1.1 Why “bayonet”?
The origins of the word “bayonet” are not completely known but many experts agree that it would be related to the southern French city of Bayonne. At the beginning of the 17th century many gunsmiths had settled there and these would have been the first to search for a way to put a knife on a gun or rifle.
There might be doubts about the origins of the word but about the actual evolution of the weapon itself experts are much more sure. The first use of what would later become known as a bayonet was during the hunt. Especially in the North of Spain people used to hunt bears, a dangerous occupation.
The animal had to be hit on the right spot in order to kill it. If that was not successful, the wounded bear would become an even more feared opponent.
In those days, hunters were equipped with single shot black powder weapons and they needed quite some time in order to prepare a second shot. It seems logical that hunters were looking for a way to protect themselves even when their guns had shot. That is why they developed the plug bayonet. These bayonets consisted of a blade placed on a cylindrical handle, which fitted in the barrel of their guns.
Shortly after this plug bayonet was used for military purposes as well. Just like the hunters, soldiers did only have single shot guns and they were very vulnerable between shots. Therefore these soldiers were assisted by others who were armed with pikes.
The firearms became much more efficient and important and the plug bayonet made the men with the pikes no longer necessary. Although a gun could no longer be fired once the bayonet was placed in the barrel it still offered the same protection as a pike would.
Many successful, and many more unsuccessful, experiments followed before the socket bayonet was developed. This type of bayonet, which consists of a blade fixed on a socket that could be placed over the barrel, allows normal use of the firearm. Initially there were no locking systems available but this changed when zigzag slots or locking rings were added.
Most countries changed to sword or knife bayonets in the course of the 19th century but during the Second World War the enormous Russian army was equipped with the M91/30 socket bayonet.
Nowadays the knife bayonet is the most widely used type and exists in countless varieties. The big advantage is that it can be used both as a bayonet and as a normal knife or even utility knife.
1.2 Attention, addictive!
Every military- weapon- or knife show should have to warn for the danger of getting addicted to collecting bayonets! Once the virus has bitten you it will be very hard to stop!
Most collectors still remember their first bayonet, sometimes a rusty and common piece but nevertheless a treasure of unknown value for it’s new owner. My first blade was a battlefield found P1907 for the British Lee Enfield No. 1 rifle which I bought for about €20 in a village near the Ypres Salient. Although many years have passed it would still not be worth the money but the joy it has given me, the twinkling in my eyes when I came out of that shop were priceless.
After that rusty P1907 not a single bayonet in my collection has ever be caressed, admired, oiled or cleaned more. And after a while questions arose. Who would have used this bayonet? Would anybody be killed with it? What would be its current value? Which rifle was it meant for and what is its exact model description?
I found the answers to these questions by reading books, asking fellow collectors, surfing the Internet, …
Everybody that wants to collect bayonets must try to obtain as much knowledge about it as possible. There are some very good books like the ones from Christian Méry, Anthony Carter, Jean-Pierre Vial, Jerry Janzen, Roy Williams…
When the answer is not mentioned in one of your books it's better to ask a “stupid” question than to loose money in a stupid way!
1.3. What is a bayonet’s value?
A glimpse on arms fairs or auction sites like Ebay and Egun show us that the value of different bayonets can go from a few Euros to several hundreds or thousands. Everything depends on the type of bayonet, it’s maker, the overall condition, the presence of a scabbard, …
The condition can be determined by examining the condition of the blade (has it been affected by rust? is it bent? Has it ever been sharpened or repointed?…) and the handle (any rust? Are the grips still intact? Does the locking system function normally?)
Scabbards affect the price of a bayonet as well. If a bayonet with its scabbard would cost €100 it would probably only be worth about €50 of €60. On the other hand a scabbard with matching serial number can increase the price to €130 or more.
When you pay good attention to the condition and try to acquire as much reliable information as possible a collection can become a good investment as well. Don’t let the financial side become more important than the joy of collecting though. Collecting bayonets will prove a fun way to meet other people, keep your brain cells in action and broaden your horizons.
1.4. Advice on bayonet collecting
There are so many bayonets offered for sale and the temptation to buy items just because they look good or are cheap is always there. Sometimes an impulsive buy can prove to be the right decision but more often it’s not a valuable addition to your collection.
To establish a collection it can be useful to do some planning. Some collectors only search items related to a certain period or event (like the First World War), a single country, a specific type of bayonets or a combination of these (for example German knife bayonets from 1871 to 1945).
Limiting your collection makes it easier to learn about those pieces and often saves you money as well.
Quality should always prevail over quantity. 30 bayonets in a mediocre condition won’t give the same satisfaction as 10 highly collectable pieces in a good condition.