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Discovering Medals & Militaria: Spotting Authenticity & Fakes

Discovering Medals & Militaria: Spotting Authenticity & Fakes
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Collecting war medals and military items is a fascinating journey through history, offering a tangible connection to the valour and sacrifices of soldiers across eras. Among these cherished items, the British war medal stands out, representing a significant part of military heritage. 

Enthusiasts and historians alike delve into the stories behind these military medals, seeking pieces that have been awarded for bravery, service, and exceptional achievements. The Imperial War Museum showcases an extensive array of such medals, serving as a testament to the rich military history, the personal stories and the sentimental value intertwined with these awards.

For many, the allure of medals and militaria goes beyond mere collection; it's about preserving and honouring the legacy of those who served. It's not uncommon to find these historical items tucked away in family heirlooms or among passed-down treasures.

As you navigate the world of medals and militaria, understanding the distinction between authentic pieces and fakes becomes crucial. The authenticity of medals awarded for outstanding bravery, service, and other medals can significantly impact their value and significance. Whether you're a seasoned collector or have recently discovered medals in your possession, it's essential to approach selling with knowledge and caution, ensuring that the legacy of these items is preserved for future generations.

Where You Might Have or Find Military Medals & Militaria to Sell

Antique medals and militaria, which connect us to our past, often lurk in unexpected places, waiting to be discovered. Many families unknowingly possess such treasures, handed down through generations.

In addition to family inheritance, forgotten collections frequently surface in drawers or attics, hidden away and untouched for years. These collections may encompass a wide array of items beyond medals, such as pins, ribbons, uniforms, hats, and helmets, each bearing witness to historical events and personal stories of valour.

Moreover, the hunt for gallantry medals and military items isn't confined to one's home. Charity shops, estate sales, and auctions can be goldmines for those looking to expand their medal collection and find a specific military medal. These venues often feature unique finds, from campaign medals awarded for specific service in the Second World War to various pieces of military regalia.

Whether inherited, found among forgotten belongings, or unearthed at a sale, each item offers a glimpse into the lives of those who served. As we preserve and cherish these artefacts, we honour the legacy of those who wore them, ensuring their stories endure for future generations.

War Medals Value: Rare and Valuable Medals to Look Out For

When exploring the realm of war medals, understanding their value and significance can transform a simple item into a cherished piece of history. Here are some rare and valuable medals to look out for, each with its unique story:

  • Victoria Cross: The pinnacle of military decorations in the British honours system, the Victoria Cross is awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previously, the British Empire.

  • Iron Cross: A military decoration in Germany, the Iron Cross was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars.

  • Purple Heart: An American military decoration, the Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military.

  • Waterloo Medal: Issued to soldiers of the British Army who participated in the Battle of Waterloo and the earlier battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras, the Waterloo Medal was the first campaign medal issued to all ranks for service in a specific campaign.

  • WWI & WWII Military Medals: Both World Wars saw the issuance of various medals to soldiers for bravery, service, and campaign participation. These include the British War Medal and Victory Medal for WWI, and the 1939-1945 Star, Africa Star, and Pacific Star among others for WWII.

  • Air Force Cross (AFC): This prestigious British military decoration is awarded to officers and, since 1993, other ranks of the Royal Air Force and other services, for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy."

  • George Cross (GC): The George Cross is the highest civil decoration in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, awarded for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger".

  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO): The DSO is a high military medal and decoration of the United Kingdom awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat.

  • Victory Medal: Also known as the Allied Victory Medal, this commemorative medal was issued to members of the Allied forces who served in the First World War.

How to Spot Authentic and Fake Military Medals

Whether you own a conspicuous gallantry cross left to you by a family member, you're collecting medals from the great war or you're just curious about medal grading terminology knowing how to spot authentic pieces and fake campaign medals is key. So many factors are at play here, let's take a closer look.

Signs of Authenticity

  • Precious Metals: Genuine war medals are often made from high-quality metals that age in a distinctive way. Look for hallmarks or marks indicating the metal's type, the metal's fineness such as silver or bronze, which can be a strong indicator of the medal's authenticity.

  • Clear Wear vs. Slight Wear: Authentic medals tend to show wear consistent with their age and use. Clear wear patterns, especially on older medals, indicate they were actually worn. However, be cautious of excessive wear, which might suggest deliberate ageing. Conversely, genuine medals that were kept as keepsakes rather than worn may only show little wear, preserving much of their original detail and finish.

