I recently received a letter from a gentleman who has two purportedly all-original M1 Carbines that he is thinking about selling. Both of the carbines are supposedly “vet bring backs” and he was given one back in the early 1950s. The potential seller is apparently somewhat chagrined that the collectors and dealers he has contacted do not wish to pay what he feels should be a substantial premium because the carbines were previously in the hands of servicemen in WWII. We have discussed the “vet bring back” thing several times here before but, for some reason, it seems to be coming to the forefront more and more often. As I mention in my response (cited below) to the letter, unless the former owner was a famous or notable historical figure, there would be no real increase in market value even if the name of the “un-famous” owner is known. If it was a family member or friend, then there certainly could be some sentimental value but a subsequent buyer who does not know the former owner simply wouldn’t care and would have little incentive to pay extra for the gun. Such guns should stand on their own merits and “vet bring back” status (which in most cases isn’t true anyway) does not typically incentivize a potential buyer.
Below is my actual response to the letter:
Thanks for your recent letter. Unfortunately, for those of us who love U.S. military weapons and, particularly, the history behind them, there is generally no way to “trace” the provenance of a specific weapon. Although this may not apply to at least one of your carbines, the fact that a carbine has been in one place for 50 years, or remains in its original (not-rebuilt) condition is, by no means, ironclad proof that it was brought by home by a WWII serviceman. For example, I have in my collection a like-new absolutely original early Inland carbine (1942 production) with paperwork from the DCM indicating it was purchased by a NRA member in 1963. I have a number of other carbines still remaining in their original WWII configuration (along with some rebuilds) but I do not know the prior lineage of any of these guns. Some may have been former DCM guns (sans paperwork) and others may well have been “vet bring backs” but I have no way of knowing. I always try to remember the sage collector advice of, “Buy the gun, not the story.” I bought the guns because they were desirable collectibles. I would love to have been able to ascertain their provenance but, as stated, that simply isn’t possible.
To be very candid, in my opinion, the whole “vet bring back” thing is quite overblown. Servicemen were not permitted to take weapons home although it is true that a number were “unofficially liberated”, i.e. stolen from the government and smuggled home after the war. That appears to be the case with the two carbines you own. However, unless a weapon can be documented to have been owned by a famous or infamous person (i.e., Audie Murphy) or documented to have been used in a specific battle (i.e., Iwo Jima), there should be little, if any, added value to the market price. A gun such as a carbine should be judged solely on the degree of originality and condition and, with the two exceptions previously noted, prior ownership, while it may be interesting, is essentially irrelevant as to the market price. The background story about these carbines should be preserved but it is doubtful if it would appreciably affect the market price.
In any event, these sound like very nice carbines and I’m sure would garner a lot of collector interest should you choose to dispose of them. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.