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- Last updated: 21/12/2016
Back in the mists of time, when I was a 13-year old, I had a holiday in an army camp on the outskirts of Edinburgh with the Army cadet force. This was my first introduction to the Lee Enfield service rifle, albeit firing blanks, but one of the highlights of the week was a visit to Edinburgh where we marvelled at the treasures in the antique shops. I well remember seeing a group of what seemed like a very large bayonet – probably the 1907 pattern – with a price tag of ten shillings (50p to those using the new fangled money) each, which we thought was extortionate, given that we had only paid fifteen shillings (75p) for the week’s holiday, including the train fare! That 50p today might buy you a post card size photograph of the same bayonet.
Obviously there are no more 50p bayonets around but if they interest you then it can be a very cost effective and absorbing hobby. Choosing which bayonets to collect - and the choice is vast - may depend on whatever other interests, if any, you might have in the militaria field. Or perhaps you just like historic edged weapons and this is another facet that takes your fancy. If this is the case then you are not tied down by any constraints and can buy whatever takes your fancy or can afford, and there is a great variance in prices depending on rarity and condition.
Some bayonets on their own can be bought quite cheaply, while adding a scabbard will bump up the price, and a frog (scabbard hanger) takes it up further. Will you be content with a well-used battle scarred example that has a tale to tell, or do you want a mint example that may not have been issued? The latter, especially with its scabbard and frog, will most certainly bring a premium price.
Know Your Subject
Like all aspects of collecting, it is wise to arm yourself with a little knowledge of your subject before you begin, as there can be some expensive mistakes to be made by the unwary. If this is your first foray into bayonet collecting then begin by browsing through the militaria pages of this magazine, where you will find a variety of models and prices to suit most pockets. Dealers will be only too happy to give you advice and any information you need on a particular piece. Space and cost prohibits sellers from showing photographs of their stock so you may wish to invest in a book to help you sort through the seemingly myriad of items on offer. I would recommend BAYONETS from Jantzen’s Notebook as a good introduction and you can add to your library as and when your interest grows. With no more than a dozen photographs in its 250 pages, Jantzen’s book shows all of the bayonets as line drawings, much easier to recognise than some of the poor quality photographs I have seen. Again, check out the pages of this magazine for booksellers who can supply this volume. Once you have established your interest then head for the arms fairs that take place on most weekends throughout the country. Here you will find a number of the dealers who advertise in Gun Mart and you will be able to see and handle the vast array of bayonets that is available to today’s collectors. Study the condition of the pieces, with and without appendages, and compare the prices. A walk round a large historic arms fair can save you a few pounds if you are prepared to haggle.
Rifles, Mskets and Bayonets
Without exception bayonets are a military item so many collectors or prospective collectors will be familiar with the associated firearms. There is a healthy interest in de-activated and antique weapons, particularly military examples, and adding some corresponding bayonets to a group of bolt action rifles will not only increase the value of the collection and make for a more interesting display, but also broaden your knowledge and stimulate more research, the latter in itself a very rewarding part of the hobby.
For the purpose of a gun/bayonet display then you may well be able to dispense with the scabbard and frog, although adding the former looks preferable in my eyes. As the various rifles were modified and improved, often the bayonets changed too, so searching for the correct bayonet for your rifle, as well as matching the condition (a mint bayonet on a battle weary rifle, and vice versa, would look out of place) will add to the enjoyment and bring satisfaction when you achieve your goal. Some long guns – pre-1939 flintlock and percussion weapons – will of course not need to be de-activated but will nevertheless still have been equipped with a bayonet. With these earlier models the bayonets will typically be longer than most of the later cartridge rifles and it is here you will encounter the groups of socket and sword bayonets, the latter, as their name implies, capable of being used as a weapon should the need arise. With blades up to, and sometimes exceeding, two feet in length, some of these sword bayonets with brass grips and fancy guards can make very decorative displays in their own right. Finding good original specimens of these early pieces may prove a little elusive and in some cases fairly expensive, but you can rest assured that the value of your collection will only grow provided that you buy at the right price.
Whilst a general collection of bayonets, or any other antiques for that matter, can be very interesting and pleasing to the eye, sooner or later you may find yourself drawn to a particular area. Perhaps an interest in early history will induce a leaning towards plug or socket bayonets, or the aforementioned decorative aspects of the sword bayonets might appeal.
Jantzen’s book catalogues bayonets from fifty different countries and specialising in one of these can prove very rewarding, and some cases, such as Germany or the USA, will provide you with many different styles to search for. Collecting from a particular conflict such as the Boer War or either of the two World Wars will give you much scope to build a collection as large or as selective as you wish. I feel this specialising method is very rewarding as you will tend to do more research, equalling more enjoyment from the hobby, and the thrill of obtaining that hard to find piece to fill a gap is a great feeling.
Whichever direction you take it is wise to find an experienced fellow collector who will help and guide you in the early stages. Apart from the friendship you gain, you will almost certainly be prevented from making at least one mistake. Many of the early sword and socket bayonets have been reproduced and an untrained eye may be taken in by what looks like a 100-year-old piece, only to find later that it was not what it seemed. The old adage “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” applies here as well as in any other sphere of life.