Gary Cunningham's

Bayonet Point's

Updated June 6, 2004

Bayonet Points #20 - June, 2004

Knife Collecting

I am getting into Frank's field here, but since he sometimes writes about bayonets, I guess he will forgive me. (ed. note.. Wish you would write more!) Although bayonets have always been my main collecting field in US edged weapons, I have a few knives also. In fact, to some extent my edged weapon collecting began with two knives that my father brought home from World War 2.

Dad was a Chief Carpenter's Mate in the Naval Construction Battalions, a Navy SeaBee, serving for three years in the Pacific Theater. After boot camp at Davisville, Rhode Island, his Battalion (the 42nd) was shipped to the Aleutian Islands. When they arrived at Dutch Harbor, they were issued Mark 1 sheath knives. Dad marked his on his scabbard with his initials H L C / DUTCH HARBOR / MAR - 5 - 43 with ALASKA on the side. He went on with his Company to Amchitca Island and worked on building facilities there for the Army Air Force airfield. The knife is a Robeson Shuredge No.20 with a bright blade and wood pommel. It has no military markings. The scabbard is also marked Robeson Shuredge with no Navy markings. These knives were probably from commercial stock prior to Robeson beginning to mark them with the U.S.N. mark.

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Dad's ankle was fairly severely injured in an accident and he was sent to Camp Parks, California for rest and recuperation. While at Camp Parks he acted as an instructor to new SeaBee recruits and was given leave to come home. In early 1944 he was sent to Pearl Harbor to join the 86th Construction Battalion (ABCD - Advanced Base Construction Depot). He spent almost all of his time there acting as a Junior Officer of the Day. Wanting to return to more active service, he volunteered to go to a forward base and was Casual Drafted to the 44th Construction Battalion on Guam.

When he boarded the ship to take him to Guam, he was issued a USN Mark 2 knife. He marked the back of the scabbard ISSUED / ABOARD / SHIP / TO GUAM / JAN. 1945 / Homer Cunningham / CCM. The knife is a fairly early K-Bar marked U.S.N. on the right ricasso and KA-BAR / OLEAN, N.Y. on the left ricasso. Both marks are extremely light. It has the thick pommel with a circular peened tang and an oval grip. The U.S.N. marked leather scabbard is marked BOYT / 43.

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While on Guam Dad made a trunk out of lumber he salvaged from packing crates, and these two knives remained in that locker until I got old enough to be interested in them. Fortunately he made sure that I would not play with them or damage them until I got old enough to understand how to care for them.

Frank tells me that this column will probably be posted on D-Day. I have a knife that has an oral history to the 6th of June. Some years ago I received a call from a lady that said she had some military items to sell, and had been told by a local antiques dealer that I might be interested. The lady and her husband were selling out and moving to Arizona, and she had some of her deceased brother's effects that she wanted to dispose of. The group consisted of an Air Force uniform, a few odds and ends of insignia, some personal effects, and a knife. The ribbons on the uniform showed that he had participated in the Second World War in the Army. She knew very little about her brother's military record, but did say that he had said that he carried the knife at Normandy.

Fortunately he had filed copies of his discharge papers with the local County Clerk and I was able to determine his basic military history.

PFC Earl Nelson Day had a MOS of Driver, Truck, Wrecker and drove a Tank Recovery Vehicle with an Ordnance Support Company attached to the 4th Infantry Division at Normandy. According to the best memory of his sister, his unit went ashore late on the 6th and began recovering tanks from the beachhead on the 7th.

Earl earned the Army Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Medal (he had been in the West Virginia National Guard prior to WW2), the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal with bronze arrowhead (Normandy) and 5 battle stars (Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe), the World War 2 Victory Medal and the Occupation Medal with Germany bar. His unit also was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

Following WW2 he worked as a city bus driver for a few years and then joined the Air Force in 1948 where he remained until he retired as a Staff Sergeant in 1965. His Air Force MOS was Senior Vehicle Operator and Fuel Supervisor, driving a fuel truck and refueling aircraft on the ground. He was on Okinawa during the Korean War and received the Air Force Good Conduct as well as the medals associated with the Korean operations.

The knife is a well used Cattaraugus 225Q, which shows every sign of having been wet for some period of time. Of course I have no way of knowing whether that use occurred on the beaches of Normandy or in his brother's duck blind. How he got the knife is unknown, whether by issue, purchase, trade, or midnight requisition. It does have a nice little Turk's head knot of cord at the pommel, again whether done by him or was on it when he got it is unknown. Its use at D-Day is a matter of family oral history only, but somehow it just feels like it was there.

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Sgt. Day is buried about 200 yards from my father, and has no living family in the area. So I put a flag on his grave on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day when I put the one on Dad's grave. Although I never met the man, I feel it is the least I can do to honor one of the common soldiers who put his life on the line so that I and the rest of us could continue to live in the land of the free.

Although I started out collecting infantry rifles and later the bayonets that went on them, I always had some interest in the military knives. Over the years a knife or two found its way into my collection as the result of trades or deals too good to pass up. Only in recent years have I made any real effort to pick up some of the knives.

A short time ago I had the opportunity to trade for a group of 17 knives, all but one or two US military. When I got them, I felt that they would be good trade stock or could be sold on one of the forums or eBay. But after looking them over more closely, I found that I did not have specimens of most of them, and now it appears that I am going to end up keeping a lot of them. So it looks like I am now officially a knife collector, although I have a lot to learn before I can consider myself even somewhat knowledgeable.


