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).
More Antique Trader coverage of World War II collectibles
The image of the soldier of World War II, whether Allied or Axis, is perhaps captured more fully in no other way than in the uniform he or she wore during their service experience. While the uniform is quite probably the most personal item a soldier possessed, it also became a difficult souvenir for one to bring home. The bulk of field and dress uniforms often took up a considerable amount of space in comparison to various other items such as medals, documents, flatware, or a photograph. Further, the uniform of an enemy soldier, his headcover, tunic, and trousers were so often considered too personal to stuff into a rucksack.
For many soldiers, particularly those of the defeated Axis, the uniform was the principal item, or the only possession, they were allowed to keep when they returned to civilian life. The heavy clothing was often prized for use in everyday situations, even in earning a living through manual labor. Surplus and used clothing stores purchased uniforms in large numbers, reselling them as work clothes or possibly to the occasional collector. As a personal item, the uniform was very often the most tangible reminder of a soldier’s service in World War II and an obvious connection to the war for the collector.
Today’s collectors find uniforms compelling and extremely desirable. They may wish to consider the challenges of storage, display, and price range as they begin collecting uniforms or add to an existing collection. The focus may include assembling the full dress of a German soldier, purchasing an M36 combat tunic and following that with additional pieces, eventually displaying them on a mannequin in order to gain an appreciation for the look of a soldier on garrison duty or in the field.
Uniforms: Dress or Fatigue?
Divided into two major categories, dress and fatigue, the uniforms of World War II tend to be much more elaborate when fashioned for official functions. The dress uniform included rank and unit insignia and often, formal awards, while the fatigues were put to the test in the field with such personnel as mechanics, cooks, support troops, and combat soldiers.
Dress uniforms were often worn home from overseas, placed in a closet, and seldom seen in subsequent years. However, as the soldiers of World War II pass away and estates are sold at auction, dispersed to family members, or boxed up and given away, dress uniforms remain in great supply. One of the most significant factors in determining the value of a dress uniform is the insignia, which it bears. Values of a few dollars to hundreds of dollars may be determined by the adornments of a British Service Dress uniform, the Class A jacket of a U.S. Army Air Corps officer, or the Waffenrock of a German soldier. Research is a prerequisite to determining which insignia, patches, and medals are the most desirable and enhance the value of a uniform to the highest degree.
In contrast, the value of a fatigue uniform is primarily determined by its function. The combat clothing of a common soldier, such as a U.S. issue rain jacket, does not elicit the high level of interest of an SS soldier’s camouflage smock. In addition, the U.S. first pattern winter parka may be more “scarce” than the U.S. pattern 1941 field jacket since fewer were made; however, the latter remains the more desirable, and therefore more valuable, item. The reason is readily apparent. The field jacket is representative of the GI in combat. The field jacket was part and parcel with nearly every American soldier in harm’s way. Therefore, the items worn by soldiers in combat will generally command a higher price than others.
Don’t Tear Off the Tag
The tag, very often, tells the tale. The importance of retaining the tags cannot be stressed enough. Collectors, particularly those interested in U.S. uniforms, will pay a premium for uniforms with full, legible tags. These often provide a wealth of information, including the contract under which the article of clothing was made, the date of the contract, its official nomenclature, and the size. Routinely, some garment owners purchased tags privately and had them sewn into a tunic or other article of clothing. Today, such evidence of ownership adds to the provenance of an item.
Sometimes soldiers simply wrote their names or other identifying information inside their uniforms, including serial number or address. While these may provide clues to the ownership of a garment, they may, in some cases, augment the value. Do not attempt to remove any of these markings. Such alterations are very likely to detract from values.
|• Uniforms are probably the most tangible evidence of a soldier’s service, conveying personal commitment.
• Available in good supply, uniforms may be purchased in a variety of styles and price ranges.
• Although some uniforms are quite rare, the majority are easy to find and may often be linked with provenance.
|• Uniforms take up a great deal of space and need plenty of room for assembly and display.
• Uniform collectors must accept responsibility for the special care in preservation and handling that is required.
• Insignia may be original to the uniform or added later, which may be quite difficult to determine, particularly if applied to the garment after 1945 in order to artificially inflate value.
• Reproductions of combat clothing are readily available.
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