Talking about collecting U.S. Bayonets
We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Gary Cunningham. Most will recognize his name as one of the leading authorities on U.S. bayonets, having authored a defining book on that segment of our hobby in 1997.
Gary has been a collector of militaria since 1957. With more than 55 years experience in buying, selling, trading and collecting, Gary has a very good sense of the ebbs and flows of the hobby. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions on collecting US Bayonets.”
Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. Blades have always been an important subset of collecting militaria. How did you decide to focus on this area?
Gary Cunningham: Like many collectors, I started collecting almost everything related to US military weaponry. My first interest was primarily in the American Civil War and later, broadened to include other eras.
Finally, it became obvious that my budget was not going to allow me to continue to collect everything. As bayonets were fairly inexpensive, offered a wide collecting field without too much competition, and did not take a great deal of space to display and store, I began to specialize in them.
Military Trader: In 1997, you published your pioneering work on U.S. knife bayonets and scabbards, titled, American Military Bayonets of the 20th Century. Nearly two decades later, you revisited the topic and published a new edition. Why?
Gary Cunningham: In the years since the first book came out, two things have developed that allow me both to learn more and to document that knowledge in a better fashion. The growth of the Internet has provided a great deal of both information and interaction between collectors, which resulted in more sources and knowledge. The second has been the explosion of digital photography which has allowed me to show much more detail that the line drawings that I used in the first book.
Military Trader: How has collecting bayonets changed since you published your first book in 1997?
Gary Cunningham: Many firearms collectors today seem to be more interested in completing the package—that is, having the correct bayonet and other accessories such as slings and tools to round out their weapon. That has created a broader interest in the bayonets.
Also, it used to be that the collector was satisfied with having one of each model of bayonet. Now, many collectors are wanting all of the makers and variations that I illustrated in my book.
Military Trader: What areas of U.S. bayonet collecting do you consider to be especially “hot” right now?
Gary Cunningham: It seems to me that the most popular bayonets right now are those from the WWII period: The Model 1905, M1 and M4. These offer a broad range of makers and variations to keep everyone looking for the “goodies”.
Military Trader: And what do you consider to be slow-starters or low interest items in US bayonet collecting right now? Has this always been the case or is this part of a flow within the hobby?
Gary Cunningham: I would say that the series of M5, M6, and M7 are not heavily collected. I think it may be because the blades are very similar so there is not much obvious difference, and because the actual military firearms that used the M6 and M7 (the M14 and M16) are not collectible because of the law. Since you cannot easily own the “real” military version of the arms, there is less interest in the bayonets.
Military Trader: How has the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) impacted the bayonet collecting hobby?
Gary Cunningham: I think the CMP has created quite a bit of interest, partly due to their continuing sales of the M1 rifle, and also because of the fairly large number of bayonets they brought in from Greece. Many gun collectors were introduced to the bayonets through the CMP sales.
Military Trader: There seems to be a lot of interest in bayonet for the M1 rifle growing during the past decade. What tips do you have for someone considering the specializing in bayonets for both the M1 Rifle and Carbine?
Gary Cunningham: This is, indeed, a big and interesting field for the collector, with lots of makers and variations—some easy to find and others that take some looking. For instance, I have 21 variations of the M1 bayonet, not counting those made in other countries.
The problem in this area is that there are many fakes and reproductions on the market, so a collector needs to study carefully before making a purchase. I have been asked why my book did not go into the field of reproductions. My answer has been that there are so many different ones and as they continue to come on the market, all the time that I felt it was impossible to really properly document them. Although my book may not be complete, I would suggest that if something does not appear in the book the collector should seek other opinions before purchasing something.
Military Trader: Two part maintenance question: How do you recommend a collector store / display their collection? And, what are your “go-to” references (print, online, other) that you would recommend to a person wanting to collect US bayonets?
Gary Cunningham: It is hard to say much about storage and display as collectors often do not have too much space. Most of mine are stored in multi-drawer cabinets or displayed on pegboards on the wall, but many collectors cannot devote a room to their collection. I am fortunate that I have a small room that I can use for my collection, and I can keep it both temperature and humidity controlled. It is important, of course, that the storage area does not get too hot (very hard on leather scabbards and grips) or too damp. If a collector has the space for one, the big multi- drawer blueprint cabinets work very well.
As far as reference material, that remains a difficult subject. Many foreign bayonets have far more information available on them than do US bayonets. The basic books, out of print and sometimes hard to find are Albert Hardin’s The American Bayonet and Robert Reilly’s American Socket Bayonets and Scabbards. A few books are out on specific bayonets such as Donald Hartman’s U.S. Krag Bayonets and Mack Pattarozzi’s American Gladius on the M9 series.
I understand others are in the works. Many other books such as M.H. Cole’s series U.S. Military Knives, Bayonets and Machetes have a lot of drawings but very little hard information. Not to blow my own horn, but I feel that my book has more basic information on the knife bayonets than anything else in print at this time.
There are a few online sites, the best probably being usmilitaryknives.com and worldbayonets.com
Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Tell us about what you consider one of your favorite US bayonet finds during the past 30 years.
Gary Cunningham: Actually, the one I remember the most goes back awhile. I went into a jewelry store /pawn shop in Cincinnati and in a corner was a small case that had odds and ends in it. One of those was a near new Springfield Model 1905 bayonet dated 1906. Price was $5.00. My buy of a lifetime.
Military Trader: Finally, while there seems to be a growing interest in WWII bayonets, what areas do you believe will gain interest over the next 10 years? How do you feel pricing will change over the next 10 years?
Gary Cunningham: If I had to hazard a guess I would say that interest will increase in the more modern bayonets, especially the M9, due to the number of our troops that have been engaged in combat with them for the last 20+ years. Right now,prices are in a slump and many bayonets are selling fairly inexpensively compared to a few years ago. I look for a rebound in a few years, if the economy improves. J
We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To order a copy of Gary’s most recent book, U.S. Knife Bayonets & Scabbards: A Collector’s Guide, contact Scott A. Duff Publications, P.O. Box 414, Export, PA 15632; phone: 724.327.8246; or online at www.scott-duff.com. Price is $34.50 each plus $.4.95 shipping within the U.S.