Each day I receive numerous emails from fellow collectors who have questions about pieces they might potentially buy. Is this German helmet authentic?... What should I look for when buying an Hitler Youth knife?... Why do some flags have markings while others do not?...
In this section, I am going to attempt to compile a list of answers and facts to some of these questions and more. I do not claim to be an expert in all areas of militaria but what I do know has taken me many years to learn and I would like to share that knowledge with other collectors. If there is one thing that I would suggest, it is to buy books, books and more books. You can never have enough references or guides. They are not the definitive answer on all things but they will prove to be invaluable in helping you decide on militaria purchases and will definitely save you money in the long run by helping you avoid fakes and forgeries.
How to authenticate cloth items?
Armbands, Patches and Flags used during the war should not glow under UV light. Most post war items usually will glow under UV light due to the threads and chemicals that we still use today. A good giveaway of a reproduction cloth item, look at the stitching. Original German items should have zigzag stitching. One more method I use in determining original cloth pieces, is by using the burn test. If there is loose thread, burn it. If it burns fast and there is no bad smell then its good. If it burns slow and has a plastic/nylon smell to it, then you know it is a modern reproduction.
What to look for when buying an Hitler Youth Knife?
Hitler Youth knifes are a great area to collect in. Like daggers and swords there is a variety of makers and examples that could keep one busy for years. If you come across a HJ knife and it has Germany stamped on the ricasso, this is a POST WAR export from Germany. All HJ knives have magnetic scabbards. If its not magnetic, its not authentic. All HJ knives should not have a "lip" at the throat of the scabbard. Reproductions today have these "lips" and they are a dead giveaway. An original scabbard also has a rivet towards the throat and if you look inside the scabbard, you should see a white cotton buffer pad. Most HJ knives have leather hangers on them, and they should look their age, however, I myself have had a very late war example with a plastic hanger. They do exist, but do your homework before buying one of them. Last but not least, HJ emblems on the handles should be springy, if there stiff as a nail, its a good chance it might be a reproduction or the emblem has been glued in or messed with in someway.
Early Examples: Transitional: Late War:
1: Have maker mark and logo 1: Maker mark & RZM 1:RZM marked only
2:Blut und Ehre Motto 2:Blut und Ehre Motto 2: NO MOTTO
Is this German helmet real?
German helmets are usually a cornerstone of ones militaria collection. That being said, the demand for them is high so fakes are everywhere. First I'll break down the different model types.
M35(Model 1935)- Rolled edge, double decals, separately riveted air vents
M40(Model 1940)-Rolled edge, single decal, stamped air vents
M42(Model 1942)-No rolled edge, single or no decal, stamped air vents.
When purchasing a German helmet, these are the things I look for. First and foremost i look at the overall age. If something is 60yrs old, especially a combat helmet. There should be imperfections to it although there are exceptions out there. Next I look at the liner, the leather should be dry and the liner rivets should be firmly in place and have that "untouched" look. The liner should be made of pig skin and be a brown or light tan color. Typically the liners turn brown from age. If the liner is a reddish brown color its is most likely a Norwegian reissue and fake example. If all these things are correct, I'll then look at the decal to see if its authentic. Placed right, correct size, etc.. Invest in a good loup as you will want to see "crazing" along the surface of the decal. This is a definite sign of age and usually an original decal. You will also want to look at the chinstrap. Are there any markings on the end and does it look like it has been added on post war. The helmet condition overall should be cohesive. Lastly, smell the helmet. Does it smell old and musty or does it smell like paint? Most collectors would agree that after years of experience, avoiding the fakes becomes easier. Sometimes however, opinions may vary on a particular example. There are 2 rules which I follow strictly in this hobby.
1. If its too good to be true, it usually is...If a M40 DD SS helmet is only $400, its 99% fake. Its a $10,000 helmet. Everybody has the internet and nobody is going to cut their sales down that low. Although there are pieces out there still "unfound", the majority of all the rare and one of a kind items have been found already. If you want original quality examples, buy from a collector,seller or dealer you trust. You will avoid a lot of sleepless nights this way.
2. If its not for me, its not for me...Rather it be an Iron Cross, German Helmet or a black wound badge, if there is something about the item that makes you question its authenticity, just walk away. I've come across many items over the years that I thought would be great to add to my collection. Something about it just didn't feel right, so I walked away. Later on, I found out it was an old reproduction. I saved myself a lot of money and misery. Sure I've passed on items that didn't feel right and later turned out to be good, but its better to be safe than sorry in this hobby.
M1 Helmets 101:
M1 helmets are iconic and very collectible. That being said, there is a lot of confusion out there as to original WWII used lids and post war helmets. Here are the main specifications of a WWII M1 Helmet. This is a general guideline as to what to look for, not an exhaustive breakdown on the subject.
1. The liner for a WWII M1 helmet is quite simple to spot. The suspension on the interior should be held together by a string, and the front should have an extra hole above the rivet. WWII liners have a distinct pattern on the interior, an alternating brown and black if you will. Most post war examples do not.
WWII Period Liner Post War Liner
2. M1 Helmet Shell Specifications. M1 helmets have a seam that runs around the edge of the helmet. If the two ends meet in the front, it is then a "Front Seam" and if they meet in the back it is a "Rear Seam". ALL front seam helmets were manufactured from 1943 and prior. Original WWII M1 helmets with rear seams were manufactured sometime in 43 to the end of the war. All Post war M1 helmets will have rear seams as well. So if you want to make sure your lid is original, and be on the safe side, Front seam is always the best choice. Moving onto the next point. Swivel and Fixed bails. The bails are the pieces to each side where the chinstraps hang from. Early on in the war they were "Fixed" and did not move, these proved to break easy when dropped so production switched to make them "Swivel". Front seam helmets were manufactured with fixed bails initially but if they were reissued, they would usually receive swivel bails. Thus, A M1 helmet with a correct and original liner, Front Seam with Fixed Bails is the most sought after example. The chinstraps on all WWII period M1's will be sewn on to themselves PERIOD. Anything but is post war. Lastly, the paint and texture on the helmet is a very important characteristic. During WWII, M1's were painted in an OD green and covered in a "Cork" texture. Sand, silica, etc is always post war. Vietnam, Korea, etc.. Just like anything else, the dye lots on helmets vary as well. Take the time to study up and you will be able to tell original lids from the post war variants. There are several books out there on the subject, I encourage you to check one out.
Original WWII M1 Helmet Post War M1 Helmet