Big Red here at me favorite waterin hole, Cohan's Pub.
Pull up a chair, have a pint....
From first issue to discontinuation, M-1 helmet assemblies were continually recycled by the Military. Once replaced, these symbols of American military power found their way into surplus stores all over the country. Surplus stores were notorious for separating helmets from liners and removing liner inserts in order to better stack both up in the corner while selling off parts individually. For decades these assemblies were sold for pennies on the dollar with a mix match of parts and no regard for the feelings or perspective of yet unborn M-1 helmet collectors.
Today a good complete M-1 assembly can bring more than double its collectible value if it is sold for parts however, prior to 1998 lackluster collector enthusiasm made it almost impossible for militaria dealers to sell a M-1 if it didn’t have all its parts.
This phenomenon combined with the handling practices at surplus stores resulted in arbitrary named and numbered parts finding their way into helmet assemblies they had not been with during their time of service.
Collector's Note: The release of Saving Private Ryan and the subsequent mini-series Band of Brothers, elevated the American M-1 helmet to a new level of collector interest and subsequent value.
Regardless of how these assemblies came together, a faction of the collecting community began to refer disparagingly to helmet configurations like these as “put together”. By design, the M-1 helmet assembly was just that “an assembly” and was intended to be “put together”. This aspect was one of the helmets most unique and innovative attributes. The reality that the Military, surplus stores and dealers participated in the cross pollination of these items can’t be undone and if you are going to collect M-1 helmets you are going to have to come to terms with this truth.
It is helpful to understand that M-1 helmets were not issued to individuals they were issued to units and were the property of the unit. Even though a significant number of helmets found a way home without being turned in, most helmets were sold for surplus and blended up through this pollination process.
If you are intent on limiting your collecting to helmets you believe to have been brought home by a soldier and in essence “frozen in time” exactly as it was configured when last used, you will seriously hinder your ability to collect. By strict definition, this means that you would need to find every configuration of liner, helmet, net, cover or other attribute frozen in time to be considered not “put together”.
Because every collector defines “put together” differently, based on their collecting focus, the definition of originality transfers to the eye of the beholder. With the understanding that all M-1 helmets were put together at some point in their history the question becomes – when?
As a collector you must bring your experience and knowledge together and fill in the missing gaps with your gut feelings. Look a helmet over, get a feel for it and if it speaks to you, does it really matter if you can definitively prove that the sum of all its parts have been together since issue?
Remember, helmets in your collection can be whatever you choose to believe them to be as long as you understand and accept that if you ever sell them other collectors will determine what value they place on your helmets by the way they speak to them and that these two views will never match up. Further, a helmet’s context or provenance does not have to be tied to a specific individual or event to be authentic, it can simply be an accurate example of a WWII helmet.