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The little difference
The Prussian Military Merit Cross, the „Pour le Mérite“ for NCOs and enlisted men, was awarded until the first World War in form of a golden cross. With the beginning of the first World War the cross was made only from gilt silver – nevertheless the remaining 16 pieces from the better times have been awarded in the wars first days.

The popularity among collectors, especially as being a counterpart to the real Pour le Mérite, lead to a lot of fakes, that are flooding today’s markets. Besides poorly made caused pieces and easy coined examples made from cheap metals, there is one falsification that isn’t easy to be pointed out.

Looking at the Prussian military medal hierarchy a lower grade, the Military Honor Medal 1st class seams to be identical. No wonder. Since the are both coined from the same coining tools, they have to be identical. This seams to be a good invitation to gilt a Military Honor Medal and enhance its value, so the Military Merit Cross is higher valued.

Well, looking at the number of awarded Military Honor Medals 1st class in conjunction with the number of awarded Military Merit Crosses this doesn’t make sense.

Since institution of the Military Merit Cross in February 27, 1864 the following award numbers could be proofed:

Year awarded number
1866 16
1878/79 17
to Russian NCOs during the Russian-Turkish War 1877/78
1902 4
to Russians in China
1895-1906 5
during the Colonial Wars
1914-18 1770

Therefore the Military Honor Medal 1st class (917 awarded pieces) is at least twice as rare then the Military Merit Cross, its silver gilt “twin brother”. There is still a number of gilt Military Honor Medals 1st class on the market.

But how is it possible to figure the difference between this identical pieces out?

Luckily the Prussian “Punzierungsgesetz” (punch mark law) regulated, that all silver gilt pieces had to be marked with a silver content mark. This is the “938” mark, mostly combined with a makers mark (“W” or “FR”), you can’t find on a Military Honor Medal 1st class.

Below the decoration made by J. Wagner has the "W" and "938" marks punched into the lower cross arm:

I also like to point out that the tooling for the Military Merit Cross broke during the course of the 1st World War. Therefore all crosses show a flawed "T" in Verdienst. The damage worsens also gradually over time.

Here an example awarded February 15, 1918, to Johannes Gewald. One of the very few ever awarded to somebody serving the war on a submarine:


© A. Schulze Ising, XII/99

© 2005