This exclusive excerpt is from the newly expanded second edition of Warman’s World War II Collectibles, Identification and Price Guide, by Michael Haskew (Krause Publications, 2010).
The collecting of medals remains, quite probably, the most popular segment of militaria.
Three factors have influenced medal collecting from the beginning and remain the primary reasons for medal devotees to continue being committed to their passion. Medals are given for valor, bravery, and merit. They are small and take up relatively little space. Their appeal seems partially due to their luster and the aura of monetary value. Perhaps this is due to their similarity to coinage or possible precious metal content.
Every country involved in World War II awarded medals to its fighting personnel, and many awarded them to the soldiers of other nations as well. Medals are common, given to soldiers as tangible mementoes of their service. They came home with veterans, both the victorious and the defeated, worn on their uniforms or stuffed into their gear. Others have been passed down through families for three or four generations since the end of the war and have begun to surface at estate sales, flea markets, and just about anywhere reminders of the war may be found.
Medals have, for the most part, held their values. Prices have steadily increased through the years as collectors have snapped up these highly prized collectibles. Obtaining medals of the Third Reich has become a greater challenge, while the popularity of medals from the Great Patriotic War, worn on the tunics of Soviet service personnel, has surged upward. Both the scarce and the relatively common medals of World War II have consistently held their value or appreciated in recent years. Few have lost any of their value.
One pronounced pitfall in medal collecting relates to the abundance of copies, restrikes, replicas, and otherwise altered or counterfeit items. Unscrupulous dealers have surfaced from time to time and taken advantage of the unwary purchaser. After all, very little creativity or effort is required to change a ribbon, add or grind a hallmark away, clean, or otherwise embellish a medal. Even as World War II was underway, reproductions were emerging. Therefore, a word to the wise … read books on the topic of medal collecting. Study examples in a reputable collection. Learn the subtleties of the pastime.
Badge, Medal, Order or Decoration: Which is the Correct Term?
For the general collector of militaria, these terms are used almost interchangeably. The banter at any military show in the United States or Great Britain abounds with them, seldom in relation to specific awards. Professional dealers and diehard collectors are keenly aware of the difference between a badge, medal, order, or decoration, and learning the correct terminology will provide the purchaser with an edge in discussions with a dealer. Quite literally, the dealer’s perception of the buyer can relate to real differences in pricing. Those less knowledgeable or skilled may indeed pay a higher price for the item being discussed.
The most common term the collector refers to or may hear from others is “medal.” The proper definition of the word “medal” is any award, which hangs from a ribbon. A medal generally is not enameled, which is often a characteristic of an order. Medals are commemorative of a variety of events, such as good conduct, campaigns, long service, commemorations, or important historical dates such as the independence of a nation or the ascension of a monarch to the throne.
When commonly referring to the entire genre of medals, badges, orders, and decorations, using the word “medal” is often the most correct option. In most cases, an experienced collector or dealer will not consider it an error if someone refers to the Medal of Honor as a medal, although it is more correctly a decoration. However, in contrast, referring to an item, which is obviously a medal with the incorrect designation, could elicit a long pause or correction from another individual. In situations where there is any doubt, referring to medals, decorations, orders, and badges as medals is the best course of action. For the purposes of this price guide, the term “medal” is used interchangeably with “order” and “decoration.”
An order may date back centuries, even to the days of knighthood. Orders are usually associated with religious institutions or the nobility. Modern orders are generally conferred upon citizens for performing an act of service either during war or peace. However, some medal groupings involving military service do contain one or more orders.
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