The purpose of this section is to provide some basic information that militaria collectors might be interested in. We'll start with articles on Third Reich medals and badges (including markings and construction) and a list of references that collectors of German militaria may find useful.
MARKINGS ON GERMAN MEDALS AND BADGES
German Third Reich medals and badges often have some form of maker's mark, usually on the back. This mark can consist of the firm's name and sometimes the location, a logo or symbol representing the firm, various Nazi government control marks, or sometimes combinations of some of the above. These marks are often erroneously referred to as hallmarks. A hallmark denotes silver or gold content, and was not used on Third Reich medals and badges (some medals such as the Knights Cross with real silver content did have markings showing the silver purity number).
The presence or absence of a maker's mark in no way indicates the originality of a particular badge or medal today. Some firms, for one reason or another, chose not to use the Nazi regulatory markings discussed below for some or all of their products. Some medals almost always have maker's marks (for example, the various "Hindenburg Crosses"), while some usually don't (Westwall Medals, for instance). War badges, wound badges, and tinnies may or may not be marked. Fake badges can carry fake maker's marks! One point to keep in mind: the RZM (discussed below) regulated only Nazi Party organization and civil items, not military awards. A purely military medal, war badge, or wound badge should never have an RZM mark. Tank Battle Badges (Panzerkampfabzeichen) have been observed with RZM marks, said to denote "Waffen-SS issue." Not so; Waffen-SS military awards came from the same sources that supplied the Wehrmacht as a whole.
Before the Third Reich era the German government let contracts with a number of private firms to supply military medals and badges. This practice continued with the rise of the Nazi party, but Hitler soon desired to control and standardize Nazi items. In 1929 the Reichszeugmeisterei (National Material Control Office, RZM) was set up to control the production and pricing of Nazi uniform items. This included items of all Party organizations such as the SA and SS, but not military awards or decorations. The RZM ensured that contracts went to Aryan firms, that items were priced within the budget of the normal Party member, and that quality control was high. The RZM mark was placed on all items intended for Nazi organization uniforms. The basic symbol was a capital R and Z over an M. The bottom ends of the legs of the M formed the ends of an almost-circular arc that surrounded the letters, and this symbol was surrounded by a second circle. On 16 March 1935 contract numbers were awarded to all RZM-approved manufacturers, and after that date the number appeared along with the RZM mark. Codes denoted the different categories of items. M1 was the RZM code for political medals and orders, M4 for belt buckles, M7 for daggers, M9 for badges, etc. Thus a political badge made by the F�rster and Barth company of Pforzheim might bear the RZM mark and M9/7, the badge contract number for F�rster and Barth. In 1935 the SS started their own contracts with firms for SS goods, so SS items might bear the SS contract number along with the RZM mark. The RZM marking system was not 100% rigidly enforced, and some firms produced legitimate badges and other items without RZM contracts, so political badges may not have RZM markings.
The German government's desire to standardize uniform items also impacted the production of military medals and badges. The traditional contracts with private firms allowed for some leeway in medal production, and several variations of the same medal might exist (as any collector of Imperial Iron Crosses can testify!). Firms were even allowed to produce military awards for private purchase without a government contract, which produced even greater variation.
Faced with a need to standardize and regulate award and decoration production and issue, the German government in 1941 established the Leistungsgemeinschaft deutschen Ordenhersteller: the Administration of German Orders Manufacturers or LDO. The LDO published and enforced regulations controlling the production of most military awards, including materials used, dimensions, manufacturing techniques, and finishes used. The LDO was very successful in eliminating great variation in award construction and appearance, so that most items today that show some variation (like a vaulted Iron Cross First Class) date from before its establishment. In addition to regulating items for official award, the LDO also banned purchase of awards from non-licensed manufacturers. Military members were permitted to purchase duplicate or replacement awards from government authorized firms. These followed the same high standards as awards intended for official issue, but could be marked differently.
Each firm licensed by the LDO was assigned a number to be used when marking its awards and decorations. Collectors sometimes refer to this number as the "L/ number" because one type of licensing number was prefixed with L/. Some firms had an L/ number and a different number with no prefix, referred to as the Pr�sidialkanzlei des F�hrers Lieferant (F�hrer Chancellery Supplier) number. While not certain, it has been suggested that the Pr�sidialkanzlei number was meant for official awards, while the L/ number was for private purchase items. The marking portion of the LDO regulation was not rigidly enforced, and many quite legitimate original awards have no maker's mark at all. In addition to its LDO L/ number and/or Lieferant number, a firm with RZM contracts would also have an RZM number for medals and one for badges. RZM markings would not appear in conjunction with LDO numbers, as the former never appeared on purely military awards, and the latter were only for military awards.
Maker's marks, whether logos, names, LDO numbers or RZM markings were placed on badges and medals in several different ways. The markings could be in relief (standing up from the surrounding material, produced during the stamping or casting process), incuse relief (markings standing up from a surrounding lowered area, usually square or rectangular) or incised (stamped or cast or, rarely, engraved into the metal). Medals and badges of a particular type were generally marked similarly. The Iron Cross First Class often has the LDO number stamped (incised or incuse relief) into the pin, or sometimes on the back of the lower arm. Medals with ribbon suspension rings such as the Iron Cross Second Class and Eastern Front Medal sometimes have the Lieferant number stamped into the ring. War badges and wound badges, when marked, almost always have the name or logo or number in relief. As mentioned before, many badges and medals were not marked at all.
