Great War anniversary brings military antiques to the fore

It's Remembrance Sunday this weekend. This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of the 'Great War'.

Wednesday, 7th November 2018, 1:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th November 2018, 2:54 pm
This well-preserved hat is a WW2 RAF cap, and is on sale for 22 pounds

“Militaria” is vast, with collectors often focusing on specific military divisions or conflicts. In keeping with this weekend’s events, and as 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF, let’s discuss some collectables from World Wars 1 and 2.

Many people start through a family connection: hearing stories or inheriting a grandparent’s army cap or medals. The range is huge, including uniforms, helmets, weapons, mess kits, flags, photos and letters, all the way up to armoury and vehicles, plus “Home Front” collectables such as posters and ration books.

Small items such as medals, buttons, insignia and badges take up little space, reveal beautiful craftwork, and are poignant individual pieces of history. Their hidden stories are what “hook” many collectors, but make valuing harder, with historical significance outweighing obvious face value.

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A rare item from a famous battle will be worth more than a common object from a minor skirmish, but individual pieces, such as intricate “trench art”, are incredibly sought-after, even if not obviously high-value items in themselves.

Each World War stimulated technological advances, with new hardware and even accessories appearing on the battlefield. Leather belts cracked in cold, damp trenches, so were upgraded to woven webbed cotton. Men’s traditional pocket-watches were replaced with more practical wristwatches, previously regarded as women’s jewellery. So within militaria, you can find the first examples of items we now consider everyday.

Great for new collectors are military badges, cheaper and more abundant than medals. This hobby leans towards collecting a particular theme, but don’t worry initially about specialisation- pick what you like and can afford, you can build up an impressive collection without paying extravagant prices. Later you may refine down to a certain area of specialism as your expertise grows.

If this has spurred your interest, as well as countless websites and books to aid the militaria-minded, we are lucky to have resources such as the Imperial War Museum, in Manchester with extensive historical records to research your finds.