World War 2 Firearms – Interest in WW2 firearms has been increasing dramatically in the last few years. In the late 1980s and 1990s there was a relatively small group of very passionate collectors that defined this market. Pricing remained fairly stagnant and high condition pieces sold for only a small premium over average condition examples. At the collector shows you rarely saw dealers who specialized only in higher condition WW2 firearms. German K-98 rifles and P-38 pistols were everywhere. Japanese T-38 rifles could be bought for less than $150. Mismatched Russian re-work Lugers and K-98s could be had for a song at local gun shows. That has all been changing rapidly. Although millions of weapons were made during WW2 by all sides in the conflict, un-modified examples in original condition are difficult to find and are now being recognized for their relative rarity. Almost all M1 Garand rifles and M1 carbines manufactured during WW2 were re-finished and modified. The Ordnance Department issued many directives during and after WW2 for mandatory modifications of weapons as improvements were made. After the war, all guns were shipped to US Arsenals for refurbishment. Very few guns, especially those that saw combat, remain in their original, as-issued condition. Hundreds of thousands of guns were sold to other countries and when re-imported to the US were stamped as imports. Thus, the value of original condition examples, even of the more common issued GI weapons, is escalating.
Original, early M1A1 Inland carbines are almost impossible to find and are now selling for $5000-$8000 at auction. I think, given their rarity, that they are still a bargain at this price. Only 40,000 were made in total and almost all have been re-worked and mis-matched. I would guess the number of first run (1942) examples remaining in untouched condition is less than a few hundred. Lots of fakes out there so do your homework before buying!
Pre-Pearl Harbor M1 Garand rifles (1940-1941) are extremely rare in any condition. Any WW2 period Garand that has not been modified is very rare. Although 5 million were made, true unmodified examples must represent only a fraction of that total. Small WW2 period modifications, often done at field armories, are now more accepted by collectors as part of the gun’s history. These would include sights, stock modifications, etc. that were done to improve the gun’s reliability or effectiveness during the war. Later overhauls and re-works resulting in new finishes, wood and components still significantly devalue these guns.
German K-98 rifles with matching numbers and original finish have soared in value. Who would have thought? It is difficult to find an example for less than $2000.00 these days. Keep your eyes open for a sleeper at your local gun show. A few are still floating around for less than a grand but they are getting hard to find as the owner’s catch up with the escalating values. The key is condition and matching numbers.
A quick story. A few years ago, I bought a German G33 rifle (mountain carbine version of the K-98) from a local gunshop. Everything matched except the bolt. When I disassembled it for cleaning I found an address label under the butt plate. A quick search on Google resulted in a phone number in Kansas. The gun was a vet bring-back and I was fortunate to talk to the GI who originally acquired it. He told me that toward the end of the war the German soldiers were surrendering in mass. So, when they walked in to camp to surrender they had them remove the bolt and hold rifle up in one hand and bolt in the other. The GIs set up empty fuel drums and had the soldiers throw the rifle in a pile and the bolt in the barrel. The veteran told me he wanted one of the short rifles as a souvenir and he didn’t care if the bolt number matched as long as it fit! Maybe this explains one reason why so many otherwise matching K-98s have mis-matched bolts!
Other highly collectible and investment quality WW2 firearms include the 1903A4 and M1 Garand sniper rifles, the trench shotguns, and Johnson semi-auto rifles. Unfortunately, a lot of WW2 pieces have been cobbled together from parts, or modified to look like a rarer version. It takes research, knowledge and a discerning eye on the collector’s part before venturing into the captivating world of collecting WW2 period firearms. I believe the better examples will continue to see significant escalations in value over the coming years.