nothing from any of them. Never hurts to ask...but it's never worked for me.

 

3. When I was a young officer, I would write letters to retired flag and general officers randomly and ask them for any insignia they wanted to part with. I'd get a bite about one in ten letters. That was a lot of writing to do for not a significant return, but it was kind of fun to do it at the time. That was in the 90s...I don't think I'd try that now. 

 

4. In the early 2000s, I was stationed in the DC area and ran a newspaper ad for military memorabilia. I made a few finds, but nothing really worthwhile. I finally determined that it wasn't worth my time and effort to keep doing the ads, running all around DC, and end up paying retail for stuff that wasn't really exciting, so I stopped. 

 

5. I wrote the thesis for my first master's degree about being promoted to flag rank in the US Navy. I interviewed 20 retired flag officers as part of my research (that was fun, honestly). I built up a good relationship with several of them sufficient to ask if they still had anything that they might consider parting with.  Result? Nothing...ironically, most got rid of everything when they retired (or so they said) LOL.  I did take care of a retired VADM on the weekends while stationed at the same location and was comfortable enough going into his closet to look around (I asked first, don't worry) and he literally had nothing left. He had a frame full of medals and his flight logs - that was it. 

 

6. I wrote my first book with the intention of tracking down either the actual veterans or the families of the 217 men I was writing about. I found 175 of them; visited 121 in person and 14 of them sent me material to photograph (there were a whopping three veterans; the rest were family members). Some of the stuff I saw was what collectors would fantasize about...literally, the proverbial shoebox coming up from the basement with an entire Navy Cross group in it and so on (I saw stuff come out of attics, sheds, you name it...). A couple of times, the families indicated to me that they'd like to part with what they had, and I turned them down (I've since been given some of the groups by the families...and those will be on my wall long after I stop collecting...) HOWEVER, the vast majority (the other 117 or so...) families had to be assured I was not wanting to visit in order to buy or pressure them into parting with their stuff. That was my only way to get in the door, so I was absolutely above board and open about my intentions (and why I felt extremely uncomfortable even being offered the groups...I felt it would be extremely disingenuous to say I wasn't interested but then buy the group(s) when I was there in person...)

 

7. I have sought out families just randomly where I knew the veteran received a cool award and I had the time to do it (which is rare anymore). Again, I was always above board in explaining that I am an author and if they should have the award, would be interested in potentially writing about it for the JOMSA or similar journal. I've done this before, and the families have been relatively receptive. That said, none of these have ended up with me being offered the group...it is what it is. 

 

So...just a few tidbits from my experience over the years. 

 

Dave

 

 

 

 

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