Big collecting mistakes

Some recent business brought back to mind what I consider the biggest mistake which I ever made in collecting ammo. The story might be instructive to others.

Sam Cummings was the founder of INTERARMCO which was the single greatest force in promoting the importation of surplus military weapons after WW2 into the USA. Bannerman was much earlier. Sam had his early headquarters and warehouses in Alexandria Virginia which is just on the West side of the Potomac river from Wash.D.C. Most of the business was wholesale and mailorder but he opened a retail store there called “Ye Old Hunter”.

As a younger man this was nearly heaven for me. neat stuff by the ton.

One of his employees was Tom Nelson who went on to become a first class force of his own in the collecting world with his invention of the “non-gun” model guns made for the Japanese market and poplular in the USA for a time as well. He did business as “Collectors Armoury” which business is still open and run by his son. Tom is too busy fishing.

Back to the main story. A young man who lived in that general area of Virginia contacted Tom at the store and asked if he knew someone interested in buying a collection of old ammunition. Tom contacted Glenn Sweeting at the Smithsonian who contacted me.

I went to the store and Tom showed me a full set of the German blister pack ammo intelligence shells from WW2 . I had never seen this before and was impressed quite properly. He said that this was a piece from a large collection which was for sale and gave me the name of the seller.

I contacted the seller and went to his apartment in the area. His father had died and left him an ammo collection which had been assembled during and just after WW2 when he was the US Air Force liason to Aberdeen proving grounds.

The collection nearly filled the fellows apartment and he had more in storage.

I would rather not describe the collection as it may make me ill but will say only that it was FANTASTIC !

He gave me a price which I agreed to and he suggested that I take a car full with me while we worked out the details. I demured and told him that I would get it all at once when it was paid for ( this was a mistake , I should have taken the first car load even in my Volkswagen beetle).

I did not have the ready cash and did not want to borrow money and so tried to broker a deal which took too long and eventually I could not make the deadline which was posted by the fathers lawyer.

Bill Woodin was next in line. He flew into DC and bought the lot on sight.

That was the first and last time I failed to buy a collection which was worth the price. I should have borrowed the money and bought. Some of those items have never been on the market again in the past 35+ years.

Lesson; if you see something which is worth the price and you CAN buy it, BUY IT. You will not have to recall this type of story yourself in your old age.

Sad Story! Great advice!


My next biggest mistake taught me another good lesson.

An old time collector from Canton Ohio , Neal Mulgary , had his large collection for sale. I had a look and being young and not too flush with cash I asked if we could work out a purchase with terms. He agreed and we struck a deal wherein I would pay a certain amount monthly and would receive a comensurate amount of shells monthly. That worked fine for a couple of months until on the occasion of my next visit and payment I noticed that the ENTIRE shotshell collection was gone.


He told me that the shotshells were never part of the “collection” deal and that he had sold them off to someone else.

Selling off the shotshells was part of MY plan to help finance the purchase of the items which I wanted.

That was the end of my dealing with this situation.

Lesson; get it in writing with details.
I have found over the years that the definition of the “collection” changes over time if not reduced in detail to writing.


I worked in DC for about 4 months in 1961, and that was my favorite hangout place when I had the time. Wish I had bought a lot more stuff there when I had the chance. Everyone makes mistakes, and my biggest ones have involved passing up some amazing gun buys for no good reason and selling off many guns which would later become highly-sought collectibles, also for no good reason. I have often wondered, with regrets, what was I thinking.

Oh I here you guys on this one, I had a guy bring me a gun, I tryed to talk him down his price, his price went up and he walked away.Why I ever tryed to talk him down is beond me,full in lay gun Belgium and he only wanted $150.00 Its one of those things what the blank was I thinking, I blew a extremely great deal in two seconds,with my need to also haggle, I’ve never done that again and most times over pay just so people bring me things in hope of finding a rare item.So now its paid off. And I learned not to leave the house if I do not have a few grand in my pocket. ( it use to be carry atleast $500.00 cash at all times as you never know what you will come across)This last deal I wond up with gun parts and a bunch of ammo which brought me here. I know and here guys say do not cry over spilled milk. I also learned one big thing, always try to buy what you can,heres how I do it, I buy things one at a time when I’m at a home, the deal is done on that item,I do this as you will finially 50% of the time you get to a item and the owner will feel your low balling them on,as they think its worth more for what ever reason.My problem I collect and I’m a history nut so I pay more then a dealer and I always give history of items.this breaks the ice with people.So with this long drawn out thing here, I carry alot of cash, if I do not have the cash that day I set a different apointment time, murry’s law - what you went to look at half the time is not what you walk out with. Ok I gotta go clean up the milk I just split.

