You may have a hidden treasure in your attic
American soldiers brought home millions of souvenirs from their time spent overseas during World War II. From uniforms and photos to flags and pistols, here is what they may be worth now…
American soldiers saved so much of their gear that most US uniform items, helmets and the like are not especially rare and sell for $125 or less. Among the items that can fetch a significantly higher price…
Anything connected to the Rangers, the Airborne or the Marines. There’s a romance associated with these elite forces that makes their uniforms and equipment particularly desirable to collectors.
Example: An Airborne jump jacket might sell for $1,500 to $2,000… jump pants, $2,000 to $2,500.
Autographed photos of General Eisenhower, General Patton and General MacArthur. Signed pictures of these famed generals dating to World War II can be worth thousands of dollars apiece. Autographed Patton photos can bring as much as $10,000.
Machine guns. Most US guns from World War II are worth less than $1,500. Machine guns, such as Tommy guns, might sell for $25,000. (These machine guns cannot be legally owned or sold unless they were registered with the federal government decades ago.)
Correspondence from POWs. Most World War II soldiers’ letters have little monetary value, but a letter from a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp can bring $500 if it says something more than “I am well.” Letters from POWs in German camps are more common and typically less valuable.
Painted flight jackets. World War II leather flight jackets with artwork on the back can be worth $1,500 to $4,000 or more — jackets associated with the 8th Air Force, which flew missions over northern Europe, are particularly desirable. Bomber pilots decorated their jackets with the name of their airplane, a painting of its “nose art” and a tally of the number of missions flown (symbolized by painted bombs). For a jacket to bring four figures, there must be evidence that the artwork dates to the war — many jackets were painted afterward. A photo from the war showing the painted jacket being worn is ideal.
A note on service medals and badges: The Stolen Valor Act (2005), signed into law in 2006, makes it illegal to buy or sell any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed services. Legal challenges concerning the constitutionality of this law are under way.
American soldiers often brought German and Japanese military souvenirs home from the war as symbols of victory. German items can be quite valuable, particularly those associated with the SS or German paratroopers…
Party flags. The typical Nazi Party flag from World War II is worth $50 to $350, depending on its size and condition. Special flags, such as regimental flags, can be worth thousands.
Armbands. A typical Nazi Party armband is worth $35 to $150. A particularly ornate armband featuring oak leaves or other insignia could be worth as much as $300 to $400.
Knives. Standard German army daggers typically sell for $300 to $1,000. Hitler Youth knives, identifiable by the diamond insignia on the grip, sell for $150 to $750. An SS officer’s knife may be worth between $2,000 and $15,000.
Pistols. A Luger from World War II typically is worth $750 to $2,000… a Walther P38, $500 to $2,000.
Uniforms. A German dress uniform typically is worth $500 to $2,000… a combat uniform, $1,000 to $2,000.
Helmets. A standard German army helmet could bring $500 to $1,000. A German SS helmet might sell for $4,000 to $7,000.
Most Japanese World War II military souvenirs are not as sought after and thus not as valuable. A Japanese flag from the war might fetch a few hundred dollars… a bayonet $100… a gun, perhaps a few hundred dollars.
Potential exception: A Japanese sword from World War II could be worth from a few hundred dollars to many thousands depending on its condition and quality.
BUYING AND SELLING
It’s best to buy and sell at military collectibles shows listed at Web sites such as Worldwide Militaria Exchange (wwmeinc.com/events) and Military Trader (MilitaryTrader.com/events) or through established dealers, such as…
Hayes Otoupalik, 406-549-4817, HayesOtoupalik.com.
Bill Shea, 978-928-4495, TheRupturedDuck.com. He specializes in German World War II collectibles.
I avoid eBay, where fakes and misrepresentations are too common.