What Can I Collect Without Having to Take Out a Second Mortgage?

Posted by Bruce Canfield

While some of the weapons we have previously discussed are quite expensive, there are other collecting topics that can be enjoyed by someone on a limited budget or someone who chooses not to invest a large amount of money in the hobby. In these uncertain economic times, many collectors are seeking something less expensive, but still interesting and worthwhile, to collect.

As martial arms collectors, we sometimes forget that there are items other than firearms to collect and many of these non-gun items are also escalating in price rapidly. Fifteen or twenty years ago a nice M1905 or M1917 bayonet, complete with scabbard, could be found in the $50 range. The same items today will typically fetch between $250 and $350 (or more) depending on vintage and condition. Most U.S. martial edged weapons have experienced similar increases and now can hardly be characterized as “budget” collectibles.

What options are available to collectors, or potential collectors, today when seeking new, interesting and reasonably priced collectibles? Let’s explore several collecting themes that might fill the bill. 

M7 Rifle Grenade Launchers and related accessories

Many types of U.S. military rifle grenade launchers range from fairly expensive to very expensive. For example, the WWI vintage V-B launchers for the M1903 and M1917 are quite rare and can easily bring in the $2500 to $3500 dollar range. A bit farther down the spectrum are the WWII M1 launchers (for the ’03 rifle) and the M2 launchers (for the M1917 rifle). These are more common and less expensive than the V-B launchers but can still run up to $1000.

On the next rung of the ladder is the WWII M8 carbine launcher. These are available in much greater numbers than the V-B, or even the M1/M2, launchers but examples will still routinely bring $250 to $400 depending on maker and condition.

However, the M7 launcher (for the M1 rifle) is often available today at quite reasonable prices. Examples in the $35 to $75 range are typical. These launchers saw a lot of use in WWII and are historic and interesting collectibles. There were at least six different manufacturers of these items. Also, some “line-out” M7 launchers may be encountered. These were made by one contractor and subsequently acquired by another contractor. The original maker’s name was lined-out and the newer company’s name or initials stamped in close proximity. This was very similar to the “line-out” M1 carbines. There are also “early” and “late” variants of the M7 launchers. The first type had a removable nut on the front and a flat retaining spring while the later pattern had a solid tube and a coil spring.

Therefore, an interesting collection of M7 launchers can be assembled to include six different contractors, several “line-outs” and an early and late pattern. Some of the contractors may require a bit of searching but none are usually extremely expensive. A collection of this type would be of interest to Garand and WWII collectors and would be a very worthwhile theme. A big bonus is that the entire collection would probably cost quite a bit less than even one “collector grade” M1 rifle or carbine. With the continued high interest in Garands, such related accessories will remain popular for a long time.

Ancillary items such as the rubber recoil boots, M3 grenade launching cartridges and M15 grenade launching sights are still available at relatively reasonable prices. All would add more color and interest to a collection of M7 launchers. Want more? Some of the post-WWII Garand launchers are available at prices not too much higher than the WWII variants. Only the M7A1 launcher and, to some extent the M7A2, would be considered relatively uncommon and fairly expensive. The later M7A3 launchers are around, normally for $75 or so.

As can be seen, an impressive collection of M7 (and variants) launchers plus some ancillary items can be assembled for a few hundred dollars. Even though some of the variants will require a bit of looking, this is part of the challenge (and fun) of collecting. 


Most of the weapons adopted by the U.S. military had a corresponding Field Manual and/or Technical Manual. For the post-Civil War era, these can be found at least as far back as the “Description and Rules for Management of…” the M1866 “Second Allin” rifle. The subsequent “Trapdoors” all had such manuals printed and most included information, data and drawings for the M1873 Colt SAA revolver as well. Manuals of this type continued in print for the Krag rifle (and carbine) and the M1903 rifle. A different manual was printed when there were noteworthy changes to the various weapons. For example, these manuals for the ’03 will be found dated 1904, 1906, 1909, 1911, 1917 and 1918. Prices for these “Description and Rules for the Management of…” manuals can vary somewhat. Except for the very rare M1866 manual, which is worth several hundred dollars, most will bring $100 to $200 depending on condition. There are also WWI “Handbooks” for the ’03 and M1917 available. These can sometimes be found for $50 to $75.

The most fertile field for weapon manuals is World War II. Very large numbers of Technical Manuals and Field Manuals were printed for a wide array of weapons including bayonets, handguns, M1903 rifles, M1rifles, carbines, shotguns, grenades, Thompson submachine guns, M3 submachine guns, BARs, machine guns, bazookas, mortars and about any other weapon you can think of. Some of these manuals are still fairly common today while others are scarce. All are very collectible. Prices for the WWII manuals usually run between $35 and $75 although the shotgun manuals can easily exceed $150.

