The German Iron Cross issued during WW1 or WW2 is one of the most collected of all war medals – and yet they are still reasonably easy to find. We will cover the more expensive and rarer variants in a future article but for now here are the two types that are most commonly available.
The Iron Cross was awarded to members of the German armed forces during WW1 and WW2.
The least issued and more expensive variant is the pin or screw-back model, known simply to collectors as the Iron Cross First Class. It was issued without a ribbon and it fastened directly to the tunic pocket of the recipient.
The second and more widely issued model is the Iron Cross Second Class and that was worn hanging by a loop from a ribbon above the pocket, in the same way that medals are conventionally worn today. The ribbon worn on the 2nd Class medals during WW1 was black-white-black and then the ribbon was re-coloured black-white-red to reflect the new colours representing Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
Both types were issued during WW1 and then restored to prominence by Adolf Hitler during WW2. They were known in Germany as the “Eisernes Kreuz” I & II. Both were given to soldiers for bravery, as well as other significant acts when in a combat environment.
Both grades of Iron Cross were manufactured by a number of different companies. Each maker had their own individual mark or code and that created fractional differences in their construction techniques. Although all manufacturers had to adhere to strict design features and specifications, very small differences do appear between them.
Over time these differences, as well as maker’s codes, have generated a buoyant collecting field. Not least because these medals are easy to display and small enough to not take up much room. They have continued to increase in value in recent years. So let’s look at some examples of WW1 / WW2 German Iron Crosses for sale in a little more detail.
A 1914-dated Imperial German Army Iron Cross Second Class
This example is in good condition and has some age patina to the edge and light wear to the blacked centre. Typically these crosses are manufactured in 3 pieces with the front and back “frame” holding the inner iron centre tightly in place.
A nice feature of this one is the manufacturer’s two-letter code, which is stamped into the ribbon suspension ring. These marks are researchable. Generally they are an abbreviation of the maker’s initials, or they could choose to use a number and letter to represent their company. Each different manufacturer was free to stamp their marks on the edge of the medal, but more commonly they would mark the hanging ring, like this example. Approximately 4.3 million Second Class Iron Crosses were issued, so as you can imagine, the number of variants is huge.
This example is for sale from The Ruptured Duck in the USA. $150.
WW2 German Army Iron Cross 2nd Class with Ribbon and Marked Ring
The EKII ribbon issued during both wars could be indicated on a combat uniform by placing a strip of the ribbon through the second button hole down from the neck.
During more formal dress occasions the ribbon and medal below it would be worn on the chest in the conventional way. The medal could be worn either on its own – or as part of a larger group and mounted onto a pin-on bar. This would be the case if the wearer had been awarded other medals.
This clean example is available from Malcolm Wagner Militaria in the UK. The manufacturer’s marking, “25”, is stamped on the ribbon suspension ring. It is priced at £145.
WW2 Iron Cross Second Class with its Ribbon
This is another nice example of the same medal, and this one comes with an original photograph/postcard of a soldier in a Pioneer dress uniform proudly displaying the cross being worn. The medal and photo are available from IMCS Militaria in Holland. Priced at €155.
WW2 Iron Cross First Class
The First Class medal is the more difficult one to find and as only around 300,000 were issued, they have continued to see a steady increase in value. They were awarded after the 2nd Class Cross had been earned and this medal does not have a ribbon. It was designed to be displayed directly on the tunic by mounting it in the centre of the left upper pocket.
Not all First Class Iron Crosses were flat. This WW2 example is slightly convex in shape and it was manufactured so that it stood proud when mounted onto a uniform. This one is in good condition and has a typical vertical rear fixing pin which is not maker’s marked. It is available from M&T Militaria in the UK. £350.
Cased Iron Cross First Class
Another thing that adds value to a medal is when it comes with the box or paper envelope that it was issued in. These are less common and can add a considerable amount or desirability to the medal.
Shown here is an Iron Cross First Class in its original box. The rear fixing pin is maker marked L/52 which is attributed to C.F. Zimmermann of Pforzheim. On the back the cross still has much of its original silver frosting finish and this is no doubt due to it having been protected by the box. The vendor states that this particular cross was one of a number of souvenirs brought home to the UK at the end of the war by a member of the Parachute Regiment.
This nice original cross is for sale from World Military Collectables in the UK. £345.
Ribbed Screw Back WW2 Iron Cross First Class
The First Class Iron Cross was fixed either via a pin bar or a screw back fastener though the pocket front, depending on the reference of the maker. Once again, either types of fastener could carry the manufacturer’s own code but they are often found with no maker’s code at all.
Another variation is the type of rear “screw back” plate. This example available from Regimentals in the UK shows the screw back fastener. It has a ribbed rear fixing plate, which is rarer than the more common plain version. It is priced at £325.
Plain Screw Back WW2 Iron Cross First Class
I mentioned the plain version of the fixing plate when discussing the previous item, and this is a fine example of that. The smooth rear fixing plate is one the more common variations. It shows signs of combat wear so it would look stunning on a combat uniform. It is for sale from The Collector’s Guild in the USA. $399.
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