The list below shows the known LDO-licensed manufacturers, with their Pr�sidialkanzlei Lieferant numbers and "L/" numbers. The reader may note some patterns in the list, one of which is repetition in manufacturer location. As was the case with many types of German specialized manufacturing, orders manufacturers tended to cluster in a few regions. The area of Pforzheim in Baden-W�rttemburg was a jewelry-making center, and many medal and badge makers were found there. L�denscheid near the Ruhr Valley and Gablonz in the Czech Sudetenland were similar centers. You may also note that most of the low "L/" numbers were awarded to firms with low Pr�sidialkanzlei Lieferant numbers, while later parts of the Pr�sidialkanzlei Lieferant numbers list are simply in alphabetical order by firm name. Some of these "low number" firms were companies like Deschler & Sohn, C. E. Junker, and Steinhauer & L�ck that had produced official medals and awards for the German government for many years. This suggests that the LDO began its licensing process with those traditional firms, while the majority of firms that had sprung up to produce medals in the Third Reich era received higher license numbers.
GERMAN MEDAL AND BADGE MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
German medals and badges of the Third Reich era were made from a number of different materials, using different construction techniques. Knowledge of these materials and construction methods is essential to enjoying the hobby of collecting the items. Most of the remarks below apply chiefly to military awards and the more common civil items. Some very rare items (for instance, the Grand Cross to the Iron Cross or the Social Welfare Special Class Ladies Decoration with Diamonds) had examples made of exotic materials or different construction methods.
Most civil and military metal awards were made from a variety of nonprecious metals. These included brass, bronze, tombakbronze or tombak (an alloy of copper, zinc, and tin; often referred to in Germany today as
Buntmetall), aluminum, zinc, and various zinc-based alloys. Before 1942 many awards that were supposed to appear silver were
made of nickel silver or were nickel plated, and those that were supposed to be gold were colored by a difficult process called fire gilding. In 1942 the German government was forced to restrict certain metals for war production, and the various zinc-based alloys came into greater use. Many of these alloys did not lend themselves to plating, and were instead colored using chemical washes of the appropriate color, or even painted. Towards the end of the war many of the poorer zinc alloys (called
Kriegsmetall or war metal) did not react well with the finishes, which quickly wore off, leaving the base gray metal. This does not mean that an award made of zinc automatically means it was made late in the war. The alloy called
Feinzink (fine zinc) reacted well to finishes and was often used. No matter what material was used, Third Reich medals and badges were
almost always made to a high quality standard. Blurred details, poor soldering, and obvious air pockets or wrinkles from casting usually indicate a reproduction. While many alloys contained lead, Third Reich awards were not made totally of lead, and should never bend easily as lead does.
The Iron Cross deserves a special note on materials. As the name says, the inner core was usually made of iron, chemically blackened or painted. Occasionally the core was made of blackened brass. Some collectors have suggested that Iron Crosses with brass cores were more popular with Kriegsmarine crewmen, as they would not rust when exposed to the salt sea air. The rims of the Iron Cross 1. and 2. Classes were made from a material called
Neusilber or "new silver" by the Germans; today we call it German silver
or nickel silver. It is an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, and contains no actual silver. German silver can tone darkly with age, but the toning is dark gray or brown, not blue-black like silver tarnish. The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross was made with real silver rims. After assembly the rims were polished and lacquered. A frosted effect was applied to the beading.
Medals and badges were generally made by one of three techniques: die stamping, die striking (or forging), and casting. In the die stamping process a thin metal sheet was struck between two die halves. This method produced the hollow back badges in which the reverse is a mirror image of the obverse. Die struck or die forged items were made by striking a heavier sheet of metal, usually heated, between two die halves. This was the process used to make most medals. It produced a different image on the obverse and reverse of the medal or badge. War badges produced by die striking could be flat backed or have a semi hollow back. One sure sign of die striking is the shear marks made on the edge of the medal or badge as the sharp die edge cut the metal sheet. However, shear marks can be hard to detect because the individual awards were finished by hand and the shear marks might be polished off the edges. Some badges and a few medals were cast by the injection process. Sometimes the casting lines from the edges of the mold are still visible, but more often they were polished off in the finishing process.
Badges were finished off by having pin assemblies attached. German badges had a great variety of pin assemblies, which goes beyond the scope of this article. One rule of thumb to keep in mind is the fact that the pin assembly should always be sturdy and well finished. Original badges never had very thin or flimsy pins, flimsy hinges or catches, or crude soldering. Needless to say, pin assemblies were never glued on originals! The only exception to a thin pin is the wide range of political badges or tinnies. Tinnies almost always have a thin pin much like a safety pin, which is either soldered or crimped to the badge.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES
The more that you know about the items you collect, the better you will enjoy your collection. There's no substitute for research, especially when you want to avoid buying fakes. I have found the following references valuable. None of them contains all the answers, and some of the authors and acknowledged experts disagree with each other sometimes. Do your own research to satisfy yourself! Please bear with this rather long list. It's not meant to be comprehensive, but it does cover a number of subjects, especially medals and badges.