A Bayonet (or Military Knife) Condition Scale

One of the three factors that affect "value" is condition. In fact, there are those who list the three factors as "condition, condition, condition" just as they value real estate as "location, location, location".

Of course the normal three are collector interest, condition and rarity. Actually collector interest is the most important since in most cases the item has little or no practical value to the buyer. You can have an bayonet for sale that is in perfect condition and quite rare, and if no one wants it, it has little value.

In military gun collecting (and to some degree with other military items) I classify the collectors as Investment, Historical, and User. All of these have somewhat different interests and the same piece might bring different prices from each of them.

An Investment collector wants quality and originality. The piece must be totally original "as manufactured", and in top condition. They expect to pay premium prices for what they want, and are very selective in their purchases. They are in most cases very interested in what they are collecting, and know what it should look like down to the last screw and pin. I use investment as a name not because they necessarily are expecting to make money on the deal, but because they are willing to invest quite a bit of money to get just what they want.

A Historical collector is willing to accept signs of honest use and wear, and is more interested in the historical association of the piece with an event in history. Some will build a collection around a specific battle or campaign, others around a particular war. They want their item to be "as issued", still in full military configuration and with the correct parts for the time period. They are not as willing to pay for top condition as the investment collector, and may not even want a "rack queen". Often they have a broad variety of weapons from both the US and possibly other countries involved in the particular event that holds their interest.

A User collector still wants the piece in military configuration, but often is very interested in bore condition as they plan to shoot it, either in competition or just for the experience. They have no problems with replaced parts if they are correct for the model, and will even swap out barrels to get one that will shoot better. They may be re-enactors or Living History participants.

There are few if any User collectors for bayonets (possibly excluding some re-enactors), but the other two categories do show up fairly often, although many bayonet collectors are more historical than investment. Most common seems to be those who just want a correct bayonet for their rifle.

Bayonet collectors do have their specific interests, and many bayonets are not considered to be very collectible even if rare and in excellent condition. For instance, most South American countries and some of the smaller nations have not been greatly collected. This is beginning to change, as more collectors are starting to appreciate the great variety of bayonets that are available.

For a number of years, some of the collectors in my area have developed a grading scale for condition of bayonet and military knives. This is different from the scale used for commercial knives as military bayonets and knives are much more likely to have seen hard use. The scale is not perfect, and nothing will ever replace a good description and photos, or preferably a hand-on examination.

Since refinishing is a fact of life with some military blades, it doesn't affect collector interest quite as much as it would with commercial items. It certainly reduces perceived value, and needs to be considered part of the description such as "90% of the proper military refinish remains" or the like.

Off the topic a little, the "percent of finish" has always been one of those judgement calls that causes a lot of disagreement. In some collecting fields (Luger pistols comes to mind) the difference in price between 95% and 99% finish can cause a great difference in price, with each percentage point changing the price. I often wonder about collectors and dealers who can actually show the difference between 97% and 98% original finish.

But here is the scale that has been developing for probably 20 years or more. Comments and suggestions are welcome, but remember that there is no such thing as a perfect scale.

Grade 10 - Mint. Shows no sign of use. 100% original finish. Perfect in every detail. Basically this means just out of the box, with very little to no scabbard wear. Far too often we hear remarks like "mint for its age" or "minty" or the like. It would be very hard to find an older bayonet that would meet this condition grade.

Grade 9 - Very Fine. Shows no use or marks beyond light handling. Almost all of the original finish, with the missing finish being almost exclusively scabbard wear. Grips perfect, all edges sharp and crisp.

Grade 8 - Fine. Shows only light use, no damage to metal or grips. 90% or more finish, no rust or pitting. A nice clean looking example.

Grade 7 - Very Good Plus. Shows some use but no abuse. No significant damage to edge or grips, may be some light scratching or a small nick in the edge. 75% or more finish from normal wear, no significant rust, may be some light patina or freckling.

Grade 6 - Very Good. Shows use but not abused. May be some light edge nicking on the blade but no major chips. May show some sharpening but does not seriously detract from the appearance. Grips somewhat scratched or marred, no pieces missing. 50% or more finish, no significant pitting.

(Except for certain rare pieces, this is probably the bottom condition that most collectors will accept.)

Grade 5 - Good. Considerable use but not badly abused. Some small nicks on blade edge, may be lightly sharpened. Minor chipping or scratching to grips, no significant pieces missing. Less than 50% original finish, may be some light rusting and pitting.

Grade 4 - Fair Plus. Heavily used or somewhat abused. Blade nicked or noticeably sharpened. Grips damaged or sanded, but no large missing pieces. Little or no finish, some rusting or light pitting.

Grade 3 - Fair. Heavily used or abused. Blade nicked or heavily sharpened. Grips damaged or heavily sanded, may be some pieces missing. Little to no finish, or improperly refinished. Has large areas of medium rust or pitting.

Grade 2 - Poor. Abused. Blade damaged or sharpened enough to change contour. Grips damaged, pieces missing, poorly refinished or improperly replaced. Has heavy rust and pitting on most metal.

Grade 1 - Very Poor. Severely abused. Blade damaged, shortened, or heavily sharpened to seriously change contour. Grips missing, improperly replaced, or missing large pieces. May have areas of rust over most metal, including heavy pitting.

All of the above reports referred to and the books are available on our Books For Sale  and or Documents page.

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