Discover Vintage America - NOVEMBER 2019

Collecting militaria reveals personal as well as national histories

We are nearing the end of the year in which we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day and I feel compelled to write about collecting militaria – military items and war relics. This genre of collecting has increased greatly over the past decade and there are no signs of it slowing down,

19th century Japanese Murata 11mm infantry rifle with chrysanthemum imprint.

What to collect?

For those just getting in to militaria, what to collect requires some thought. Some people collect a bit of everything from uniforms to flags and buttons. Other collectors focus on a particular war and theater of operations. Items from America, Japan and Germany are the most popular. It is best to go to a few shows and ask a lot of questions. Please buy from a reputable dealer as a large number of fakes and fantasy pieces are out there for sale. And also remember that it is illegal to sell military medals and ribbons.

Detail view of the full chrysanthemum imprint.

Back in 2008 a dear friend of ours gave us a rifle he found in the basement of a home they had purchased. Once I began researching this Japanese rifle, I discovered that it was quite a find. It was an original 19th century Japanese Murata 11mm infantry rifle with the full chrysanthemum imprint. This weapon was made in the late 1880s and used throughout WWII. After that the majority were decommissioned and the bolt heads were removed; they were then used for training purposes. Our rifle was amazing with the bayonet, serial number and much more. I sold it to a local police officer for $1,600. This rifle more than likely was brought home by a veteran.

The last world war left behind a large number of relics, perhaps more than any other conflict. Important relics were found throughout the battlefields and surrounding areas. Veterans brought these relics home and even though they were pretty much worthless at the time, today many are quite valuable. Following, are just a couple of items I found that had sold at auction;
Peter White was a soldier who served as a platoon leader in Scotland's Royal Army. During the war, he would document daily events in a diary. His accounts included photos, drawings, and news clippings. The diary sold at auction for a whopping $50,000.

Adolf Hitler's "Night Guard" Luger pistol: Hitler was so obsessed about staying protected that he issued his night guards rare Luger pistols equipped with tracer bullets and flashlights. One of these guns surfaced at an auction in 2012 and sold for $161,000.

Hitler's ceremonial brass writing desk: This was the desk where Hitler signed the Munich Pact, the agreement that eventually led to World War II. In 1945, a lieutenant named Jack McConn confiscated the piece of furniture from Hitler's office in Munich. The piece was sold at an auction in 2011 for $422,000.

In 2006 Heritage Auctions had a record-breaking auction on Civil War relics, $4.03 million was spent on 563 lots.

A great big thank you to all who have served in the military fighting for our freedom and safety.

A great source of information on the Revolutionary War

A trusted, very knowledgeable dealer in Civil War militaria operates

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.