Military Eras: Top 5 U.S. WWII Collectibles

Most would agree that World War II militaria is the most popular military era to collect, and fortunately, “out of the woodwork” WWII items continue to surface from estates. WWII militaria initially emerged as a collecting hobby shortly after soldiers returned from Europe with Third Reich souvenirs, particularly medals, guns, and headgear. As demand for German WWII collectibles increased, the hobby evolved from blue-collar to white-collar. As with any collecting circle, when items start selling for serious money opportunists enter the scene with fakes and begin to infect the hobby. The surge in German fakes, coupled with skyrocketing prices, resulted in many collectors turning to U.S. militaria as a safer, more affordable option, and U.S. items once considered “surplus” have become legitimate collectibles. Popular areas include:

M1 Garand

M1 Garand

1. Firearms: Military firearms have always been in high demand with crossover appeal to both militaria and gun collectors. Many collectors not only focus on particular models—like the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, 1911A1 pistol and Springfield 1903—but also the various contractors for each weapon. The Holy Grail is to find a weapon that has all original finish and all original parts from the factory. Most WWII era weapons today have replaced parts, so original examples command a premium. A WWII-dated M1 Garand refurbished with postwar parts brings around $650, whereas an original WWII M1 Garand sells for more than $2000 if you can find one!

2. Groups: A group (or grouping) is a collection of items attributed to one veteran. Groups may contain uniform items, medals, helmet, dog tags, photos, and paperwork—including discharge, general orders and other ephemera. These items establish provenance, which greatly increases historical and collecting value. Items without provenance are worth no more than the sum of the parts. For examples of collecting groups, read: “Always a Marine: Reuniting History with a Collectible Uniform” and “Hearing the Veteran’s Story.”

3. Headgear: Military headgear is very popular because it displays well, with many types and variations to acquire. The price range accommodates anyone’s budget, with an infantry piped overseas cap selling for $5 to a named M2 “D-bale” airborne helmet selling for more than $12,000. Most militaria collectors have a soft spot for headgear, which is why it sells well.

Purple Heart medal with ribbon bar and lapel button.

Purple Heart medal with ribbon bar and lapel button.

4. Insignia & Medals: WWII patch collecting actually started during WWII. As soldiers returned home, many donated their insignia to be sewn on wonderful handmade patch blankets, or given to children to trade like baseball cards. Collectors focus on insignia variations and without knowing the difference between a “green back” vs. a “white back,” or a “green border,” it’s easy to assume they’re of equal value, but they’re not! Greenbacks are sewn with green bobbin thread, resulting in the reverse side being prominently green. These scarce variants sell for many times more than white back examples of the same patch. Medals are a privilege to collect and own because they are personal and earned by the veteran. Posthumous medals typically have name of the veteran inscribed on the back and are very desirable to collectors, particularly when they are accompanied with an original presentation case and government correspondence to the deceased solder’s family. A cased WWII Good Conduct Medal sells for $10, whereas an inscribed KIA Purple Heart sells in the hundreds or more, depending on the unit served in and the circumstances of death.

A guard-marked Camillus M3 knife with a double pinned pommel and a 1943-dated leather Viner Bros scabbard.

A guard-marked Camillus M3 knife with a double pinned pommel and a 1943-dated leather Viner Bros scabbard.

5. Knives: WWII knives were either issued or privately acquired. Notable makers of handmade fighting knives include Gary Randall and Frank J Richtig. To find clean WWII examples from either maker will cost well over $1,500. Most of the knives taken into battle were mass-produced through government contracts, like the wonderfully utilitarian model M3; a popular knife to collect because of the different contractors for both the knife and scabbard. M3’s start at $150 for just the knife and can sell in the hundreds for a clean, early example with the maker and date marked on the blade and a nice leather M6 scabbard. There are also theater-made knives constructed from scrap aluminum, Lucite, steel, brass and other materials. Theater-made knives vary in form, quality and value, and are sought after collectibles.

Chris Hughes is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in 20th century militaria and the owner of Rally Point Militaria.

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  1. Annette Dee says:

    Are drawings on hankerchiefs from Japanese POW’s worth anything? My father traded cigarettes for some drawings of women in kimonos.

  2. Chris Hughes says:

    Typically these handkerchiefs have little value unless they are decorated with US unit decoration (11th Airborne, 77th Infantry, etc) or they contain “adult” images.

    Thanks for reading my article!

