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Jean McClelland: Scouting collectibles offer insightful history

Jul. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

The 2013 National Scout Jamboree is wrapping up this week. Approximately 50,000 scouts were expected to come and have a wonderful time in the hills of West Virginia. History was made in that it is the first jamboree in its permanent home in our state. This may be a first but it is just one of many firsts in the more than 100 years of Scouting history.

Thirty-three U.S. Presidents have been members of the Boy Scouts and the number of youngsters and adults involved in the organization through the years is in the millions. This rich history has made for lots of badges, handbooks, uniforms and scouting equipment. Some of those youngsters who were strongly influenced by their scouting experience are now collectors of that memorabilia.

Two major factors influence how much some of these items are coveted. The first is condition, and this very often contributes to the desirability of most collectibles. Little boys are rough and tumble characters, hence their belongings usually have to be washed and repaired. Scouting encourages the outdoor life, so not many of those millions of youngsters would have kept their belongings in pristine condition. Those items that do exist in great condition are those that will bring the best prices.

The second factor to play a roll in the pricing of scouting nostalgia is the rarity of an item. For example, no matter how old the Jamboree awards, scouting handbooks or uniforms might be, one would have to consider the number of scouts who attended these Jamborees, owned those handbooks or wore those uniforms. If the number were high then that would mean there could be an extensive supply of those items available for the collectible market, and the prices would be weak.

Of the Boy Scout camping equipment several items that are most highly coveted are the pocketknives and axes or hatchets. Both of these items would fall into the crossover market for those who just collect knives or just hatchets. Hence you have collectors from two different categories looking for one item driving the price upwards.

An interesting area for the rare and costly are those goods associated with the African-American Boy Scouts of America. Though their history is almost as long as their white counterparts, the number of troops was limited due to finances and white prejudices. Today this is a collectible field that invites one and all, just like the organization.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.