Military memorabilia and militaria hides its most valuable treasures amid a sea of sentimental value.
The odds against any one piece of militaria holding significant value are high. The most valuable military memorabilia has to be extremely rare or noteworthy to fetch even four figures on the open market. The Department of Veterans Affairs notes that 42 million men and women served the U.S. during the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Even when their war memorabilia is in flawless condition, its price is hampered by the sheer volume of items still in circulation.
There isn't even consensus on which items you can and can't sell. In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act prohibiting the shipment or sale of medals of valor such as the Purple Heart or Bronze Star. The idea was to prevent people from posing as decorated veterans, but the Supreme Court found the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional in 2012. A 2013 update under President Barack Obama's administration tweaked the law to decriminalize the sale of medals, but to criminalize fraudulently claiming to be a decorated veteran for financial benefit.
eBay, meanwhile, has maintained a stringent policy on items originating in Nazi Germany. Stamps, postmarked envelopes and currency bearing Nazi symbols are O.K. However, a litany of ghastly artifacts are banned from the site, including items from concentration camps, Nazi uniforms, 1936 Olympic medals, autographs and photos of Nazi leaders and any item manufactured after 1933 that bears the Nazi swastika.
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"American soldiers often brought German and Japanese military souvenirs home from the war as symbols of victory," says Kenneth W. Rendell, founder and director of the Museum of World War II in Natick, Mass. "German items can be quite valuable, particularly those associated with the SS or German paratroopers."
Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of war memorabilia and militaria that holds inherent value just based on how history unfolded. Eastern Europe was awash in statues of Josef Stalin and Vladamir Lenin after the Soviet Union occupied the region following World War II. Many of those statues fell beneath hammers or into blast furnaces after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but a few remain on the market today.
Artifacts belonging to Benito Mussolini, George Custer, Kaiser Wilhelm, Soviet diplomat Andrey Vyshinsky and Napoleon all remain on the open market. Relics of various wars that have somehow eluded museums or remained in private collections have found their way to eBay in droves.
We went shopping for militaria and war memorabilia and found ten of the priciest items eBay has to offer. Whether you're just into military memorabilia or have an innate desire to preserve history, there are items of great value out there if you're willing to invest the time to research them and money to procure them.
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