Lots of types of mistakes! One I particularly remember was decades ago at the Ohio Gun Collectors show in Columbus. I had a table next to two IAA (Then the ICCA) members who had a lot of nice items for sale on their table. Two or three guys were looking through their stuff, when another person none of us knew walked up and held out a Chamber Guage in an experimental WWII German aircraft gun caliber-big belted case on a relatively small (probably 7.92mm) bullet. He asked one of the two guys behind the table, “What is this worth” Before either of the guys behind the table could say anything, one of the guys in front of the table said “I’ll give you $200 for it!” and then the other guy in front of the table said “I’ll give you $250!”

The guy with the chamber guage looked surprised, put it in his pocket and walked away, as far as I know, never to be seen again. The two guys who had the table werre furious with the two guys who tried to buy the item, and complained about the would-be-buyers for years. I don’t blame them.

We have all had good things slip away time and again. I know I have. Sometimes just because I didn’t ask and later found out the person was willing to sell or trade an item, but just didn’t say so and I didn’t ask or didn’t appear as interested as I actually was. Sometimes because I didn’t look at items hard enough. Once I was having dinner with a friend in London. We had a couple or so glasses of whiskey and it was almost time for me to head for my train. Just as I was leaving my host pointed to a box and said, I had these out for you but they are only German steel case WWII and you probably have them all. I passed on looking at them and found out later, after a German collector had been through the box, that it contained a very rare headstamp, only 4 or 5 are known even today. Lesson—always look!

Actually, I wound up with the cartridge about 10 years later. When the German collector gave up collecting, he sold me his non-German ammunition (his German ammunition went to another German collector), this round and another German 9mm that I greatly admired were mixed in with the non-German cartridges!

Another time, some years after the experience above, I was visiting a friend in Michigan and he had a box of old German WWII steel case ammo. This time I looked and selected one round, lacquered steel case with a GM bullet, dated “41” because it had a very reddish color lacqurer which had not seen before (or since). I took it and left the rest. A couple of months later I happened to weigh it and it was far lighter than it should be. It turned out to be a German experimental with a sintered iron CORE bullet, the first of the series by VDM that resulted in the 9mm SE bullets and the only example known. I called the guy I had gotten it from and found that what I had been looking through had been the 9mm “collection” of a Canadian Sgt who was a member of the CIOS team who collected information and hardward from the German factories at the end of WWII. The Germans usually didn’t mark their experimental 9mm ammunition, except some lacked a primer annulus seal. I had visions of other experimentals in the batch, tracers, explosive bullets, other experimentals, etc. Unfortunately, my friend had taken the rest to a flea market or some such and sold them as shooting ammo! None of us will ever know what may have been in that lot. Lesson—always ask where the items come from!

Hard lessons.



Sometimes the lessons learned, either personally the hard way or via the stories of others, pay off and we actually make the smart/right decision.
A few years ago I stopped at a table at SLICS and found a Basque headstamped 9mm Largo round. I asked the price and was dismayed to hear that it was just about what I had in my pocket at the time. He told me he couldn’t do any better and I sadly put it down and started to walk away. After a step I silently called myself an idiot, turned back and bought the round. It’s truly a gem of a round, and I would be kicking myself every day if I hadn’t gotten it. Just preventing the agony was worth the price paid, the round itself was gravy.

Moral of these story’s. Live and learn!


I have too darn many big collecting mistakes to relate but the one that sticks out in my mind the most was in the early 70’s right after I returned home from Vietnam, I was attending the Dallas Arms Collectors gun show to add as many single specimans to my collection as I could with the $40 I had with me. I believe that it was Jerry Fountaine from Houston who was there with some great guns and cartridges. He had a full case of 56-56 Spencers that he was selling by the box ( another mistake of mine…I didn’t buy one) and he showed me a 70-150 Winchester that he had…the price?..$40. That was all the money I had and I had just arrived at the show. My goal was to add as many single specimans to my collection, so I passed on the 70-150…I still wince when I think about it.

By the way, this is my first post, being new to the forum, but not to the IAA (and ICCA).

