Investing in militaria
Investing in militaria can offer valuable and unique alternative assets; items like medals, swords and guns potentially have financial, historical and artistic worth.
Militaria can be intensely personal – for example, a decoration awarded to a combatant. They can represent turning points history or act as a poignant reminder of heroism and sacrifice.
The value of militaria is usually derived from the ‘story’ or event connected to it, or the owner/recipient of an item. As collector Mark Piersall commented:
"Nothing gives medals more meaning than the story of achievement behind them."
Generally speaking, the material a piece of militaria is made from is less important.
Considering that the historical significance of militaria is the major source of its value, older pieces of militaria are often highly valuable.
As with most collectibles, the passage of time leads to decay and loss of items, and this is no different with militaria. Few relics may exist from older battles and wars, particularly if they were battle-used. This inevitably boosts the value of an item.
Like many tangible collectibles, investing in militaria is becoming popular as an alternative and interesting means of making money.
Expansion of the market
One of the most popular categories of militaria is medals. There are an estimated one million medal collectors worldwide – a similar size to the fine art market.
Medals and militaria have appreciated significantly in recent years – increasing in value by approximately five times in two decades.
The Victoria Cross - one of the most valuable and sought after medals in the world – had an average price of just £10,000 in 1990. Just under 20 years later, a double Victoria Cross and bar realised £1.5m.
This represents the top-end of the market, but entry-level militaria items have seen similar activity. In 1990, an 1815 Waterloo medal (the first awarded to all combatants present at a battle) had a market price of £350 – this had appreciated to £3,500 by 2006.
Most valuable investments
Militaria spans a wide range of items – from medals and decorations, to guns, armour and miscellaneous items connected with warfare. These originate from various eras and many cultures.
The aforementioned Double Victoria Cross and bar, awarded to Officer Noel Godfrey Chavasse during the First World War, is currently the most expensive medal ever sold. It was purchased by Lord Ashcroft in 2009.
Guns and weaponry from various periods have been popular collectibles for decades, ranging from American Civil War Guns to Ancient armour.
In 2010, an ornate suit of 16th Century Japanese armour realised £120,000 in an auction at Bonhams, London. The same year, the Crosby Garrett Helmet (a Roman parade helmet made from copper) became the most expensive piece of militaria ever sold, realising £2.3m.
Guns from all era have been popular for many years, particularly the innovative American Colt. A rare Colt Walker revolver, used by US Marshals in the Mexican-American War, sold for $920,000 – a record for a single firearm.
Alongside vintage and antique guns, items that were simply present at an historic event have significant value. The only surviving Union Flag flown at the Battle of Trafalgar sold for 40 times its estimate, realising £384,000: a record for the iconic British flag.
This broad area of collectibles also includes military documents. In 2010, Alexander Autographs auctioned the only existing copy of the Potsdam Declaration (which set out the terms of Japan’s surrender at the end of the Second World War), selling for $150,000.
Thus, militaria includes a wide selection of very different items which can potentially provide good financial returns. The militaria market benefits from the fact that value is usually driven by historical significant – it is not fixated on one particular category of item.
Researching the market
Although the values above are demonstrative of a buoyant and growing market, anyone investing in militaria should thoroughly explore what area of the market appeals to them first.
With much choice, investors might be keen to purchase items with particular historical or cultural significance to them.
As with most alternative investments, it is wise to consider militaria a long-term investment; significant appreciation may take several years.
The militaria market is very open – there are plenty of items on offer from two figures upwards, allowing anyone from serious collectors to those investing for the frst time to get involved.
In addition to personal research, investors could consult specialist dealers and auction houses, or the various clubs and societies associated with militaria collection.
Where to buy
For investors interested in purchasing militaria, there are many specialist dealers and auction houses dealing with medals, guns, armour, uniforms, flags, and so on.