Your Guide to Buying World War I Ribbons on eBay

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Your Guide to Buying World War I Ribbons on eBay

Alongside medals, ribbons are the most collectable pieces of World War I memorabilia. They were used to display branch insignia and rank, this means that war veterans or close relatives usually own them. Those worn in combat environments are hard to come by, in part due to the fact that they are both limited in numbers and of high sentimental value.

Some service ribbons were issued after the close of World War I and thus were never worn in battle. These were created exclusively for dress uniforms and are easier to find in original condition. Collecting World War I ribbons has become a hobby for war enthusiasts and recreationalists. eBay has become a great resource for those looking for war memorabilia, so it is no surprise that they have a wide range of World War I ribbons for sale.

How World War I Ribbons are made

Service ribbons are constructed out of woven fabric. They are made out of silk when produced individually and rayon when mass-produced. The bar used to hold the center of the ribbon together is made of standardised grey zinc and in rare instances polished brass. The bar is crimped into a U shape to add to the ribbons design.

Often the bar would be stamped from a metal sheet and is important in keeping the ribbon and medal together. Using a simple pin and catch mechanism they can be affixed to any uniform. If shoppers come across a silk ribbon with a brass pin it is a key indication that the ribbon was issued after the war.

Ribbon Alterations

  • Service medals (with the exception of the Purple Heart) were awarded after the war and weren’t issued at the same rate as ribbons that represent rank. In some instances they would have to be requested in order to be obtained.
  • It was custom to leave medal ribbons in their original factory issue state, as traditionalists believed they looked better that way. However over time ribbons would get dirty and some would take it upon themselves to install a plastic covering. At the time this seemed like a smart idea however they were unaware that it would turn the material yellow.
  • The plastic itself was also far from stable as it would eventually crack and break apart. These types of ribbons are a regularly found on eBay and can be restored under the right circumstances.
  • As the process of using plastic and ribbons together garnered notoriety companies such as Wolf-Brown offered their services to those issuing medals.
  • They attempted to make a more reliable version of the plastic and fabric hybrid by fashioning a ribbon that was molded between clear plastic. This idea was a success and would help save on the costs of machine created metal parts.
  • Ribbons are made of material that over time wears so when searching eBay look to see if they have been protected by plastic.

Ribbons by Country

Ribbons change from country to country with governments having varying rules as to what ribbons can be worn in certain circumstances. Each country has their own official document that contains such information. This document should help detail these matters and is known as either “the order of wearing” or “the order of precedence”.

In some countries, ribbons come accompanied with a form of authentication document. The following countries issued ribbons either during or after World War I:

  • British Empire
  • United States
  • Russia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • French Republic
  • Liberia
  • Siam
  • Greece

Collectors may choose to buy ribbons from set countries or they may be open to collecting from all countries that issued them during World War I. When buying ribbons from eBay always be sure to see if a ribbon comes with accompanying documents or a certificate of authenticity.

Ribbon Damage

Ribbons from World War I are like almost any other form of material from the early 20th century. They are highly susceptible to damage and depending on which country you acquire ribbons from some may be more damaged than others. When buying World War I ribbons, be sure to look out for the following:

  • Rips
  • Tears
  • Breaks
  • Dents
  • Spring Weakening

The above criteria seems simple but most would not believe the number of buyers who purchase World War I ribbons without factoring in such information. Ask sellers to send you close up photos of ribbons including side, front and back shots. This will give shoppers the full perspective and allow them to spot any blemishes that may not have been immediately visible.

Dress Display

Once a buyer has acquired the World War I ribbons they want, a form of display is required. Orders of wearing define how they should be worn when it comes to military dress.

Many countries maintain strict standards of practice when it comes to ribbons and medals. Some even enforce that serving members of the military wear them at all times whilst other strictly prohibit this.

For the sake of authenticity, those who recreate World War I battles should learn how set ribbons should be worn. The common ways to wear a World War I ribbon include:

  • Mini Ribbons - Designed to be worn with military dinner dress.
  • Full Ribbons – For use when soldiers are on parade.
  • Rank Ribbons – Usually worn with combat or work dress (country dependent).

The above regulations are similar to the way rank insignia works, as it indicates how other personnel should greet a member of the military. They are to be worn on the left side of the chest in row format.

In some instances, family members wear medals on behalf of a deceased relative so if shoppers are buying ribbons for such circumstances, be aware of the rank you are after. Those ribbons that are not addressed in the order of wear are worn on the right side of the chest.

Case Display

For those not in the military (or not into battle recreation) and simply collect World War I ribbons will need an alternative way to display their collection. The most common forms of stationary displays include:

  • Mounting – This joins all ribbons together on one single bar meaning that they can be hung on a wall.
  • Framing – The best way to ensure longevity of ribbons as they are encased in a traditional picture frame with glass.
  • Display Boxes – For those who wish to store their ribbons in a portable container. They come in either carved wood or metal and are built for travel and long-term storage.

Stationary storage is an important thing to consider when buying World War I ribbons if you do not plan on wearing them. Shoppers will find a variety of storage options on eBay both used and new.

How to Buy World War I Ribbons on eBay

World War I ribbons are a unique item to collect because of their historical significance. They capture the courage of allied troops and represent a period of time that was turbulent in world history. Finding the right ribbon is a simple process when using eBay as a resource.

  • In order to browse related auctions select the collectables option from the left of the page.
  • From there select militaria, World War I and finally medals/ribbons.
  • If you have a specific ribbon in mind use the search bar at the top of the page, use advanced search to narrow the results down further.

eBay Shops

eBay shops are a great place to start if you are just browsing for war memorabilia. In order to find an eBay shop, use the eBay shops link at the bottom of the home page. When buying items from eBay, especially delicate items such as ribbons, be careful to pay attention to seller feedback ratings.


World War I ribbons are antiques and thus can be quite tricky to post. Sellers will often ask buyers to purchase an insured delivery service. This is because when an item goes missing or is damaged in transit financial cover is required. If this is something that a seller advises it is best to take such advice on board.

Making a Purchase

To buy an item, shoppers will have to do one of the following:

  • Place a Bid
  • Make a Best Offer
  • Buy it Now

When you’ve successfully won an auction, complete the transaction through PayPal. Doing so means the transaction is covered by their buyer protection program.


It is impossible to understate the importance of World War I ribbons and what they represent. They are symbols of public recognition and awards of bravery in times of trouble. They distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary and their rare nature has made them highly sought after.

Originally only available to those who fought at the time, they have since filtered down for auctions and general sale. This means that those interested in the field have the chance to own a piece of world history. Using this guide (along with eBay’s vast variety of search options) will help those looking for World War I ribbons find exactly what it is they are after.

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