You may have ducked a bullet. The 70-150 was worth far more than that at that time. The fellow who you mentioned was a serious collector-dealer and would have known that.

There are far more reproduction 70-150s than real ones.

I think that you made the right choice on that but not buying the rimfires may have been a mistake.

Part 3

Back in the days when the Chicagoland show was going hot and heavy I used to go with friends from Ohio. We would drive from North East Ohio to the show. Great fun all around. One year while living in the Wash DC area I needed to fly to Ohio and then meet up with the fellows; Wayne Markov and Pat Burns and Jimmy Loveless. Wayne and Jimmy are now dead.

My flight had to stop in Pittsburg as the Akron Canton airport was not the popular detination which it had been in better days gone by.

Short layover in Pittsburg, half an hour or so. I decided to deplane for something , no idea what now.

This is something which you never want to hear over the airport speaker

" Dr. Schmitt please report to the security office ". I did.

In those days small luggage was put in big plastic tubs for placing in the aircraft. What I saw upon my report to security was my cartridge and ordnance selling stock, grenades etc covering the bottom of one of the tubs.

Why you ask ?

My friend had made a heavy duty shipping case for me which case had been full of the above items. It had a big heavy clasp with a screw down handle and was made strong all the way around - we thought.

Found out the hard way that the heavy duty screws for the hinge end of the lid were screwed into the center of the plywood which made up the box. This is no good when the box is turned upside down and dropped !

I explained my intentions and the goods and since it was preTERRORIST days I was not sent to prison BUT they would not allow me to continue on the flight ( which was waiting pending the outcome - the other passengers must have thought that I was some important VIP ).

I called to my friends in Ohio who drove to Pittsburg and picked me up. I was most thankfull to remove myself and my goods from the airport considering the fact that none of the security staff could identify the various LIVE explosive cartridges and knowing that I had ducked a bullet.

Straps are the secret. If you are shipping goods which will be an embarassment if strewn about use plenty of straps or fiber strapping tape. They throw your luggage and bang it about.

Keep it in mind. You may not be so lucky !

WOWWWWWWWWWW! That is scary! I would have had a heart attack! Cannot imagine that scene nowadays. You should win some type of trophy for that story. Wow!


Driving away free and with my goods was trophy enough !

I have some better stories from my time in the Soviet Union but those I can’t publish.

part 4

Many years ago I was dealing with a fellow in Belgium who has some nice 30mm aircraft cannon shells to trade. We traded, I don’t remember what my part was any more , and he shipped the items by air freight. I received a call from the freight company and was informed that the shipment was at customs at Dulles International Airport.

Off I went.

The lady at the customs desk brought my package which was a nice box about 2 feet square. We did a little small talk and she asked " how long did you live in Belgium"?

Not anticipating this question I answered truthfully that I had never been to Belgium.

She answered " why then are you returning your household goods "?


The shipper had stated on the customs form " RETURING HOUSEHOLD GOODS ".
He thought this was a better idea than " AMMUNITION ". Hard to argue with that.

Customs lady ( all of these folks are used to all sorts of lies and attempts at deceptions ) " Are you expecting this package " ?

" Yes ".

" Then what is in it " ?

" Collectors cartridges ".

" What does that mean " ?

" I collect ammunition from all over the world ".

" You need a license to import ammunition ".

" These are inert collectors cartridge not ammunition to shoot ".

" What does that men"?

" They are just metal parts which have been make unserviceable for collecting"

" You still need a license " .

" No , I don’t think so. You can call the BATF and ask. I have a number with me".

At that time I knew a fellow who was their technical chief and carried his card . You never know when you will need to drop a name .

She called.

He said, no.

I signed and left, package unopened.

At home I found the contents were all LIVE and half were nose fuzed H.E. shells with press in fuzes rather than screw in. Very difficult to inert and so I had them destroyed.

Had I been warned ahead of time about the customs declaration I may have lied.
That might have triggered a serious series of bad experiences had the package been opened for verification.

Lesson 1 here ; don’t lie to customs, they are used to that. If you receive a package of possibly illegal items and the package is questioned at customs have it opened THERE and leave it if there is a problem. The problem does not stick to you until YOU ACCEPT THE PACKAGE.

Lesson 2 ; don’t make false statements on customs forms. “souvenirs for collector” ,“military souvenirs” , " metal souvenirs" and such work well enough.
If contested you want to be at least CLOSE to the truth. The public is not usually requred to know the letter of the law and regulations. Close usually works well enough.

