German WW1 and WW2 Iron Cross Decorations
TIPS FOR IDENTIFYING AND BUYING AN IRON CROSS
Iron Crosses are a fascinating part of WW1 and WW2 History (earlier if you choose to go back to the original Prussian awards). They are also an interesting and elite artefact to collect.
They represent military gallantry, albeit from the other side of those major conflicts for Aussie collectors.
Identifying and buying the right Cross can be a little daunting and even a bit complicated for the newcomer in a number of ways.
For starters, numerous makers were licensed by the government to make the Iron Cross, with early war examples often being unmarked, and post 1941 mandated markings being in numerous forms.
Some Crosses were made as 'Award Pieces' that would have been issued to the recipient from their Unit upon earning the decoration. As German troops had the custom of actually wearing their awards and decorations into combat (as seen in virtually all wartime images) many soldiers legitimately made private purchases of licensed versions their awarded Crosses for field wear.
There are wonderful experts out there who can take just one good look at a Cross and tell you whether it's real or fake, and possibly even who made it. They do this from years of handling them and also analysing the small idiosyncrasies of the design, placement of the numbers etc. that characterise certain makers.
If you have the time, joining some online expert chat rooms and social media groups can be useful to tap friendly experts and build some knowledge. Watch out for the condescending 'rivet counters' though who may not be as welcoming as they should be to new collectors.
For most militaria collectors, we are just in the hands of honest dealers to be open with what it is that they are selling. Beware of less open and honest dealers who can pass off aged fakes as the real deal. Be aware that some dealers who may not have detailed knowledge, may innocently be passing off a fake that they themselves fell for as a genuine item. It wouldn't be the first time that even experienced dealers and collectors had fallen for a clever fake of German militaria.
A few tips for buying an Iron Cross (these are by no means exhaustive by the way, experts may look at numerous other factors):
Does the dealer have money back assurances?
This is always a good sign, and a good thing to have up your sleeve should it subsequently prove to be a cleverly faked item. Sadly they are out there.
Is it magnetic?
Whilst it is the 'Iron' Cross, which will make most magnetic, not all genuine Iron Crosses are actually magnetic. Non magnetic versions were made for the Kriegsmarine, and as cheaper private purchases for field wear. A simple fridge magnet can show you that a cross is magnetic and can be a big indicator that you have an original.
Having said that, at least one maker of high quality reproductions has made magnetic reproductions in the past, but these don't show up too frequently thankfully. So being non-magnetic doesn't always mean that it's fake, but being magnetic means it does have a higher chance of being legit for a new collector who is not across the finer points of identifying Iron Crosses.
Is it of three sectioned / three piece construction?
The black painted Iron Core had its silver frame soldered together over the top of the iron core in two pieces from either side. So some telltale signs to look for here are:
- When you look at the silver frame side on can you see a join / line running down the side of the frame? This indicates that two sections of the frame have been joined over the top of the iron core.
- Can you slide a piece of paper between the core and the inner corners of the frame? If the frame is tight you can't always do this by the way, it works on ones that have become slightly loose over time.
- Does the silver frame have any black paint on it? Genuine manufacture has the black painted iron core in the centre, then the silver frame mounted from either side. Single piece moulded fakes can therefore have paint on the lower inside portions of the silver coloured frames that adjoin the supposed black painted iron core from being painted after moulding.
Patina and general look of the Cross
This is somewhat subjective, and based on experience, but experts look for a texture of the metal and the paint of the iron core as veins and aged imperfections in the iron can bubble up or show rust, lines and imperfections with age. Be aware though that pristine examples can actually have that 'brand new' look and feel as well.
Not all genuine Iron Crosses are marked. There are many fine and sought after Crosses that are not marked. Early War crosses are usually not marked.
After 1941 there were certain requirements for makers to mark the Crosses. These markings can appear in a variety of places and numbers, or combinations of letters and numbers that indicate which supplier made the Cross.
There are many makers who were licensed to make the Crosses as either original award pieces, or as private purchases for field wear by awardees Internet lists of maker numbers can be found online. Some are numbers some combinations of letter and number.
Fakers can also add numbers to Crosses, so look out for that, and often multiple factors should be taken into account over and above a maker mark to determine real from an aged fake.
Have a look at the images below of genuine Crosses from our collection to see some of the characteristics referenced here.
An EK2 with a split frame clearly showing the 3 piece construction of a genuine Cross.
A nice Iron Cross 2nd Class / EK2 marked Maker Marked '24'.
An example of the West German government approved post-war de-nazified 1957 Iron Cross
A 1939 EK1 Screwback marked L52 for C. F Zimmerman of Pforzheim.
A Knight's Cross of The Iron Cross that has some wear and character to it.
An Iron Cross 2nd Class of the First World war
A cased Iron Cross First Class by Wilhelm Deumer of Ludenscheld
A Knight's Cross Loop
An early WW2 EK1 Vaulted Pinback by Meybauer with pin design reminiscent of their WW1 and inter-war versions.
This battlefield relic Iron Cross (metal detected in Russia) shows clearly the three piece construction of iron core and two pieces of silver frame.
Typical rear of a 1939 EK1 sure back, this one marked L52 for Zimmerman.
A well worn Iron Cross First Class of the First World War
One way to check some crosses for three piece construction is to slide paper between frame and core. Note that age and wear makes this possible on some, but a tightly fitting frame may not permit this technique and the cross may still be legit.
Iron Cross maker mark 26 for BH Mayer of Pforzheim
A Cross in great condition.
Typical maker mark placement on the ring of an EK2. In this case '24'.
An example of the lines that can appear on a genuine Iron Cross from aged metal underneath the paint. Note that mint condition Crosses may not have these features.
This is a Field Worn Knights Cross of The Iron Cross made from a modified EK2.
A vaulted pinback pre-1941 Meybauer EK1.
An 'L52' marking for Zimmerman on the back of an EK1 Screw Back.
An early WW2 unmarked Iron Cross First Class
A nice EK2 with salty patina and original section of ribbon.
An Iron Cross EK 1 Flat PInback marked 26 for BH Mayer of Pforzheim
A 1939 EK1 marked '4' for Steinhaer and Lueck of Ludenscheld. Flat pinback.
A 1939 EK1 marked '20' for Zimmerman of Pforzheim.
An under the pin '20' marking on an EK1 for Zimmerman of Pforzheim.