If you're new to collecting, the iconic Iron Cross 2nd Class is a very good entry-level Order to begin with. There were over 5 million of these medals issued during The Great War and, once hooked, you can spend a considerable amount of time building up a collection of ones made by different makers and in some cases, constructed of a silver suspension ring as well as silver plating around the iron core. This guide will give you a description of the Order, how to be sure that the one you have is genuine, pricing and finally, a list of the different maker's marks.
The Iron Cross was first instituted in 1813 by King Frederick William I of Prussia when war was declared against Napoleonic France. It then became traditional for the medal to be re-instituted for major conflicts, and so was awarded a further 3 times - 1870 by William I - 1914 by William II and finally 1939 by Adolf Hitler. The reverse of the Cross - apart from the WWII version - will always bear the year that the Order was first created - 1813 - this is imprinted on the bottom arm. The central patina will be painted black and in the centre will be an oak leaf, surmounted by 'FW' for Frederick William, as well as the Prussian Crown. The obverse, or front of the medal, will again be painted black. The bottom arm will bear the year that the current Order was re-instituted - in this case 1914 - and the centre will bear the initial of the presiding monarch. For 1914 it will be 'W' for William II. Finally, the top arm will also bear the Prussian Crown which, by this time, was also the German Imperial Crown.
It is quite a simple process to ensure that the Iron Cross is authentic. It is a three-part construction with the central metal being - as the name of the Order implies - made of iron. Iron is a very strong and durable metal and has to be heated to extremely high temperatures to forge and shape, so it would not be profitable for copies of this award to be made using the original process or materials. Therefore, to test the authenticity of the medal simply apply a magnet to the centre of the blackened cross and it should clamp tightly to it. If the magnet does not react, then you don't have an original item. It's as simple as that. The iron core is then surrounded by a silver-coloured beading which in turn is surrounded by a silver-coloured plate - this is what makes up the three-part construction in addition to the iron core. In some cases the latter two metals will actually be made of silver. You can easily ascertain that this is the case by the brilliance of the finish. Some of the maker's mark stamps will also have the silver content imprinted on the suspension ring also, but not often. You may find that some of the medals you encounter 'rattle', this is because the iron centre has loosened within the frame. It is quite common, and doesn't mean that you have a poorly made copy. Indeed, a copied medal will only ever be made of one piece of metal that has been taken from a mold, will feel much lighter than the original, and you will probably see a joining seam around its circumference.
Finally, if you've been told the ribbon on your medal is an original, or if you just want to test the authenticity of it, there is another simple method you can apply. Modern replacement ribbons will invariably be made or consist of a synthetic fabric, whereas the original ones will be made solely of natural fibers. To see if it is an original, apply the ribbon to what is referred to as the 'black light test'. This involves nothing more than holding the ribbon underneath a UV light. If it is modern, the synthetic fibers will shine brightly. If it is original, it will be dull and you will probably see darker blotches or spots appear where it has worn or stained and which was not visible to the naked eye.
A; AP; AWS; B; BD; BD800; C; CD; CD800; CR; D; D&S; DO; E; ED; EW; F; FO; FR; Fr; FW; D.R.G.M; G; GD; HBG; HB; HBG.800; HBO; I; IVI; IW; J; JWS; K; K800; KAW; KAG; KMST; KO; K; KC; KM; KM800; KO800; L; LM; LV; LV26; LV11; LW; M; M+; +M+; +M+O+; MEH; MFH; MM; N; 0; OSM; P; PH; Pr; PS; PS800; R; RSCH; RW; S; S-W; SW950; T; U; V; Y; W; We; Wa; Wien; Wilm; Wilm800; WMS; WuS; WS; +; Z and finally - ZS! Please note, it is not uncommon for the suspension rings to be blank. It does not mean you have a copy, so refer to the process above to test the authenticity.
As with most auctions, it's difficult to say how much you should expect to pay for an Iron Cross. As the maker's mark list above shows, there are many, and there are many people who collect the different ones and so will pay higher than average prices. However, as a general rule, they sell anywhere for between 35 to 45 pounds. The silver or ('silber' in German) can go for up to 70 pounds. Having an original issue ribbon doesn't really affect the difference in price too much. Where you can expect to pay more is for the extremely collectible Iron Cross medals that come with either the certificate of issue ('Urkunde'), the box of issue ('Etui') or both. These can increase the price up towards 200 pounds!
The Iron Cross Order is the tip of a magnificent and fascinating iceberg of World War One German awards. There were numerous Kingdoms, Duchies and Principalities that existed within the German Empire. Each had their own awards in addition to the Iron Cross, some of which are extremely beautiful and highly collectible. However, they were also made in far fewer numbers and so ascertaining their authenticity is much harder to do. However, should you wish to expand your collection into these areas here is a list of some of the 'Little German' states and equivalent orders: Ernst Augustus 'EA' Mecklenburg Cross; King Ludwig II Bavarian Merit Cross; Freiderick Augustus 'FA' Oldenburg Cross; also Bravery Awards for the Dukedom of Baden; Wurttemburg; Hannover and Brunswick to name but a few.