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Posted on Jun 16, 2008 in War College

‘This Old Helmet Room’ – Building a Room to House Your Militaria Collection

By Peter Suciu

From officially “owning” the apartment to actually moving in and “occupying” it was a whirlwind. We closed on the apartment on a Wednesday, but had to move in on Friday, only two days later! This meant that I had to remove some cabinets from the wall only hours after signing on the dotted lined. These cabinets were later reinstalled in my wife’s office. Because I removed the cabinets, which left holes in the wall, I had to spackle, paint and prep the room. I actually finished this at about 6pm. On Thursday, only 18 hours later the shelf installer came and put up the shelves.

Wisely I opted to do this in an entirely empty room. Waiting until the helmets in boxes were moved in might not have worked well at all!

Glass shelves provided a museum-like feel.
The same day the shelves were installed a friend helped me assemble four sets of glass IKEA cabinets. These gave the one wall a “museum-like” feel. Next to the cabinets I opted for two additional shelves above the area where my desks would go for my cavalry helmets and books, but eventually decided that both shelves would be for books.

The IKEA cabinets stand about five and a half feet tall, which I felt was too short for an adequate display. So instead I had a custom book cabinet built. This was five and a half feet long, just long enough in fact for the four IKEA cabinets to sit on top. I measured a dozen times and the fit was nearly perfect with about two inches of clearance on top. The only complaint about the IKEA cabinets is that they have a hole drilled at the top of the cabinet for an optional lighting fixture. As I wasn’t using the light, it left an ugly looking hole at the top. This problem was solved by putting the cabinets upside down on the bookshelf, which wasn’t an additional problem because I opted not to use the plastic feet. I also used packing foam in the space between the top of the cabinet and ceiling. This ensures that the cabinets won’t rock or otherwise topple.

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The results were beyond expectations.
The results are better than I could have imaged. The wall of helmets is impressive, but alas only fits about 100 helmets, actually 30 less than I estimated. Part of the problem was that I originally hoped to go with 10 shelves and had to settle for nine, counting the final shelf, which is actually just sitting on the floor. The ceilings are slightly lower in my apartment, due in part to the fact that hardwood floors were added with an especially thick sub floor. I could possible squeeze out another shelf, but the results would look too crowded.

Flags conceal a closet and add to the overall effect.
For the time being I’ve opted to conceal the closet with a few vintage flags and some various replica posters. The wood table folds up, providing me space for books if I’m working on a research project, a space to build models or play a board game.

Even the door becomes part of the display.
I choose to waste very little space; hence the tunic of the British Royal Horse Artillery is hung on the back of my door. To accommodate a few more books I placed a small metal shelf system by the door. I opted to use – or more accurately re-use – a shelving system that was only about four feet tall so as not to overwhelm the room. This is for my various uniform books.

Glass cabinets protect favorite items.
The IKEA glass cabinets look even better in real-life and nicely house my absolute favorite sun helmets, and protect these from dust. At $55 each they are certainly an affordable alternative to actual museum displays.

The book cabinet under the IKEA glass cabinets is actually deep enough for two rows of books. Not the most ideal library but this is an efficient way for me to keep my books reasonably close. A computerized list was created that logs which books are in the various six compartments.

End result: A unique work space nestled in the collection.
My computer desk is nicely tucked under the two shelves next to the glass cabinets. This gives me ample room to write at my computer, and I decided to splurge a bit more and included a small LCD TV for my home office, so I can watch the news while I work, or even throw in a DVD when I’m painting models or arranging the helmets.

Keeping with the theme, I’ve included a vintage map of colonial Africa, and hung my British Martini Henry above the window. My two favorite miniature tanks are in the window, along with a World War II American tanker helmet.

Having closed on the apartment on May 14, I managed to have the helmet room built on May 15, and officially moved in on the 16th. By May 19th my helmet room was a reality, mainly because of all of the careful prior planning. There are still improvements I’d like to make, including getting a nicer reading chair, and possibly putting glass shelves in the window box for more miniatures. But whether I’m writing during the day, playing a computer game or reading after my wife has called it a day I’m overwhelmed with joy to spend those precious moments in my own mini-museum.

“The Price of (Collecting) Glory”: Helmet Room Price Breakdown

Building my collectibles room was a combination of “splurge” and “save” tactics. The biggest single expense was the Rakks adjustable shelves. These aluminum shelves cost approximately $4,000 including labor, yet these were professionally installed and carry a lifetime warranty.

An equal, or greater amount of money could have been spent on the cabinet display. Instead four IKEA DETOLF glass cabinets were purchased for $59.99 each, plus $15 for delivery. The book cabinet that was used as a base was built by a handyman for $500, and the materials cost $400. Individual museum quality display cabinets can go for $1,200 or more, so for the cost of a single cabinet I was able to pay for four.

The only added expense was $200 to get the IKEA cabinets and the book cabinet to the new apartment. As I live in New York City I had to hire a delivery service, but the same small movers transported some of my sun helmets, spiked helmets and other valuable helmets that I didn’t want brought as part of the larger main move the next day.

Rakks Aluminum Shelves $3,500
Labor Installation (including tip) $   500
Materials for book cabinet $   400
Labor for book cabinet $   500
IKEA cabinets $   255
Delivery charges $   200
   
Total Costs $5,355

While obviously not small change, I have a museum quality display showroom for my collection. And to me it was worth every penny.

Peter Suciu is a New York City-based free lance writer who has covered military history for more than a decade. His work has appeared in Military Heritage and Military Trader and he is the author of Armchair General magazine’s regular “Badges of Honor” department. He has been an avid collector of helmets and other militaria for over 30 years.

