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.