Collection shows flair for patriotism, history

Above, Hunter Marvel displays tanks from the World War II era on display in his home. A collector since his youth, Mr. Marvel has models of tanks from several countries as well as planes, ships and even soldiers. Below, a close up of one of his pieces. More images will be available online Tuesday at Greenwich-post.com. — John Ferris Robben photo

Above, Hunter Marvel displays tanks from the World War II era on display in his home. A collector since his youth, Mr. Marvel has models of tanks from several countries as well as planes, ships and even soldiers. Below, a close up of one of his pieces. More images will be available online Tuesday at Greenwich-post.com.
— John Ferris Robben photo

What people choose to collect says a lot about their passions, and for Old Greenwich’s Hunter Marvel, an extensive collection of miniature tanks and ships speaks to his patriotism and his love of military history.

When people hear about collections, they immediately think about baseball cards or stamps or art or even summon nightmare visions of hoarders with their homes filled with every edition ever of Cat Fancy, Mr. Marvel’s collection of models is neat, well maintained and provides a chance for people intrigued by both history and the development of military hardware through the years a chance to get a unique view.

On a recent visit to his home, Mr. Marvel showed his collection to the Post and explained how he got involved with it.

“Some people collect soldiers, but I was drawn more to this,” Mr. Marvel, president of the Old Greenwich Lions Club, said. “I started collecting them and it was a lot of fun. I used to go to a hobby store when I was kid and I would buy them for a dollar. Now you can get them for $20 or $30 depending on the rarity and the condition. I just loved the design of the tanks and I went from that to the model planes too.”

He didn’t just collect U.S. tanks, but also British, Russian and German pieces and other countries, allowing for a full view of the military hardware used during World War II. And this was not the only thing he collected as a boy.

“I collected baseball cards and my mother threw them away when I went to school, and I also collected beer signs,” Mr. Marvel said. “I had a wonderful collection of those. I grew up in New York City and I would go between 96th Street and 14th Street and go up and down to the bars asking for beer signs. I was pretty gutsy for a 12-year-old and I would just go right into the bar and ask for a sign. I had them covering the walls in my bedroom on 72nd Street. Some of them lit up and some of them flashed. It was really cool.”

But it’s the military pieces that have sustained Mr. Marvel’s interest. While not as detailed or as advanced as today’s form of models, these pieces have the charm of being made in the 1950s with durability, too, since they’re made out of lead and plastic. Some of the items Mr. Marvel has are valuable but they mostly have more sentimental value and remain a strong interest. All told he has 105 tanks as the centerpiece of his collection.

“I love history,” Mr. Marvel said. “I was a history major. I’ve always had an interest in World War II and finding out what really happened. There are so many great photos and films about it now and really striking pictures to show you what was going on in those battlefields. And I’ve always been drawn to the tanks. It was a really fun hobby. I had put them away, but now I’ve got them out again. I’m very proud of this collection but mostly this is for fun. I knew every tank by name as a kid.”

Mr. Marvel, who served in the Army’s reserves in a hospital unit, initially had a collection that he started in his youth, but like most collections time and the distractions of life had caused him to step away from it. But the Internet has become a boon to collection thanks to websites making items available without having to travel around the country to find them, as well as creating communities of people with similar minds. In fact it was the Internet that inspired him to really get back to collecting and to add to it.

Today his collection not only includes the pieces themselves but other curiosities like advertisements from Mechanics Illustrated in 1951 talking about the pieces and also how to order things like assembly kits for ship models. And Mr. Marvel is quick to talk about the history of the tanks being modeled, discussing how they were used in major campaigns in the war and the flaws that made them vulnerable, leading to the United States making improvements that finally gave them supremacy over the Germans.

“It’s a pretty complete collection,” Mr. Marvel said. “Now a good question is what is a complete collection and as far as I’m concerned, it’s everything I had collected before and adding on the later things that were made.”

It may not be the typical collection, but Mr. Marvel is hardly alone. There’s a thriving community for collectors online and Mr. Marvel said auction sites like eBay helped him a lot in reassembling his collection. He says that he’s satisfied with where his collection is now, so he’s not looking to add to it, but he is keeping an eye open for a piece or two that might interest him.

“I do love the challenge of collecting,” Mr. Marvel said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun to complete a collection.”

 

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