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  1. #1
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    Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Improving Your Impression: Not About Money

    by Paul Calloway
    First published, Summer 2000.


    I'm firmly convinced that a lot of folks in the hobby of Civil War Reenacting have taken the issue of the expense to upgrade and blown it incredibly out of proportion in order to validate their lack of improvement. I saw an example of this recently while visiting the showroom of a well-known mainstream sutler. I had stopped in order to pick up a copy of Casey's Infantry Tactics and was waited on by a wonderfully cordial woman we shall call herein Tammy.

    Tammy had worked for this well-known sutler for some six years and managed several departments. She described to me how reenactors would often call in and ask her advice on their impressions. This struck me as frightening because in the next sentence or two she explained that she had yet to even go to a reenactment. What she knew about reenacting and about authenticity was apparently what she had heard by her boss, her co-workers and customers who frequented the establishment, whether in the show-room or on the phone.

    She said that her sutlery provided quite a service to reenactors as they provided top quality merchandise at a fair price. In truth, the merchandise is as mainstream as mainstream gets so I suppose it all depends on how you define quality. She also espoused her opinion that most reenactors couldn't afford to spend $3,000 to be a "stitch-counter" and that her sutlery offered top quality at a third the price. I thought to myself, who in the heck ever said it cost $3,000 to be a "stitch-counter" and did she even know what the term meant?

    It occurred to me that this Tammy didn't have enough experience in the hobby to have really formed an opinion like that on her own. I believe, Tammy has heard that espoused by mainstream reenactors she converses with via phone or in her showroom and is really just relating what they have told her. Well, here I am in my sixth year of reenacting and I've been steadily working on my impression for about the last three years... upgrading it to now what some would consider "hardcore." I have never spent anything close to $3,000 for my kit though and "Tammy's" musings got me to thinking about how a false rumor like this could be circulating.

    I believe it may work like this: Reenactor Boy hears Hardcore Buddy has spent $90 on a blanket. Reenactor Boy thinks that is a ridiculous sum to spend on a blanket and tells all his mainstream buddies. In order to really juice up his point, he tells his mainstream buddies that Hardcore Buddy actually spent $120. Mainstream Buddies are convinced by Reenactor Boy's story and likewise tell their mainstream counterparts that a Hardcore Buddy of Reenactor Boy just spent <$x+y> on a blanket. This goes on and on in such a manner.

    Likewise New Recruit joins the ranks of Mainstream Buddies' unit. New Recruit asks Mainstream Buddy where to get his stuff. New Recruit has plastic burning in his pocket and would be perfectly willing at this point to spend an extra $20-$30 here and there if Mainstream Buddy told him it would improve his impression. The last thing Mainstream Buddy wants is for New Recruit to look better than him so he proceeds to fill New Recruits mind with such things as:
    • If New Recruit has $3,000 to spend he could get a real hardcore outfit. Mainstream Buddy made this figure up out of the blue just to scare New Recruit into staying mainstream.
    • Hardcore Buddy and his Hardcore Pards are really just clothes hounds who don't know how to drill.
    • Hardcore Buddy and his Hardcore Pards never do living history to benefit the public. They just go hide away in the woods every weekend.
    • If New Recruit has three years to wait he could get a hardcore outfit. This is Mainstream Buddy's ACE-IN-THE-HOLE.
    If New Recruit doesn't buy this, Mainstream Buddy proceeds to get all his Mainstream Pards to come over and verify every bit of garbage he just told New Recruit.

    Well, the fact is that Mainstream Buddy has just cost his New Recruit friend a great deal of money. Yes, that's right. You see to buy a kit in the mainstream would normally cost you about $1,200. To buy a "hardcore kit" would cost you approximately $1,500. This $3,000 figure is complete hogwash and is made up to be a scare tactic.

    If New Recruit really does want to be more progressive at some point he now will have shelled out the first figure ($1,200) plus a figure in the neighborhood of $600-$800 in improvements to reach a grand total of maybe $2,000. In this example, Mainstream Buddy just cost his new pard about $500 by having him buy junk he'll eventually have to replace because of it's poor quality. But still no way near the ridiculous number of $3,000.

    Please take special note that it wasn't the hardcore community that cost New Recruit the extra $500. It was Mainstream Buddy whose self-justifying untruths and half-truths have purposely painted an illusion for his pard.

    It's not just New Recruit that gets hurt in this example. The hardcore/progressive just lost indefinitely a new champion for authenticity. The mainstream community just lost a new guiding light and perhaps a little bit of honor for misleading a new pard - whether out of ignorance or out of maliciousness.

