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).
A decoration is a more general term, referring to an award, which is not connected to an order. More specifically, a decoration is presented to a soldier for an act of heroism or distinction under fire or against an enemy in a combat situation. Such decorations would include the U.S. Silver Star, German Iron Cross, I Class, or the United Kingdom’s Victoria Cross.
One lesser-known term involving medals is “collar.” While the term does surface from time to time, it refers to the highest class of some orders and may also denote the chain from which an order is suspended.
Badges signify a soldier’s proficiency or having received a “passing grade” in a particular skill and are not covered in this chapter. Badges may be awarded for marksmanship or perhaps the completion of pilot or parachute training. Medal collectors, however, use the word “badge” to describe an order, which hangs from a ribbon. Confusing enough? Those who concentrate solely on medals, though, will not often find themselves interacting with general militaria collectors or dealers on a regular basis. Therefore, in this book, the term “badge” will usually denote a medal which is most often pinned directly to the holder’s uniform without a ribbon.
Named, Named, Named
What’s in a name? When it comes to collecting militaria — plenty! If the three most important elements in the value of a piece of real estate are location, location, location, then the name of the individual who owned, received, or used an item is equally important in militaria collecting.
Further, this is true more so in medal collecting than any other facet of the endeavor.
Consistently, the highest prices are paid for those medals, which are directly and conclusively linked to the soldiers who originally received them. In many cases, medals were inscribed with serial numbers or the names of recipients, allowing the collector to validate or discover the story behind the award. For many collectors, learning the role the soldier played, his contribution, and the chain of events, which led to the medal being awarded, adds to the pleasure of owning the item. Collectors will pay top prices for the opportunity to do the detective work themselves as well.
Another level of “value added” pricing relates to medals that are accompanied by their original citation or other document linking the award itself to the recipient. However, such a link may at times be more difficult to establish. One excellent example of such difficulty deals with the approximately 7,500 awards of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II. None of the medals themselves were engraved with the name of the recipient or any other identifying mark, which could potentially tie it to an individual. Therefore, proving that a specific Knight’s Cross belonged to a certain soldier is truly a daunting task. Obviously, when the original document which names the recipient is present with the Knight’s Cross, the value increases by hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars. Otherwise, a dealer’s only options for determining a value are the condition of the piece and the maker’s mark.
Still, in the case of the Knight’s Cross, there is virtually no certainty that a particular award document relates to the specific medal. The purchaser must rely on instinct and the trustworthiness of the dealer.
NOTE: Under current U.S. law it is illegal to sell, buy or transfer a Medal of Honor.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ANTIQUE COLLECTORS and DEALERS