This exclusive excerpt is from the newly expanded second edition of Warman’s World War II Collectibles, Identification and Price Guide, by Michael Haskew (Krause Publications, 2010).
Following the end of World War II, many of the trappings of the ordinary soldier were sold as surplus materials and were used in the pursuit of hobbies or civilian work. Some of these are still in use today, while re-enacting has gained a new popularity worldwide.
Although the demand for the common accouterments of the soldier has caused prices to rise through the years and given support to an active reproduction market, many examples of original equipment are available at affordable prices. Yet, assembling the entire kit of a World War II soldier, male or female, may be a challenging and somewhat expensive task.
The most sought after and difficult to find accouterments are those, which were used by elite troops, such as paratroopers, commandos, and SS soldiers. Some caution should be exercised particularly when purchasing items identified as belonging to elite troops, as well as rare items, such as gas detection brassards or special paratrooper first-aid pouches.
The allure of collecting accouterments stems primarily from the connection to the soldiers themselves. These were, after all, the tools of the soldier’s trade—the very trappings that he or she wore on campaign, in battle, on the drill field, and finally, the souvenirs to remind the veteran of their time in combat. Remember, however, that all accouterments have not survived the decades at the same rate, and some are scarce. Leather and metal items are prone to flaking, deterioration, or rust and must be handled with special care.
Many soldiers returning home from their military duties were allowed to keep some or all of their field gear, and the occasional pair of wire cutters, pouch or haversack, government issue shovel, or web belt routinely turns up in an attic chest or may be purchased at the local flea market or estate sale. Due to the abundance of material available, some collectors opt to concentrate on one type of accouterment, possibly attempting to gather all variations of a certain maker’s mark. Others, however, may concentrate on assembling the entire complement of items typically carried by a certain soldier of a certain nation. In either case, the connection to the common individual in the service of his or her country is readily apparent. The accouterment collector benefits from the availability of items, which survived World War II and may engage in the satisfying hobby for years to come.
|• Fakes of common items are not as prevalent as in other collectibles.
• Due to the volume of equipment produced, there are numerous manufacturers and a wide variety of most accouterments.
• Accouterments, by their very nature, have a personal feel. By collecting the complete trappings of a soldier, a collector can develop a keen sense of a typical World War II soldier’s burden.
|• Leather and metal accouterments can be hard to store properly. Leather requires special treatment and is prone to flaking and dryness. Ideally, it is stored in a slightly humid environment. Metal items, especially tin-dipped iron such as canteens, are prone to rust and must be kept dry.
• Different types of accouterments survived at disproportionate rates. For example, U.S. cartridge belts have survived by the hundreds of thousands, but very few U.S. paratrooper first aid pouches have survived. Therefore, assembling a complete soldier’s kit is costly, especially if one is depicting an elite soldier such as a paratrooper or British Commando.
• Because the bulk of accouterments have entered the market through surplus channels, very few items have a known provenance. This can give accouterments a bland feel since they do not have the same sort of associated war stories as a soldier’s uniform with all of his medals displayed.
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