This is a small, 128-page book that is packed with details. Sure, there are bigger and better books, but for less than $20 you can see buttonholes, close-ups of stitching details and insignia. This book is solid survey for the budding Afrikakorps collector.
David Gordon is the author of this excellent treatise on WWII British uniforms. It is still available through private sellers on Amazon for around $35. The good news is, if you really get into British WWII collecting, Gordon has put out two more books covering weapons and equipment.
Sooner or later, every military collector will run into British medals. And bless those British officials who decided to individualize so many of their campaign and loyalty medals by engraving them with the recipients' names! This has made British medals a fertile and lucrative collecting arena for decades. Arm yourself with the single best reference out there: the current Medal Yearbook.
This is one of my favorite bargains! For under $15, you get 82 pages filled with color photos of patches and many known variations in addition to a capsule history of the unit represented. If you need a reference on US divisional insignia of WWII, you can't go wrong with this one.
While there are plenty of books and references on the WWII M1 helmet, what most of us encounter out in the wild are post-WWII helmets. And don't be discouraged--this is a fertile and growing aspect of headgear collecting. For $40, you can arm yourself with knowledge to recognize a good Korean War vintage M1 from a European-produced model. And who knows, you might just decide to collect Korean or Vietnam era helmets.
I know, I know. We all want to collect German WWII helmets. And why not? They were some of the most iconic pieces of military gear of the 20th century. But be forewarned: This is an EXPENSIVE collecting arena filled with FAKES. It will take a lot of money and knowledge to navigate this area of collecting. Even finding a book for under $40 to recommend that I trust is very hard. Thankfully, this rather esoteric approach of presenting provenanced examples in Norwegian collections provides a foundation of details for you to study and to learn from. For $40 bucks, it will be your cheapest invest in German helmets, but it can save you hundreds or thousands by providing you with good information and details.
Call me biased, but if Bruce Canfield wrote it, I am going to trust it. In fact, this is one of my favorite books on all of many bookshelves. It is a classic study combining historic photos with archival research and contemporary images of the weapons discussed. Not only is a great reference for WWI collectors, it provides the foundation for collectors of WWII US weaponry, as well.
Now in its 9th Edition, Standard Catalog of Military Firearms is an undisputed source for pricing and identification of military handguns, rifles and shotguns, as well as Class III automatic firearms and accessories such as bayonets, clips, magazines and holsters. It is a darn handy reference to have even if you don't collect guns. For example, as a collector of military photos, I consult this on many occasions when examining images of armed troops just to learn a little bit more about what I am viewing.
Call me crazy, but I love this book. That love was formed through hard use. I had to describe more than 200 WWI bayonets for a dealer. Without this volume, I would have been lost. You see, I have never really cared much for bayonets, so I don't possess a lifetime feeling for them. I can't look at one and say, "Oh, that's a German WWI sawback..." I just don't retain the information. Thankfully, this book was available. I used the HECK out of it. The dealer was happy with the descriptions, he sold all the bayonets, and I have a trustworthy volume on the shelf for the next time I have to describe bayonets — because we both know I didn't retain that knowledge in my head! If you are like me, get this book. You will be glad you have it when the time comes that you need it.
You might think it would be tough to choose a single book for the top spot of militaria references for under $40. But it really wasn't for me. I have had this book on my shelf since it came out in 1990. The late Robert M. Reilly was the kind of historian I wish I had become. His attention for detail and scholarship was only amplified by his ability to impart the information through his accurate, detailed drawings. That's right. There isn't a single photograph in this book. Instead, Reilly DREW all of the bayonets, showing all the details that you and I need to make sense out of this coveted bayonets. Over the years, I have consulted it often. I consider it one of my top essential references to keep on the shelf — regardless of the cost.
That's it. But I am sure there are more!
So these are my current top 10 references for under $40. I will revisit this from time to time. Books go out of print and what was once "under $40" now becomes a coveted $150+ book. So like the message in the antique mall says, "the time to buy is when you see it." Don't delay on buying good references. They are the one investment that will really empower your collecting knowledge.
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