    Finally, someone completely ignorant to the hobby (Tammy of Mainstream Sutler) has bought this line of garbage hook-line-and-sinker and is now espousing it to every reenactor who will take time to listen. Tammy is a nice lady - no reason not to believe her... after all she works at Mainstream Sutler who has a great reputation on service, quality on price. Not only is New Recruit hearing it from his Mainstream Buddies but he is also hearing it from Mainstream Sutler ... this must make it true!

    I get the feeling that this happens more than we could possibly imagine. New Recruit is nearly defenseless in this example and he has been set up by his buddies for a very expensive fall. His only chance out of this is if he runs into a hardcore/progressive who is willing to shepherd him through the trials and travails of being a New Recruit.

    If you or somebody you know has found himself in the shoes of New Recruit come on over to The Authentic Campaigner where we'll take the time to show you how to get your kit without having to mortgage your house or sell your child into the black-market child-labor market.. Have a great day.
    Last edited by paulcalloway; 11-02-2006 at 11:26 AM.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  2. #2
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Although this thread may be a bit older, I'd just like to throw an "Amen!" on to the end. I can personally attest to the mainstream guys laying the "Hardcore guys really don't know how to drill..." on you. Even though I may belong to a mainstream unit I'm one of the few trying to get everything right, especially because of this whole new world that's been opened up to me on this site. And I am in the market for an authentic unit (despite what the mainstreamers say...).
    Stephen Feryus

  3. #3
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Sir-

    Amen also to you on this posting, Mr. Calloway. There are all kinds of shenanigans mainstreamers tell other mainstreamers to keep them from improving their impressions. I've been witness to them. When I was new to the hobby, I might have been a victim to them once or twice...

    But on that note, I think reenactors, whether they be mainstreamer or progressive, are a victim of the system in the respect that since there are so many places to get parts of their kit from that choosing where to buy from and exactly what a good buy is can be confusing.
    Case in point: I have also reenacted in Europe at Napoleonics events when I was stationed in Germany. I observed that since there are fewer dealers who make these uniform components, their kits are more homemade and look remarkably better and more authentic because they aren't bombarded with utter junk to buy. At most, for Napoleonics reenactors perhaps one or two people will make your complete kit. This is a sharp contrast to the shopping around we do as AmCiv reenactors in the United States.
    Unfortunately in this case, capitalism in our country, in my opinion, has led to a degradation of much of our pool of actual authentic reenacting supplies. This, in turn, has led to our epidemic of "mainstreamers" being the "norm" and why we are forever trying to combat nylon in the ranks. Now, we find ourselves as progressively-minded hobbyists attempting to re-find the most authentic looking items and separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to good/bad purchases.
    Of note: I had a friend and mentor of mine tell me when he first did reenacting during the 100th anniversary battles of the early 1960's that they had whole companies that were completely outfitted in ORIGINAL gear bought from surplus piles of un-issued/slightly used equipment and clothing at National Guard Armories back then. In his unit back then, he said if you couldn't buy your gear from the old piles of Federal surplus, then you couldn't be in the unit. Original stuff then was so cheap and the hobby didn't have as many people as it does now so that way supported itself.

    Too bad we cannot recapture -that- level of authenticity!

    I feel we progressively-minded enthusiasts need to gently win hearts and minds of mainstreamers with reason and factual evidence or a "holier-than-thou" attitude among progressives will be the death of the progressive side of the hobby and people will buy junk because it is cheaper or they like it better. I fear this happening and have seen it happen with some friends of mine. That's why I personally try to keep a good attitude whenever I see farb among fellow enthusiasts- gently correct, but don't accept at a progressive event. Mainstreamers belong with mainstreamers, but a well- placed progressive or group of such individuals can slowly win the hearts and minds of mainstreamers around them.

    You're darn right on your above article... it's not about money, but about good purchases with factual evidence to support those purchases.

    Thanks- Johnny Lloyd

    John "Johnny" Lloyd
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    "Without history, there can be no research standards.
    Without research standards, there can be no authenticity.
    Without the attempt at authenticity, all is just a fantasy.
    Fantasy is not history nor heritage, because it never really existed." -Me


    Proud descendant of...

  4. #4
    AudellaGrace Guest

    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    This is my third season with the MSAS and so I still have the "New Recruit" label. When I started Civil War Reenacting, I just bought a nice dress from a shop in Gettysburg. MSAS has taken me under their wing and educated me on the proper way to represent a middle-class, civilian woman. I knew that I could count on the MSAS because they had evidence of research, displays of original items, and willing to help me gather all I needed. They did not expect me to have everything within the first year. One step at a time and someday, I too can be a hardcore.

  5. #5
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Audella -
    Great to hear you're enjoying the site. We do need you to sign your full name to every post.

    I'll be in Grand Rapids on Wednesday .. ever so briefly.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
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    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  6. #6
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Paul,

    One other option to consider is the business end.