    —Chris

    • Hi Chris, your article piqued my interest. I have a collection of WWII memorablia from my Dad’s participation as an Air Force pilot. They include: a thin packet that I believe contains protective gear; another packet that contains thread, safety pins and uniform buttons; a US Army Air Forces Dead Reckoning instrument (with instructions); an air flight map depicting sea and air routes that’s entitled ‘The Vast and Stormy Pacific'; a Columbus Army flying school year book (?); a hard cover 1942 Carlstrom Field, Arcadia Florida 53rd flying training detatchment year book (my Dad’s picture is in it); several flight ceritifications; flight logs from 1943-1945; several postcards; his wings and a brass ID bracelet with the air force insignia on it that my Mom gave to him. I also have several letters written between my Mom & Dad during the war, as well as his discharge papers. I’m wondering what the value of this collection is. I do treasure these things and obviously the letters will remain private, but as I am the only one in the family who has held any interest in this and I’m starting to pare-down in my collection of…everything…I was wondering if you could direct me to someone who might have interest in some of these. Thank you! Gail

      • Chris Hughes says:

        Gail,

        It sounds like you have a nice group of items from your father. More information would be needed to determine market value for these items.

        1. Did he leave the US and fly in the Pacific or European theater?
        2. What type(s) of aircraft did he fly? Collectors like fighter and bomber pilots.
        3. Did he receive any awards like Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, etc? This would be listed on the discharge you mentioned having.

        Thank you for reading my article.

        —Chris

  3. Linda Jones says:

    I have a collection of WW11 items left by my stepfather including his trunk and a scrapbook that he put together with letters, papers, photos from Europe and Africa service including many pamphlets, health records and much more (he was later a professor of communications at several universities so these are put together quite well by this future communicator)

    I have seen items on Ebay but really do not know the value of this collection and whether it is better to keep them all together or sell separately?? We hate to part with these as he is a very loved and missed family member but if it might have value it would help in sending two of his great-grandchildren to university.

    Any help on how to start would be appreciated.

    Thank you so much!

  4. Karen Bayne says:

    My father has a Nazi youth knife given to him by a mother of a Nazi youth during the war. Do you know the value?

    • Chris Hughes says:

      Linda Jones,

      There are a lot of WWII foot locker groups still out there and their value is largely determined by what unit the veteran served in.

      Do you know what unit(s) he served in? If he has uniforms with shoulder sleeve insignia, go to this site (http://www.angelfire.com/md2/patches/) and see if any match your stepfather’s uniform. That is the first step!

      Karen Bayne,

      There are a lot of fakes of this knife, but original examples in EXCELLENT condition sell in the range of $500 and up.

      Thanks for reading!

      —Chris

  5. Sherri Griswold says:

    Chris, My husband’s grandfather was a 3-star in WWII and a commander in the Phillipines (Oscar Wolverton Griswold). We have a fle, which the story we were told was that a “native tribe” in the Phillippines replaced the wooden parts with Phillippine mahagony and fixed it with his rank and unit insignia. We also have his Infantry sword and a sterling silver center-piece bowl that was presented to him in 1880 (inscribed). In addition, we have a sterling silver cup that was presented to my husband’s father who was a colonel during the war in Europe. His airborne unit was instrumental in taking Goering’s vacation home in Burchesgarden (sp?) and the cup was taken from his villa and inscribed by the unit with their campaigns. It does have Goering’s family crest, and is hand-made sterling. We’ve never had any of these items appraised. Can you tell me if any of them have any value? Thank you.

    • Chris Hughes says:

      Sherri,
      You married into a family with interesting military history and all the items you mention have value to historians and collectors, particularly the silver cup with attribution to Lt. Col. George A Griswold of the 101st Airborne Division. Did you know he invented the “Griswold Bag”, a padded bag used by paratroopers to protect their Garand rifles when making combat jumps?

      These are interesting items in their own right, but their provenance from being linked to your family is what really gives the items value. Consider using “Ask a Worthologist” at WorthPoint to get an assessment of their fair market value.

      Thanks for reading!

      —Chris Hughes

  6. E. E. Clinebell says:

    Dear Mr. Hughes,
    I have an old wooden, dovetailed, painted green foot locker that I was planning to sell on “craigslist” until I looked at it this afternoon and noticed some writing on the top. Handpainted in black it says:
    Fran__ MacGillrary
    Hq. Troop
    102nd Cav

    I was wondering, if perhaps, you know of a website that lists all the servicemen from the Hq. Troop-102nd Cav. Instead of selling it, I would much rather donate it to a WWII reenactment group – if they could use it.

    Here’s how I acquired it: My Mom purchased it a garage sale during the 1970’s in the Elizabeth, NJ area

    Thank you for any help you can give me.

    • Chris Hughes says:

      That is a kind gesture to offer to donate the footlocker, but consider that the cost to ship more than likely exceeds the value of the footlocker. WWI or WWII era examples typically sell for between $30-50.00 depending on condition and whether they still have their tray.

      Thanks for reading my article!

