So now that you have decided to purchase your first medal(s) or militaria for your collection, how do you choose the right seller (dealer)?
Search for the medals you are interested in buying, work out how much you would like to spend and stick to your budget. There are many sellers worldwide, that have the identical items for sale, therefore, check their past trading history, and length of time they have been trading on websites and eBay in particular. The most important indicator is the sellers feedback left by past buyers as this will give a very good indication as to how satisfied customers have been with sellers items and overall service provided by the seller.
If the seller is a registered business, that is always a good sign, as it means they are a serious professional in their business dealings, and must have utmost confidence and excellent knowledge in the subject of militaria to build a business, or else, they would not survive. A registered business will always strive to give you the best possible service, as their business depends on customer satisfaction and repeat business. The business is regulated by the Federal Government and has to meet all business requirements. There is nothing worse than dealing with non-professionals when it comes to militaria, we have seen time after time, seller's of militaria popping up for 8-12 months and then disappearing in the night. Please check their credentials before parting with your hard earned money. Before buying any item, ask the seller detailed questions, see how long it takes them to reply, notice how they answer your questions, and whether it is with knowledge and a courteous fast reply. Check the sellers description carefully, they must state if the item is genuine or reproduction, and the condition of the item, most importantly the item's photo's - has the seller taken great care into giving the potential buyer the clearest and most detailed pictures? There is nothing worse than looking at items with poor pictures. Only buy from a seller who will give you a full refund in case you are not happy with your purchase.
Detecting Fake & Reproduction Militaria: These run rampant on the internet, Reproductions are made for museums, re-enactments and as commemorative items. Fakes (Copies) however are manufactured for the sole purpose to deceive collector's or to be used as props. Only buy from reputable dealers, who stand 100% behind the items they sell. It takes years of experience to detect the fakes, some are easily detected by the very poor quality, others are made by masters in their field of forgeries that can fool even the best and most experienced collector, so beware!
Presenting and learning about fake collectables items is almost as much fun as watching accidents at car races: both are unavoidable outcomes with lots of money spent striving for success and perfection. Like accidents, the manner in which fakes are discovered reveal something about their nature - how are they made, presented and received by the buyer, and from those 'failures'. There is much to learn and be aware of. Sometimes lessons are amusing in their simplicity, sometimes they open a whole new world of knowledge and understanding.
Black UV Light Test: Buy one of these small battery operated units, as modern fibres will glow brightly under this light, old fibres are made from cotton and will not glow.
Magnifying Class: A must have item, examine your medal or badge carefully, pay very close attention to detail, genuine medals and badges are made by an official Government manufacturers and are struck using only the highest quality materials and have a beautiful perfect smooth finish, search for detailed pictures on the internet and closely examine your item with the original one.
The Bend Test: Place the item in your hands, gently try to bend it, if it does, then it is a fake, made from cheap soft metal. Medals and Badges especially made for the German Army, were worn in combat, so they were made strong and to last. Some British Orders are being forged and made from cheap metal, they have a seam on the edge which the originals do not have, plus the original is made from solid fine silver and does not bend.
Burn Test: Take just one little thread from the cloth (ribbon) claimed to be an original, light it with a flame - old original thread will burn instantly, new modern fibres will burn very slow, as new fibres are made fire resistant.
Understand the Manufacturing Process: What is the difference between die-forging and die-stamping? What do you look for in a casting? Many Fakes are just very cheaply cast from one piece, simply because the expensive and heavy equipment used by the various world Government manufacturers to make the originals, are just too expensive.
The Main Medal Manufacturing Methods:
Once the tooling has been made there are three main methods used in the production of genuine (original) medals and badges.
Die Stamping (Minting):
In this process a thin sheet of cold metal is impressed with an image by means of a heavy industrial die using a screw, hydraulic or or electric press producing a pressure of hundreds of tons in some cases. The resultant piece is usually thin and relatively flat and the reverse is a mirror image of the front. Detail is good and consistent.
Die forging is similar to die stamping above but this time a thicker piece of metal is heated in a furnace to the point of malleability, and then stamped with a heavy tool die. This process was suited to heavier badges, or ones with more three dimensional design . The reverse will not be a mirror image as the metal is too thick and will either be flat or semi-hollow. As the metal is heated and softer, the tools used in production last longer.
In die casting, molten metal is injected or pumped under pressure into a closed die. Once the medal has cooled it is ejected from the die and then hand finished. Often die cast pieces have the hinge and hook cast into them as an integral part of a badge.
The Techniques of Enamelling Medals and Orders:
Some Medals and Orders use enamel in their design and production. The use of enamel adds a distinctive bright colour to an award, for example to an order like the French Legion of Honour. The art of enamelling can trace its origins back at least four thousand years.
Traditional enamelling is achieved through the use of coloured glass powders which are inserted into the appropriate place on the metal image, then fired to the consistency of glass usually between 750 and 850 degrees Celsius. The powder melts and flows to harden as a smooth, durable vitreous coating on metal. It is often applied in a paste form and may be transparent or opaque when fired. Vitreous enamel can be applied to most metals.. This process is repeated until all of the necessary colours have been applied and the desired thickness has been achieved. The piece is then ground and polished to produce a smooth, consistent finish.
Original enamelling has a distinctive translucent depth. Be aware as FAKE MEDALS use a kind of plastic resin instead of enamel, these fakes lack the depth and minor flaws of the real article.
Just because it looks old doesn't mean it is an original:
Study the picture carefully or ask the seller to send you a more detailed picture if the picture is not sharp enough. Just because it looks old it must be old - the professional fraudsters know the trick of the trade - brand new copies of antique medals straight out of China, are aged artificially first by rubbing the item back with fine grade sandpaper, then they use Gun Blue, which is a blueing acid used to restore the colour of the metal on firearms, it will give the medal or any metal item an instant dark antique aged look!
Do your research, read articles on the actual construction methods of original pieces, for example, this is basic knowledge, that an original German Iron Cross is made of a 3 part iron core construction.
Good luck on your journey of collecting original militaria and detecting reproductions.