    "Tammy" could really care less whether or not the stuff her business sells is based upon authentic items and solid research. "Tammy" is there to earn a living, and she does that by hawking the wares her boss puts up for salw. It's her JOB to tell everyone about the "quality" of the items she sells. In regards to that word "quality", much depends upon what she is refering to. She may, and probably is, absolutely truthful about the business selling "quality" items. They are probably quite well made, with much attention to detail of construction and appearance. However, "quality" and "authenticity" are not the same things. I have seen some stainless-steel canteens that are very high "quality", construction-wise, and even pattern-wise. The problem, however, is obvious. It's that darned stainless steel they are made of.

    Anyway, the gist of the problem is that these sutlers are in business to make money. The Mainstream sutlers are more than happy to keep touting the "price & quality" mantra in order to attract dollars. Buying thier goods from overseas only increases the profit potential. It is in the interest of the mainstream sutler to keep myths and straw-man arguments in play, in order to attract customers and increase sales.

    "Tammy" may or may not be fully aware of what we refer to as "authenticity" issues. She is, however, aware that the more she sells, the more the business takes in and the happeir her boss is. She has a vested interest in seeing the customer walk out with fewer dollars in his pocket.

    To be Frank (as opposed to Tammy ) Tammy could care less about what is in the best interest of the hobby. All she knows is that, if folks start to buy from someone else, she's probably going to be out of a job. Thus, she'll probably keep up the charade, even if she figures out the truth, unless she can find a better offer somewhere else.

    It's all in the bottom line. As in so many areas, just follow the cash trail. Some folks just cannot help cutting corners when there is money to be made, and that's the ONE absolutely authentic part of the mainstream sutler business.

    Respects,
    Tim Kindred
    Medical Mess
    Polar Star Lodge #114
    Bath, Maine

  7. #7
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    If you or somebody you know has found himself in the shoes of New Recruit come on over to The Authentic Campaigner where we'll take the time to show you how to get your kit without having to mortgage your house or sell your child into the black-market child-labor market.. Have a great day
    Maybe. Depends on who gets to you first. A pet peeve of mine on this board are those folks who respond to inquiries of this sort with: a) Go do your own research and don't bother me and/or b) this board was not created with the neophyte in mind. The latter I believe was coined by our own Paulus Flavius Minimus hisself.

    There seems to be a lot of new people coming into the hobby these days, just as a lot of old ones are leaving. From what I get from over in Szabo-land, a lot of these folks are afraid to ask over here because they think they are going to get cut off at the knees. So, they stay over there and get whatever wisdom can be offered there, sometimes good, sometimes bad. I suggest we can do better than that.

    Now, I am not endorsing the 1000th "who makes the best haversack" post, but I believe that if we want these people to start off doing it right we are going to have to control this impulse. It's bad enough that certain mainstreamers will bad-mouth the AC and its members without it being true. I know there are plenty of people here who want to help, the question is, how can we best do that?
    Bob Muehleisen
    Furious Five
    Cin, O.

  8. #8
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    Quote Originally Posted by Milliron View Post
    this board was not created with the neophyte in mind. The latter I believe was coined by our own Paulus Flavius Minimus hisself.
    No it wasn't. I've never said that, never espoused that - although I do believe it's in Dusty's signature block.

    The truth is, thats exactly what the site was created for - to put the information, so closely guarded, into the hands of as many as possible.

    Keep in mind though, this article was written in the summer of 2000 - some things have changed since then.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
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    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    No it wasn't. I've never said that, never espoused that - although I do believe it's in Dusty's signature block.
    I stand corrected. But the fact that it is in Dusty's signature block is illustrative of the point.

    Keep in mind though, this article was written in the summer of 2000 - some things have changed since then
    What has changed, relative to educating new people about authenticity?

    Please understand, I am not trying to be argumentative, but I think the authentically minded have a rare opportunity here to improve the quality of impressions across the board. I see this forum as the primary instrument.
    Bob Muehleisen
    Furious Five
    Cin, O.

  10. #10
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    Re: Improving Your Impression: Not About Money: by Paul Calloway

    The manner in which we have to run this website has changed, enormously. The impact the internet has had on the hobby has been enormous. Keeping online-information accessible to everyone becomes more and more difficult with each passing day.

    There is increased factionalism within the hobby that we have to contend with daily. There is increasing moderator load due to growth in membership on the AC - especially in the mainstream. There are increasing expenses for running the site and keeping it fully accessible.

    The only folder with more threads than moderator folder is the Buy, Sell, Trade folder. Think about that.

    All of these factors play a role in how we educate people about the hobby.

    It isn't a simply collection of links anymore and the burden of it all is difficult to administrate.

    The article is outdated.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

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