Lesson 3 ; know what you are getting in a shipment. Such surprises as LIVE H.E. ammo are not good for you. The customs TODAY have no sense of humor when it come to this stuff.

Had I lied and accepted the package it could have triggered several felony charges. Had I lied and she opened the package that could have triggered a couple of felony charges.

Telling the truth and being prepared with back up saved the day.

Had I known what was in the package I would not have been quite so cool under fire. I told her to open it and have a look but she said “not necessary”. YIKE !


Ok, I’ll chime in
One time that I was very near to wet my pants

This happened about couple of years ago, well into terrorist awareness era

I got an email form a person in another city, informing me that he is sending a package of “some interesting stuff” along with some lady he knows. That lady was travelling by the train, so i was told to meet her in the largest city railroad station, which is usually packed by police.

So I met her, and got a small but heavy carton box. I put it into my bag and get home. Upon opening the box I fould what?
a single round of VOG-25P grenade which looked very real and live, withough any standard “Inert” markings.
I have a good imagination so it was really easy to think what could have happen if police at the station asked me about content of the box received…

It turned out that the VOG was fully inert and empty, but I had my moment…

And, just to add, I do not collect grenades or any other ordnance in non - smallarm calibers.

Inert markings or actual inert condition may not have saved you. My experience with INERT munitions orived that bonb squad and EOD units NEVER and I mean NEVER see anything inert. In the U.S. the rule is this " if you can not see into it, it is LIVE". I found in Europe the rule to be , " whatever the condition it is LIVE". In 50 + of collection ammo including explosive ordnance I have had INERT items conficated by most of the countries or Europe and a couple of states of the USA.

Example: An “INERT LOADED” submunition bomblet was blown up ( they said) by the Italian customs service. This was a U.S. military training specimen in mint and fully marked condition WITH EOD sticker on it.

Their EOD unit placed explosives on it and blew it up. They opined that it was LIVE because there was an EXPLOSION. NO KIDDING. When you set off explosives there is always and explosion. Morons !
They also remakred that it said that it was “LOADED”. hard to argue with that.
The fact that it was loaded with INERT substance went over their heads or
did not make the cut in translation.

This was not just Italy. I have lots of others examples of similar kind all over Europe.

I am saving my best USA story for later.

When I was in the Soviet Union even the BLACK MARKET folks would not mess with ammo. The changes there have been an amazement to me.

But even with that I would not want to be caught with a grenade in my bag at a train station or any other place.

You ducked a bullet there !

Scary Reality! I’ll pass on those types of adventures.


That’s because ( in Italy) they don’t know foreign langauges and italian laws!!!

A friend of mine acquired a 38 Special shell holder from the US and the package was stopped by italian customs. Why ? They literally translated the word “shell” with a “animal meaning” so they tought he was smuggling rare and exotic shells.

Unfortunately they were so stupid that they didn’t take care that the shell was turned from hardened steel!!!

Italian laws allow to send and receive inert stuff, but not always the customs clerks know this. All my packages are sent in Germany first, and later in Italy. German customs ( there are european laws about this stuff so they are the same in Italy and Germany) never had troubles with my packages. Several of them were opened and inspected, but none of them was stopped or destroyed since the content has always been correctly described

Its not cartridge related but the lesson is universally applicable.

Many years ago, in London, I was walking down Museum Street, just by the British Museum and there, in the window of an antiquarian bookshop was a print showing my favourite view from Piranesi’s Vedudi di Roma. It was in perfect condition, bright and clear, a very early edition and even the frame was a good one. I swerved into the shop to find the price. It was expensive, the seller knew what he had, but it was by no means unaffordable, I could have written a cheque there and then without worrying.

Instead, I went for a coffee to think about it.

Having made up my mind I walked back to the shop, rearranging in my mind the pictures already on the walls to make room for my new purchase. As I got to the shop it wasn’t in the window, I assumed it had gone because he thought it sold and was going to put something else in it’s place.

Indeed it was sold, but to someone else who’d seen it in the ten minutes I was sitting in the coffee parlour and who’d acted with more determination that myself.

Since then I’ve tried to act ‘in the moment’ and if something happens along I grab it. If it’s not right I can always pass it on later, if there’s a loss involved then I put it down to experience.

Happy collecting, Peter