There are also similar manuals available for post-war weapons as well. Prices for the post-1945 manuals usually range from $25 to $50 depending on the weapon covered, the vintage of the manual and the condition. Many of the WWII and post-WWII manuals have been commercially reprinted. The reprints are usually easy to spot but some may look authentic at first glance. For collecting purposes, be sure that you are buying an original. The reprints are fine for informational purposes but have no collector value.

Printed material such as manuals is a fertile field for collectors. Many original manuals can be found at very reasonable prices but there are enough variants to satisfy those collectors who really “get into” the subject. Whether you collect Indian War, Span-Am War, or Second World War stuff, the manuals are interesting collectibles in their own right. An original manual for a M1873 Trapdoor, for example, is a historic item that is much cheaper to own than the corresponding weapon.

Don’t overlook these interesting and collectible manuals.

I think one of the most promising fields for aspiring collectors today is that of M1 carbine magazine pouches. These items are still available for extremely reasonable prices and there are a number of interesting variations. Even today, a nice example of a WWII carbine magazine pouch can often be found for around $20 or less. There are several major variants. The first type is the so-called “stock pouch”. This was the original pattern adopted for use with the carbine. It was made with two pockets that held one 15 round magazine each. The pouch is characterized by a wide belt loop with a snap fastener inside. The fastener was intended to mate with the corresponding snap on the standard pistol belt. It didn’t take long for an imaginative GI to discover that the pouch could be slipped on the carbine’s stock. This enabled two magazines to be available with the carbine at all times and many WWII photos depict these pouches used in such a manner although they were not originally designed for this purpose. Original “stock” pouches have risen in value over the past few years, but nice examples can still be found in the $50 to $75 range. These pouches are typically made of khaki material and are marked “US” on the outside of the flap and dated (usually “1942” or “1943”) inside the flap along with the name of the maker.

The next pattern pouch was made with two narrow belt loops on back and could not be installed on the stock. Extremely large numbers of these were made during WWII and production resumed after the war as 1950s dated versions are common. Early WWII examples were made of khaki material, often with contrasting piping around the outside. Later versions were made of darker OD material. The pouches were also marked “US” on the outside of the flap and dated inside along with the name of the maker. Some of the post-WWII pouches were also marked inside the flap to indicate that they could carry two 15 round carbine magazines or two 8 round Garand clips. There were a number of different makers of these pouches and an impressive collection can be assembled. As mentioned, prices for such pouches today are typically quite low. Prices can range from a low of $15 to perhaps as much as $35 although about twenty bucks seems to be a good average.

There are also some WWII and post-WWII pouches made for the 30 round carbine magazines. The WWII variants are a bit uncommon and can sell in the $75 to $100 range. The post-WWII 30 round pouches usually bring about half of this amount.

The scarcest type of carbine pouch is the so-called “Rigger made” pouch produced in early WWII for issue to the newly formed airborne units. These pouches are hard to find and can easily run $75 (or more) each. One pouch will hold four 15 round carbine magazines or three 8 round M1 rifle clips. All types of carbine magazine pouches are illustrated in my M1 Garand/Carbine book. A similar “rigger made” pouch was produced during the same period for 20 round Thompson SMG magazines. These are much rarer than the “rigger made” carbine pouches.

A few years ago, there was little concern regarding reproduction carbine magazine pouches as the originals were simply too common and inexpensive to warrant copying. This has changed. A number of reproduction pouches, including the desirable “rigger made” items, are now on the market. A potential buyer should look at the pouch in question and, if possible, compare it with a known original. The type of stenciling, weave of the canvas fabric, and manner of stitching can all be clues as to originality. An old gun show trick is to smell the pouch. Before you think I’ve gotten weird, 65+ year old canvas items will very frequently have a distinctive musty smell. It’s hard to describe an odor, but once you’ve encountered it, you’ll know it. The newly made reproduction items made in China, India or Pakistan (or wherever they’re made) do not have this peculiar “fragrance.” This is not a foolproof method but it can help sort out fakes from the genuine articles.

The above are just a few suggestions for relatively inexpensive but interesting collection themes. There are many others out there, limited only by your imagination. To use a current buzzword, think “outside the box”. Even if your net worth is a bit less than that of Bill Gates, you can still come up with interesting items to collect that can be challenging and rewarding but don’t require you to hit the lottery or mortgage the homestead.

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