Today we will be talking to Paul Garnier about how and when he first became interested in collecting Japanese military relics. More specifically we will ask about his interest in Good Luck and related Japanese flags of the World War Two period. I have known Paul since at least 2006, where we met on one of the online collector forums. After my initial inquiry, he offered to let me use his beautiful Japanese signed battle flag as the cover illustration for my first book (released in 2008). That same flag and associated photograph and paperwork were a feature inside the book as well. As a flag collector, Paul has acquired an enormous amount of knowledge in the area of Japanese hinomaru yosegaki or good luck signed flags. (For anyone wanting to reach Paul, he may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org).
FOWM: Hello Paul. I’m happy to finally sit down with another flag guy and do this interview. The subject of good luck and other Japanese signed flags is a topic dear to both of our hearts. Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to ask you some questions about your interests.
PG: First and foremost, I would like to thank you for all you have done to advance our hobby. It’s been incredible to see the growth of interest in collecting Japanese militaria of WW2, thanks to the books you have written and shared with the world. Also, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be part of such a great project, I am truly honored.
FOWM: Thank you; I really appreciate such nice words.
FOWM: Before we get too far into the interview, I wanted to thank you again for allowing me to use your incredible Japanese signed battle flag for my book cover illustration. Can you relate here the near “heart attack” we had with regard to shipping it from the West Coast of California to Florida where I was living at the time?
PG: Oh Boy, that was a near miss! When I shipped the flag to you in Melbourne Beach, Florida, I mistakenly left “Beach” off the shipping label. It was promptly shipped to Melbourne, Florida where it sat. Because of your persistence, you recovered the flag, thank goodness!
FOWM: To add to the craziness, there is another city nearby, “West Melbourne”. Three towns with similar names further confused the postal service who were trying hard to find me. Had anything happened to that flag, I don’t know what I would have done!
FOWM: So, how and when did you first become interested in collecting Japanese military items from World War Two? Were any of your relatives, veterans of the War? What were the first pieces that you acquired? And How did you acquire them? If you purchased any items, do you remember how much you had to pay for them? How did you first become interested in collecting good luck flags?
PG: As a child growing up in the 1970’s I had lots of opportunities to “play army”. I loved watching all the classic war movies of the time, and almost never put down my plastic army men. So, I always had an interest in the military. Growing up, I was fascinated by the German uniforms and helmets. I collected a few things as a kid, but never anything Japanese. I just bought whatever the local Army surplus store had in stock for a few dollars. When I was twelve, I had saved up enough money to get one of those German helmets you would see in the ads of the military magazines. It was my life savings of $29. I still have that helmet today. Many years later my passion for collecting was rejuvenated when I met my grandfather-in-law, George Washington Plaugher. He was a veteran of WW2, who fought in Europe with the 327th GIR of the 101st Airborne Division. He was wounded at the Battle of The Bulge and sat out the remainder of the war in a hospital back in the States. After he found out that I was interested in WW2, he would sit with me for hours and tell me his war stories; things he had never told anyone before. During one of our conversations, he produced a Japanese sword that had been given to him by his brother, who fought in the Pacific. I was able to tell him about his sword, which he really appreciated. Years later, and just a few months before he passed, George gave me that sword. It’s a treasure that I will never part with. I quickly found a good luck flag to display with the sword, and from that point on, I was hooked on good luck flags!
FOWM: What would you say is your favorite one or two categories of Japanese militaria to collect today? And What is it about these areas that interests you the most?
PG: My biggest love is for Japanese good luck flags, followed by headgear and swords. Good luck flags fascinate me because of their unique and personal nature. The fact that each carries a story of its own, is amazing. Just like no two stories are ever the same, no two flags are ever the same.
FOWM: What is the most fun aspect of our hobby to you?
PG: The part of the hobby that I like the most is researching flags and sharing that information with fellow collectors. I love to study good luck flags, interpret them, and let them tell their story. Some really come alive and have a lot to share. The hunt for new items is always a blast too!
FOWM: Do you see any pitfalls within the hobby that are overlooked, primarily by new collectors?
PG: Research. You hear it all the time in the militaria collecting hobby, “Do Your Research”. Buy books, I know of two great books on collecting Japanese World War Two flags…Lol
FOWM: Do you see many reproduction items in your area of interest? And How difficult are they to identify?
PG: There are reproductions in every type of collecting. Fortunately, reproductions and fakes are relatively new to Japanese militaria collecting, compared to other types of militaria collecting. If you have a good base of knowledge, it’s pretty easy to spot most of the fakes and reproductions. There are a few prolific flag fakers, who are easy to spot. They get called out on the forums all the time. Some of their fake flags are so ridiculous, they make me laugh.
FOWM: You have a lot of experience in collecting Japanese World War Two good luck flags. Do you have any advice to offer a new collector today? And Why?
PG: I would say, find your passion. Narrow your focus to a few things you really enjoy collecting / studying and then go for it! Study, Study, Study, and never stop learning. Share your passion with the world and never forget those who have helped you along the way. Heed the advice of others, learn from your mistakes, and continually move forward. There are treasures to be found, enjoy the hunt!
FOWM: Some areas of militaria collecting in general have become quite expensive. Can a new collector who has interests in assembling a nice flag collection still find affordable items to collect? What about those elusive tiger art flags; do you have any advice on finding one of those?
PG: It’s true, the good old days of flag collecting are mostly gone, but there are still treasures to be had. Networking with fellow collectors is key. Knowing which dealers are reputable helps as well. Vetting future purchases on the forums is always a good idea as well. Until you know what you are looking at, stick to the basics of flag collecting. If you see something that looks too good to be true, it probably is. As far as Tiger art flags go, Real ones are hard to find, no doubt about it. You will find one if you are very lucky, but be prepared to spend some money to get it, as they are precious and elusive, just like real Tigers in the wild!
FOWM: What do you see today as challenges, if any, to the collecting of Japanese World War Two militaria Or To collecting military relics in general?
PG: It has always been critical to get collectors the knowledge they need to thrive in this hobby. Sharing knowledge with others is paramount to keeping this hobby healthy. Helping our young, in age or time, collectors to understand what they are buying and avoid the pitfalls of buying items that are fake or altered, is priceless.
FOWM: Thanks again, Paul for taking the time to share with us some of your insights and experiences as a collector. Hopefully, we’ll meet up again on the Boards soon!
PG: It’s been an absolute pleasure to be included in such a great project. Once again, thank you for what you continue to do every day to evolve our hobby!