...from my book
The Stories Behind the Treasures of World War II
"The Making of a Collectorholic"
MY VERY FIRST GERMAN HELMET COST ME A FEW LOAVES OF BREAD…
During my high school and college years, I worked a number of jobs to cover my tuition and bad habits. Like many militaria collectors, I’ve had a lifelong love of automobiles. This, combined with my growing first collection of militaria, usually kept my pockets quite empty.
One of my summer jobs was selling Cushman bakery products. I had a route where I delivered fresh breads and pastries to families in the Worcester, Massachusetts area. During one of my deliveries, I spied an honest to goodness German helmet sitting on a shelf on the back porch. All summer long, I spied this piece but never mustered the courage to ask if it was for sale.
This particular customer was always late in paying her bill. During the last two weeks of my job, I tried persistently to get paid but every time I rang the doorbell, no one answered the door. On my very last attempt, I could actually see someone inside the house and yet no one answered the door.
As I turned to leave, that darned WWI Model 1916 German helmet just happened to fall off the shelf and right into my basket! I drove out of the yard with that steel helmet on my head. I looked a little like Arte Johnson from Laugh In! One of the most interesting features of this helmet is that it has a large Maltese cross hand painted on the top. The cross was probably done by the doughboy or G.I. who brought it home from the war.
IT PAYS TO HAVE AN EXTRA SET OF EYES…Flea Market Score...
Soon after we moved to Hubbardston in the early 1970s, I was involved in several local activities such as scouting and the town’s historical society. I also made it a point to attend the Sunday flea market located right down the road from our home.
On this particular day, I was walking down one of the aisles flapping my gums and obviously not paying attention to what was on the tables. This little old lady from own grabbed me by the hand and said “Mr. Shea aren’t you the fellow who likes that Nazi stuff?” I responded in the affirmative and she quipped “Well, you just walked by one of those Kraut helmets on a table back there.” I turned around and saw the neatest Model 1940 Single Decal Luftwaffe helmet that I have ever encountered. It had copper wire around the exterior.
I rushed back and clasped this treasure in my hands and inquired about the price. The vendor said he was fully aware that those German helmets were very scarce and that he wouldn’t accept a cent less than $10.00. I told him that I couldn’t agree with him more and paid his full asking price.
I held on to this beauty for a few years until a helmet collector talked me out of it in trade for a mint Allgemeine SS officer’s visor cap. We were both quite happy with the trade, although I still missed my flea market find. In the 1980’s, I was able to reacquire this exact helmet when the fellow collector sold me his entire helmet collection and it still claims a very special place among my stahlhelms.
RESCUED FROM THE TRASH….Snow Camo Helmet
You wouldn’t believe how many souvenirs have ended up being tossed in the trash. I used to attend a show in the 1970’s held in the Stratford, Connecticut National Guard Armory. A fellow who was a sanitation worker in New York City used to set up a table filled with items he had removed from trash barrels along his route. Dealers would flock to his table as soon he was set up, even before the show officially started. His prices were always very reasonable because he got the stuff for nothing. I was able to buy some very nice things from him.
This brings me to a story about another picker of mine from around Boston who used to cruise around his town the night before trash pickup and check out the trash barrels. He also liked antiques and told me that there was never a time when he didn’t pick up some items to make this scavenging well worth his while.
On one such night, he spied a German helmet sitting right on top of a trash barrel. He said he almost passed it by because it looked like a white sheet. That’s because it was a very rare German camo helmet that actually utilized a white sheet with baling wire to secure it to the top part of the helmet. The owner had then painted the rest of the exterior in whitewash paint. It’s a true, early classic attempt at winter camouflage and a real top shelf piece. It is now in the collection of Elizabeth Cruz and Morten Balestrand.
"These are just three of the hundreds of stories I have to share with you from the book. We are now actively preparing Vol II which should be published in the Summer of 2017."
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