Web sites are some of the best sources of current research and identification of fakes. I've included links to some that I think are useful. I do not endorse any products or items listed for sale on any of the Web sites; I simply include them for useful information.
Combat Awards" The absolute best Internet source for accurate information on
Third Reich medals and badges. Purchase of a premium membership gives
access to a great description of original and fake badges.
"Wehrmacht Awards and Decorations 1933-1945-1957" A lot of information on medals
and badges. Especially check out the Discussion Forum; it has info for beginning
collectors to the most experienced.
http://germandaggers.com Lots of info on daggers and dagger reference books, with a discussion forum.
A Definitive Guide to the German Awards of World War II: Volume 1 The
General Assault Badge, by Frank Heukemes. Germany: Heukemes
Publishing, 2005. ISBN 3-00-016652-1. Everything you could want to
know about the General Assault Badge.
The German Close Combat Clasp of
World War II, by Thomas M. Durante. Belgium: papjay.com, 2007.
ISBN 978-90-81230-11-7. A stunningly researched and presented guide to all
aspects of the Close Combat Clasp.
Forman's Guide to Third Reich German Awards And Their Values, by Adrian Forman. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing, 2nd Edition 1993. ISBN 912138-52-1. Very comprehensive guide to medals and badges, with b/w front and rear photos of nearly everything listed. The values are somewhat outdated. A must have.
Forman's Guide to Third Reich German Documents And Their Values, by Adrian Forman. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing, Vol.1 1995 (ISBN 0-912138-58-0) and Vol. 2 1996 (ISBN 0-912138-63-7). Forman did for documents what he earlier did for awards, in even more detail. The reference on award documents, another must have.
Medals & Decorations of the Third Reich, by Dr. Heinrich Doehle. Denison TX: Reddick Enterprises, 1995. ISBN 0-9624883-4-8. A modern translation and reprint of a book originally published in Germany in 1943. It was an official German government survey of civil and military awards, and included color plates. Loads of good data on numbers awarded and award requirements.
The Iron Cross: A History 1813-1957, by Gordon Williamson. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1984. ISBN 0-7137-1460-3. Lots of details on the different grades of the Iron Cross: construction, materials, requirements for award, some stories of recipients. Many b/w photos. Some discussion of fakes. Highly recommended.
A Collector's Guide to Third Reich Militaria, by Robin Lumsden. New York: Hippocrene Books Inc., 4th edition 1994. ISBN 077110-1723-9. A good work primarily for the beginning collector. Covers most aspects and types of Third Reich militaria. The values are outdated.
A Collector's Guide to Third Reich Militaria: Detecting the Fakes, by Robin Lumsden. New York: Hippocrene Books Inc., 3rd edition 1994. ISBN 0-7818-0324-1. Again, primarily for the beginning collector. A very good discussion of basic faking methods and elementary fakes, but does not include recent high-grade fakes.
Soldat Volume Eleven: The Reproductions - The Postwar Years, by Cyrus A. Lee. Missoula MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc., 2nd edition 1998. ISBN 0-929521-94-3. Lots of b/w photos of modern reproductions, which can be often sold as fake originals.
Bewertungs-Katalog: Orden und Ehrenzeichen Deutschland 1871-1945, by Detlev Niemann. Hamburg Germany: Niemann Verlag, Vol. 1 1999. ISBN 3-934001-00-9. German text. Even if you can't read German, this big 628-page book ("valuation catalog") by one of the most respected German dealers and collectors contains a wealth of information on all types of German medals and awards.
SS Uniforms, Insignia & Accoutrements: A Study in Photographs, compiled by A. Hayes. Atglen PA: Schiffer Military History, 1996. ISBN 0-7643-0046-6. Lots of great close-up color photos of Allgemeine-SS and Waffen-SS uniforms, headgear, medals and badges, edged weapons, insignia, etc.
Collector's Guide: Tinnies of the Third Reich, produced by the Staff of the Fox Hole/ Manion's International Auction House. Number 1 2nd edition 1981, Number 2 1979, Number 3 1989. Available from Manion's International Auction House. Comprehensive listing and descriptions of most tinnies, with b/w and a few color photos.
German Belt Buckles, by Thomas Reid. Mt. Ida AR: Lancer Militaria, 1989. ISBN 0-935856-05-6. The history, production, and illustrated examples of belt buckles. The illustrations are b/w line drawings instead of photos. Several appendices contain good data on maker's marks, RZM buckle codes, etc.
Seitengewehr: History of the German Bayonet 1919-1945, by George T. Wheeler. San Jose: R. James Bender Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-912138-78-5. If you like bayonets, this is the book. Just about everything you would want to know about all types of bayonets made and used by German forces, including color photos of knots.
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