Dear Doug: I have a German Luftwaffe dagger with its scabbard that my dad brought home from WW2. It is in good to excellent shape. I want to put it in a presentation case. I don’t think it has been polished since the war and would look more impressive if it were polished. Is this something I should have done or will it hurt the value?
Dear Joe: That’s one impressive steak knife you have there. I don’t think the Nazis had to worry about anyone disrupting their marches and other gatherings while their officers were displaying props like that. They were great for goading enthusiasm at the annual membership drive, too.
It sounds like you have a good idea of what you’ve inherited, but for the sake of my readers, a quick description might be in order. This particular dagger, one of two models, was first issued in 1934 by the Luftwaffe, or Nazi German Air Force, to their officers and officer candidates for parade and ceremonial purposes. Though it looks sinister and threatening, it wasn’t meant to be used as a weapon, but it represented a symbol of rank and authority instead.
Depending upon overall condition, and the little variations seen in this first model, a nice one will sell for $700-$900. Yours is indeed an early example. The blade and other metal components were made of a silver-washed nickel, while the grip and scabbard were, as Ricardo Montalban used to say, wrapped in rich Corinthian leather. Late in 1935, they began making this of aluminum, which proved to withstand the elements and passage of time better.
As a valuable piece of World War II history, it certainly would look awesome all spit-shined and placed in a showcase. Sometimes people can get rather antsy when they have an antique that is dirty or perceived to be in an unacceptable condition. This, in turn, can lead to over-aggressive cleaning, polishing or restoration work that actually damages and devalues the item with disastrous results. It’s good that you have taken the conservative, hands-off approach until now, rather than doing something you’ll regret later.
To clean or not to clean? That may be the question, but in your case, I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut answer. The fact is, there are many of us who prefer not to touch a good-quality antique, but instead leave it as found with its original, aged patina and character. Because once it is polished, of course, you can’t get the tarnish and time-worn stains back.
Sometimes we can actually make an old object look too new and spoil its presentation and authenticity. And at still other times, we find that the brand-new carpet doesn’t go well with the old, faded drapes. In other words, how will a bright shiny blade look against the rest of the dagger and its scabbard? Perhaps just fine in this case, but nonetheless it’s something else to consider.
However, if you choose to go in that direction, I can certainly envision the gleam and glint after the years of grunge is gone. I have been told by the experts that a product called Simichrome Metal Polish will do a superior job. And why not use a clear leather conditioner on the grip while you’re at it? I’ve seen the before pictures. Don’t forget to send me the afters.