German K98 Mauser bayonet c.1942
What draws people to collect bayonets? Aside from the obvious historical aspect, part of the appeal of the bayonet to the collector must be the comparatively low price. It still astounds me that even in todayís rising market, you can still buy a piece of easily dateable military history for the price of a hardback novel (or a crate of beer, depending on your preferences!).  That said, I should add a note of caution to those new to the hobby. With the popularity of television shows in Britain such as The Antiques Roadshow, some of the general antique shops have been afflicted with a "swords must be valuable" attitude and  this leads to some quite astronomical mark-ups on pieces of often poor quality. 
Recently in a bric-a-brac shop, I noted a British P1907 (WW1) bayonet in what can only be described as "dug-up" condition and worth 5 or 6 pounds as a curio being sold as a "rare 19th Century German bayonet" -  priced at ninety-five pounds! 
This is rather an extreme example and such establishments should not be dismissed entirely. Once you know what you are looking for, it is still possible to find some rare gems amongst the tat. 
My advice for the would-be collector is to visit a specialist militaria shop during a quiet period and have a chat with the owner. Donít be afraid to admit your ignorance - most dealers are themselves collectors and once they know you are interested in starting a collection (and can smell a long-term customer!) you will find them happy to feed your hunger.  After all, it is in their interest to make sure you come back for more.
 

 

Small Wall-Mounted Display of Bayonets  

What should I collect?

When first starting out, the tendency will be to buy as many as possible of every type of bayonet available to you. Once this initial burst is over and you have a solid core collection you may well decide to specialise in one particular country, historical period or even one type of bayonet.  There is no correct way to go about it - itís your collection! If you feel the need to collect only bayonets with brass grips or those starting with a "Z" go right ahead. It may well be that you will remain a general collector for the rest of your life.
 

Reference Material

Once you begin collecting, you will want to know more about the pieces you have purchased.  What is that odd slot for?  Should it have a scabbard?  What do all the cryptic markings mean?
In my opinion cannot have too much reference material. For my list of recommended reading and some web-links go to the References & Biliography and Links pages.  Some of the books listed go into incredible detail on the subject. At first, this might seem more information than anyone would possibly need but, when something unusual crops up, you wonít regret having them to refer to. Better to have too much information rather than too little.

Whilst reference material is important, in my opinion the most valuable source of information are the bayonets themselves.  Try to view and handle as many as you can. Get to know the look and feel of them. When you are in a shop try and look at as much as the stock as you can, not just the pieces you wish to buy. Most dealers are quite happy to show off there wares. However, I wouldnít recommend doing this while ten other people are waiting to be served.......

 
 
Care and Maintenance

This brief guide can not hope to do justice to such an important subject. The following represents my own personal opinions on the matter and I can take no responsibility for anyone wrecking their valuable sword or bayonet as a result.  Before you consider any major cleaning, repair or restoration I suggest you read into the subject more thoroughly and seek the advice of  a reputable dealer or collector.

This information is also relevant to swords as well as bayonets - with one caveat - if you are fortunate enough to own a Japanese Sword, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN, POLISH OR SHARPEN THE BLADE. You may do untold damage to yourself or the sword and may render the weapon worthless. 
If you wish to learn how to care for your Japanese Sword, seek the advice of an expert.

To Clean or Not to Clean?

As with all antiques, enthusiastic cleaning can cause more damage to a weapon than simply doing nothing at all. Over-eager scrubbing, polishing and buffing can destroy fine engravings, etching, regimental marks and the irreplaceable patina of time, turning an interesting  historical artefact into a simple piece of ironmongery. Your objective should be to preserve your collection, preventing rust and damage to wood and leather, not to return the objects to their original condition.  If you like things shiny, consider buying replicas.....

 

Overcleaning of brass grips

Top:       Beautiful, dark, bronze-coloured patina. 
Bottom: Who let this idiot loose with the Brasso?
 

Bayonets for the French M1866 Chassepot Rifle
A good rule of thumb for cleaning should be:-

IF IN DOUBT,  DO NOWT   (thatís "nothing" to our Colonial Cousins)

Most of the weapons you acquire from dealers will already be in a clean state and will require nothing more than a wipe with oil  (as a personal preference, I use Parker-Hale Express gun-oil). However occasionally you will find that some rust may have taken hold.  If this is simply surface rust, a good wipe with a cotton cloth and oil or some very fine wire-wool should remove this quite easily.  If the rust is more advanced, stronger cleaning with wire wool, dental picks etc. may be needed.  Please note however that any blueing, etching or patina may be damaged or destroyed in the process.  If in doubt, get advice from your dealer.

As general maintenance I find that a monthly dust removal and wipe over of all metal parts with a thin layer of oil tends to keep rust at bay.  Avoid abrasives or chemical metal polishes - they can damage the weapon and make a nicely patinated metal surfaces shiny and garish.
Leather scabbards can be treated with a proprietary leather-balm and wooden grips can be protected with the application of a good solid beeswax furniture polish.

German M1898 Bayonet on K98 Rifle


Beyond bayonets - a dire warning......

Eventually in your collecting life, a day will come when you start to wonder what some of your prize exhibits would look like attached to their correct rifle or musket.  When this happens, itís time to re-mortgage your property as you are about to become a collector of antique firearms. Believe me, as soon as you see a French M1866 Chassepot rifle with its sword bayonet attached, you will buy it. Then you wonder what your 18th Century Brown Bess musket bayonet would look like..........

Many authors and collectors have a tendency to view the bayonet in isolation - as an weapon in its own right and shy away from the firearms to which they were affixed.  I feel that this is a rather narrow-minded approach.  Without the firearm to give it purpose, the bayonet can be viewed as nothing more than an inefficiently designed belt-knife.

John Whittle


 

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