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17 Comments

  1. Nice, Very Nice indeed!

  2. I AM IN AFGHANISTAN NOW. I RECENTLY BAUGHT A HELEMT THERE AND WAS WONDERNG IF YOU CAN TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT IT. IS THERE AN EMAIL ADDRESS I CAN SEND YOU A PICTURE OF IT TO?
    SSGT WITT

    • Germany sold after WW1 many helmets to Afghanistan which was a kingdom then.
      This because the Germans needed money for repair bills from the allies.
      Mostly they are M-1916 models and at the right side there are often 2 small wholes who were put there in Afghanistan to affix the national embem there i think this emblem was triangular but i’m not sure.

      Regards Frederik-Jan.

  3. Outstanding job on the display.

  4. hello

    can you (or any body) please help me?!! I saw
    on the internetsite a dutch M40 helmet with “WOLFS HOOK” used by the NSKK.

    i’ve been surching for that helmet for a VERY long time but I cannot find it! so now is my question, do you sell that helmet?!! or do you know any body?

    i would be pleased to here from you. all the best. greatings
    roger theissen.

    • Hello Roger, i have a German helmet with Wolfsangel. It was worn by Dutch volunteers and it is a very rare item to find. The you ask about i never saw before in my life (an original one i mean) and i collect over 35 years now…. Maybe you should aslk a friend of mine who is the know how from Dutch helmets. You can contact him on his Hobbywebsite and it is called http://www.dutchhelmets.nl The site is in Dutch language and english so everybody who reads this please take a look at this site. It offers so much information for collectors.

      Kind regards Frederik.

  5. Outstanding collection and exquisite room. Worthy of a Museum exhibition. I remember your contributions on the WAF forum were always informative. I will bookmark your page. Good luck with your collection.

    Regards Dennis

  6. First class presentation of an excellent collection! Kept one eye on quality and one eye on the budget. But, if you are going to collect it does not do to stack them one on top of the other; gotta have the shelves.

    Now you can see it all and enjoy the effort you put into the most extensive pith helmet collection I have ever theen; theriouthly. Uh, sorry about that. But I have a feeling that your DVD collection includes The Four Feathers, Zulu, and of course, Gunga Din. OK, every British/Arab war movie ever made.

    So when you get a chance you might want to go to Netflix and rent The Party, with Peter Sellers. It starts with the greatest take-off of Gunga Din ever made.

    Yeah, my wife doesn’t understand all of the time I spend in my study with my helmet collection and watching the History Channel. She doesn’t understand that part of the process is communing with all of the people who actually wore those helmets through time. And part of it is because she is downstairs watching Desperate Housewives, ER, Boston Legal, and all of those other doctor/lawyer/steamy shows. Oy.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Mike

  7. I was handed down an aluminum helmet that my father had apparently used sometime in the Marine Corps, but I have not been able to find anything on the internet about it. The hemet is made by George Evans & Co. If I could get an email from you, I will send a pic of it, any response will be greatly appreciated.

  8. Dear Peter: excellent work you’ve done! I’m astonished and have ruined the keyboard drooling… Thank God I had a spare one!
    Congratulations! Gabriel Ll.

  9. I just purchased a WWI French Adrian on ebay.It is quite low grade as that’s all that I can afford.My question is,it has the emblem holes on the right side just the same as on the front.Any ideas.Thank-you

  10. Hi – what do you recommend for types of display stands for helmets and what do you use? Impressive display, thank you for sharing.

  11. Hello,

    I,m from Holland and i saw a beautifull tunic with yellow ribbons/linings on the chest.
    Now i,m wondering what it is,to me it seems the tunic from “De gele rijders” which means the yellow (horse)drivers.
    Think you have the furrlined helmet to.
    It is a bit small on the pictures and i cannot clearly see.
    Do you collect Dutch militaria?

    Sincerely and kindest regards Frederik-Jan.

  12. Dear Peter, i,m very impressed. I am a Dutch collector and i often visit your site to get more information about (sun)helmets. Thanks!
    With regards, Hans

  13. I can be reached via my MilitarySunHelmets.com Website.

    Thank you,
    Peter Suciu

  14. Peter,

    I’m a current member of the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band in Washington, D.C. I noticed your excellent example of the 1880’s Marine Band helmet as worn by J.P. Sousa while he directed our band from 1880-1892. Our library has an amazing collection of historic band uniforms and headgear dating back to the civil war, however we do not have a white, 1880’s-era bandsman helmet in our collection. Do you sell any items? If not, any idea where we could obtain a lead on one?

  15. Dear Mr Suciu:

    I was so grateful at long last to find an EXACT description of the British Empire topi. On more than one occasion, W. Somerset Maugham mentioned the topi in his short stories, but until I found your excellent website featuring Combat Helmets of the World, with an entire section devoted to the wide variety of distinct British Sun Helmets, I could not be sure I was imagining the right style & shape. As it happens, I was In the correct hemisphere, but in the wrong country; I was seeing the so-called “Bombay Bowler,” but felt the style was not sufficiently formal & imposing to suit the characters who sported it. Possibly Maugham could have been referring to the similarly shaped “Cawnpore,” which you identify as also being a topi, but the Wolseley Pattern Service Helmet seems much more likely.

    Anyhow, Please accept my sincere thanksfor having created such an interesting, informative & well organized site. Your descriptions are more discriminating & informative than any others I’ve ever seen. Many collectors’ websites indiscriminately lump the Wolseley Pattern Foreign Service Helmet (which term, by the way, I learnt thanks to your website) together with British pith helmets, Prussian Pickelhäuben, & even modern headgear that appear to be American baseball caps made from Harry Lauder’s kilt, as if they were all called the same thing!

    Ted Reinert

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