      —Chris

      • Heather Jordan says:

        Chris,
        I also have a wood footlocker with dove tailed 26x19x11. It has a green x on the front and a B on the back. We own a small art gallery and I have used it for a display. A man has come in 3 times to purchase it and I told him it wasn’t for sale. He mentioned it was used in WW1 and had great value. Can anyone put me in the right direction?
        Thanks
        Heather Jordan

  7. William.CC.Cavanagh says:

    I have the original Fire Chart and other overlays used at Camp Elsenbrn during the Battle of the Bulge by the CG of 2nd Infantry DIVARTY General John H. Hinds. These are accompanied by a hand written letter from General Hinds to me verifying their authenticity. There is also a four page signed letter from the Operations Officer to General Hinds dated 1947 in which he goes into tremendous detail on the use of artillery at Camp Elsenborn. These unique items are for sale . Offers can be made to me at the email address above.

  8. Karini says:

    Thank you for such an informative article, it’s defiantly something to keep in mind while treasure hunting

    I was wondering if you could provide any information on a brown briefcase I picked up at a yard sale marked on the front in yellow:
    Navigation: Dead Reckoning
    Type A-4
    Specification No. 94-40258
    Order No.(33-038) 45-102-AF
    Merit Leather Strap Co. Inc Case
    it also has S.A.KOMARA stamped across the back in white

    Thank you for any information you can provide I’ve had a terrible time trying to research it

  9. X.J. Excol says:

    Mr Hughes,

    Any ideas on the estimated value of this WW2 Collection:

    http://ww2collection.blogspot.com

    Thank you,

  10. Jerod says:

    I was wondering if someone could tell me the worth, of aengineering field manual , first aid and soldier handbook, as a number of medals from service over sea’s and at the home front, also a matchbook war bond with Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito also a flair gun…

  11. Dave says:

    I was wondering the value of actual photos of Mussolini and his group hanging in the town before dragging them in the streets

  12. gail buell says:

    I have a German mauser pistol taken from the body of a German officer by my uncle in WWII. Along with it is the certificate allowing this gun to be brought into the United States. My uncle gave this gun to his brother, my father, upon returning from the war. This gun has been in a velvet pouch ever since, never used since it arrived in the US and only looked at a very few times. It is in excellent condition. Can you give me some suggestions as to where to inquire on it’s potential value? Thanks for any info you can give me!

  13. Brother J says:

    I am a WW2 war paraphernalia buff and collect WW2 German Militaria since my childhood,
    there is an nice WW2 Collection for sale right now
    but ww2collection turned down my cash offer of USD 260.000, euro 200.000 for their WW2 Collection of historical WW2 German artifacts.
    Help! How much should I offer for that WW2 Collection?

  14. Ken Ervin says:

    I have a what appears to be a bronze trophy approx. 12 1/2 ” high w/a black base of a track & field runner w/a baton and a SILVER SS INSIGNIA on his chest. Can you give me any info about this object. I caN send a photo if you would like me to. appreciate your help,,Thank You Ken E.

  15. I have several Items Standing orders for a U.S. NAVY officer from 1932-1953 Including Promotions From Commander to Captain with promotions signed by COM. QUIGLEY and SEC.DEF. FORRESTAL Communcae Reguaring Oders including OPERATION CROSSROADS AND CUB 18 NAVAL SUPPORT of NAGASAKI
    occupation and sit reps for varios campains related to naval
    tasking in the PACIFIC theater along with personnal letters during deployments SUPPLY REQ. for cub 18 activities

    AND A war TROPHY captured from jap forces on GUATAL CANAL A SIGN written in japanes a billet stating commander jap forces GUDAL CANAL Solomon Islands Do you know anybody who is a collector of such items ….

  16. Daneil says:

    Hello,

    I have a WWII german dagger with metal sheath and the blade has german writting on it. I’m looking to check on its value and sell it. can you direct me in the right direction. Thank you.
    daniel

  17. michael lynch says:

    hello mr Hughes,

    my father died recently and I came upon a bunch of his WW11 paperwork along with 2 German swords,and vairous bayonets. One item that caught my attention was a canned letter 9”x 6” signed with Dwight D.Esinehower prior to D-Day with Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Foces on the letter head. it starts out with : Soilders,Sailors,and Airmen of the Allied Epeditionary Forces! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade,which we have striven thses many months. The paper ends with, Good Luck! and let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. My dad received the letter on June 8th 1944.
    Is the a place in the SF bay area where I can find out more information about the letter and articles of WW11 that my father has.

    thanks for your help,
    Michael J Lynch

  18. Chris:

    I have a WWII footlocker-like packing crate that at one point contained tools and parts for repairing gas masks. Photos and a translation of the packing label on the inside of the lid can be seen at http://www.amovitz.com/german_packing_crate/. Do you have any idea what this might be worth, or can you point me to where I can find out?

    Thank you.

    -Arleigh Movitz