  • Medal's Worth: Research the medal's worth and compare it with similar pieces. Authentic medals, especially those made from precious metals or awarded for significant achievements, tend to have a higher market value. If the price seems too good to be true, it may be a sign of a replica.

  • Detailed Inscriptions and Markings: Authentic medals often have inscriptions or engravings, such as the recipient's name, rank, or service number. These markings should be precise and consistent with the period's engraving style. Misaligned, shallow, or modern-looking inscriptions can indicate a lack of authenticity.

  • Correct Ribbon: The ribbon attached to the medal is another important factor. Genuine medals of historical interest tend to have ribbons that are accurate to the period and type of medal. Ribbons that look too new or are of incorrect colour patterns for the medal's era and type can be a red flag.

  • Documentation and Provenance: Authentic medals issued may come with documentation or provenance that can verify their history. This could include service records, award certificates, or provenance letters. Such documentation not only helps confirm authenticity but also adds to the medal's worth.

Characteristics of a counterfeit medal

Counterfeit medals pose a significant challenge for collectors, historians, and enthusiasts of military memorabilia. As the market for genuine military medals, especially highly sought ones like Victoria Crosses, continues to grow, so does the sophistication of fakes. Here's a list of characteristics to watch for that may indicate a counterfeit medal.

  • Inaccurate Details: One example of a telltale sign of a counterfeit is the presence of incorrect or inaccurately rendered details on the medal itself. This could range from the design elements to the inscriptions. Authentic medals, especially prestigious ones like Victoria Crosses, have very specific designs and inscriptions that are meticulously produced.

  • Incorrect Weight and Dimensions: Genuine military medals have specific weights and dimensions. Counterfeit medals may not adhere to these specifications, either being too light or too heavy, or their dimensions may be off. A war medal's physical characteristics are precisely defined, so deviations from these can be a red flag.

  • Poor Quality Material: While genuine medals are made from high-quality, often precious metals, counterfeit medals may be made from inferior materials that attempt to mimic the look but not the substance. The medal worth is significantly affected by the quality of the material, so discrepancies here are a clear indicator of a fake.

  • Flawed Engravings and Markings: Authentic medals feature precise, professionally done engravings and markings. Counterfeit pieces often exhibit flawed or amateurish engraving work. The quality of these engravings is crucial, especially for awards like Victoria Crosses and other military medals, which include detailed inscriptions.

  • Incorrect Ribbon: The ribbon attached to the medal is another area where counterfeiters often falter. Authentic medals are paired with specific ribbons that match in colour, pattern, and material. A mismatched or inaccurately reproduced ribbon can be a clear sign of a counterfeit medal.

  • Lack of Aging Consistency: Genuine medals, especially older ones, show ageing in a way that's consistent with their material and the period they're from. Counterfeits may try to artificially age the medal with surface marks to make it appear old, but this often results in an inconsistency that can be spotted by keen-eyed medal collectors.

  • Suspicious Provenance: Counterfeit medals often come with questionable histories or provenance. If the story behind the medal seems contrived or if documentation appears forged, it's worth conducting further investigation to prove provenance.

  • Unusual Pricing: If the price of a highly sought war medal seems too low, it may be too good to be true. The market value of genuine military medals, especially rarities like Victoria Crosses, reflects their historical significance and rarity, so anomalously low prices can indicate a counterfeit.

Other War Memorabilia: British Awards and More

Selling war memorabilia or collectables from your home can uncover hidden treasures with significant collector value. Unlike coins, which have a more straightforward market, items from the Great War or the Second World War can appeal deeply to serious collectors. These enthusiasts seek unique pieces that tell a story, from personal letters to equipment and uniforms, each piece providing a tangible connection to history. The rarity and condition of these items often dictate their value.

Whether it's a bayonet from the trenches of the Great War or a pilot's logbook from the Second World War, such memorabilia holds a special allure. By offering these pieces for sale, you tap into a community of collectors passionate about preserving history. You not only stand to gain financially but also contribute to the collective memory of significant historical events, ensuring they remain accessible to future generations.

Final Thoughts on Military Medals and War Memorabilia

Identifying fake medals and military items is crucial for preserving historical accuracy. Authentic medals exhibit specific characteristics: precise craftsmanship, correct weight, quality materials, and proper inscriptions.

If you possess old war medals or military memorabilia, why not consider their potential value? Vintage Cash Cow offers an excellent opportunity to convert these items into cash, while also contributing to the appreciation of historical artefacts. Don't let hidden treasures go unnoticed! Explore your collection and take the first step towards recognizing their worth.

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