Guide to Collecting Military Antiques

Leon Shrier is an expert in collecting military antiquesWhen it comes to collecting military antiques, expert Leon Shirer Leon’s Militaria Ltd Located in Grays Antiques Centre in London, is front and centre. His shop stocks a wide collection of weaponry, militaria, nautical and aviation, alongside commemorative and unusual antiques. Here he shares his passion for collecting military antiques and advice on how to start you own fascinating collection.

How did you start collecting military antiques?

I’ve always been interested in military antiques but was showing regular porcelain at the usual antiques fairs.

One day, back in the early ‘80s I discovered some military porcelain hiding in a parcel of general porcelain I had just bought.  I took it to my next Sunday fair at Alexandra Palace and the military items flew off my table, whereas the pretty and ornate items were still there at the end of the day. I was hooked! I have never looked back and have been collecting military antiques ever since.

Collecting military antiques can include objects like this Crimean period, meat paste jar, Prattware, 1850s
Crimean period, meat paste jar, Prattware, 1850s

I have been all over the UK and Ireland looking for rare and exciting pieces to tempt, not only my customers, but also those things that interest me and have used whatever taste I possess to try and bring something different to the military antiques business.

Over the years, whenever I go abroad, you can generally find me rummaging local antiques shops and I have never lost the enthusiasm for collecting military antiques and finding something unusual. I’ve met and served many VIPs and showbiz stars but still try to be helpful to anyone that shows an interest in my merchandise.

How has demand for military antiques changed since you started?

I have found over the years that the market has become more concentrated with a more discerning collector of military antiques buying better and better objects, but it may be that they have grown their collections with my help and are only looking for the best pieces to further their Collecting military antiques can include uniforms and weapons like these in Leon's shopcollecting passion.

This is true of collectors who will now only purchase without trading anything from the periphery of their collections. This sounds like an ideal situation for the dealer but I used to be able to restock from these collections and must now rely on items brought in to the store.

What advice would you give for collecting military antiques?

Looking around places wherever you travel is still the best way to start collecting, as is just looking at everything you see with a perceptive approach to define your area of interest. I feel that a scatter gun approach will quickly change when the novice collector ends up with a real mixture of styles and confusion, together with a lack of funds, often results in loss of interest.

My humble advice is to look, read, research, ask and then read some more before committing. I was always taught to buy one good piece rather than five ordinary pieces and have tried to bring this to my buying strategy.

What attributes do you look for in military antiques?

I believe that condition, rarity, provenance and aesthetics are the best way to judge an antique for possible addition to your collection, and that they are the best attributes for most things of value. Do not be afraid to look at other items that you don’t presently collect, as these will help you to decide whether you are still happy with

A Staffordshire bust of Nelson from Leon's collection of military antiques
A Staffordshire bust of Nelson

your collecting areas. I have met collectors who have cornered the market and cannot further their collection as they have literally bought everything offered to them, and have forced the demand and price upwards, and in doing so have priced themselves out of the marketplace.

Any advice for new collectors?

As I said before the novice collector should always attempt to educate themselves before making the decision to collect in a particular area and they should find a good reputable dealer and form a relationship that could last for many years. Auction houses are unable to dispense the knowledge and advice that a dealer has built up over the years, so don’t rely on auctions to give impartial information and advice, as their motto is “Let the buyer beware!”

In conclusion do try and enjoy your collecting. It is still a passion and the most satisfying pastime, which can – on occasion – become a profitable venture.

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