German Military Memorabilia
German Military Memorabilia is comprised of collectible items from the history of the German armed forces.
Collectors usually focus on one of these particular genres when collecting German militaria, or concentrate on a particular era of military history.
Collectors amass this memorabilia at auctions, antique shows, flea markets, in military surplus stores, and via inheritance. A huge number of collectors travel to old battle grounds and army camps, and hunt around for discarded or buried items with metal detectors and excavations etc.
Notable events in German Military history
The military history of Germany officially begins in 1871, with the creation of Germany as a nation state.
However, the militaria of Germany could be said to include items from the military history of German speaking people prior to this, or of military activity in the area that is now Germany, perhaps going as far back as ancient Germanic tribes that warred against the Romans. It is the prerogative of the discerning collector to define what constitutes Germany military memorabilia.
The Prussian Army came into their own during the reign of Frederick William I (1713-40) following their part in the War of the Spanish Succession. The army was expanded to 80,000 men, 4% of the total population.
The Napoleonic era created new German-speaking states that would eventually form modern Germany, despite the fact that the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire remained outside Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine. King Frederick William III of Prussia viewed the Confederation of the Rhine as a threat to Prussian interests, and allied against Napoleon.
Uniting Germany. By 1815, there were 39 separate German-speaking states loosely joined under the leadership of Prussia and Austria, in the German Confederation. In 1863, the wars of unification began, Otto von Bismarck, the prime minister of Prussia, aiming to make Prussia the ruler of all of Northern Germany. This led to German civil war, the Austro-Prussian War. Bismarck then provoked a war with France to unify the German people, and the Germans indeed united in a mass conscript army of 1.2 million men. The war was followed by the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871, a powerful German nation-state, and Germany in possession of the most powerful military in Europe – The Imperial German Army, under the direct control of the Kaiser.
World War I was a direct result of this, as Germany built itself up a colonial empire and economy to rival Britain’s. Germany attacked France and planned to then move onto Russia. Britain came to the support of France and years of trench warfare followed. Such a large scale event was utterly unprecedented, and produced a vast amount of militaria.
World War II saw Germany a central focus of the world. Military memorabilia from the Third Reich that led up to the war, and the war itself, is the most popular area of German militaria, and one of the most popular and valuable areas of all militaria, despite the controversy surrounding Nazi collectibles. For some, ‘German militaria’ is synonymous with World War II. Regardless, it was a time of immense historical significance, the sheer scale of the conflict resulting in an great amount of militaria and related items, such as propaganda. Technological advancements during the interwar years in weaponry, logistical support, communications and intelligence, medicine and industry, meant that this war was fought very differently to the last, and a whole different array of collectibles produced.
One area of collectibles particular to World War II are those connected with codebreaking and military intelligence. The Germans employed complex ciphering machines such as the Enigma machine, the most complex encoding device ever created at the time. These enigma encoding machines and other connected items are hugely collectible.
Types of German Military Memorabilia
Edged Weapons have been in use throughout Germany’s military history. From imperial Prussian Officers swords and World War swords, to daggers presented to the Hitler Youth, these items generally have an interesting history that entices collectors. The Third Reich produced some extremely interesting edged weapons, with troops possessing a dagger or sword at all times. These are of high quality and design and are rather rare, so very valuable.
The German Dreyse Needle Gun was the first mass produced needle gun in 1836. This gun was widely influential on firearms worldwide. The best known German guns may be Mauser firearms. These were produced by German manufacturer Mauser between the 1870s and 1990s. Their self-loading pistols are recognisable items, and were influential on gun design worldwide, and their Maschinengewehr (machine guns) were employed during World War II. Astra, Luger and Walther were also popular pistols used by Germany during World War II, as well as Karabiner rifles and Beretta submachine guns.
Documents and ephemera
Flags are among the most sought-after and expensive of collectibles. Flags carried at particularly noteworthy events attract lots of interest from collectors. From vast naval flags to personal flags, handmade by soldier’s families and carried into battle, these items represent an ideology of the past, everything that fight stood for and was trying to achieve.
Uniforms and Headgear
Uniforms are popular areas of collectibles. A complete uniform is a collecting project, as often only pieces can be found. These can include coats, berets, shoes, helmets, jackets, caps, shirts, trousers, and accoutrements. This area is suffused with replicas, so it often takes some detective work to ascertain if an item is genuine. Some people, rather than collect whole uniforms, focus on one area, for example, badges and patches, belt buckles, or buttons. Military badges of the Third Reich were widespread, and this is a popular area of German militaria. The uniforms of the Third Reich were of a high quality, every branch of the military with their own design and style. The German armed forces as well as the civilian organisations during World War II used armbands and cloth insignia to denote rank and membership.
There are a number of Germany military medals. Prior to 1871, these related to the various Kingdoms of Germany: Prussia, Bavaria, Hanover etc, and were not uniform. In 1939, Hitler re-established the Prussian Order of the Iron Cross as a German decoration, issuing it in various grades, with an engraved swastika. These are highly collectible.
Guide for collectors
Be wary of replicas in this area of collectibles. These may have been produced for innocent purposes like theatre, film, or re-enactments, but are often passed off as the real thing. It is worth buying a good reference work for your particular area of collectibles.
German militaria is more valuable when connected with a significant historical figure, especially with regards to the Second World War.
- Third Reich Army Pioneer Regiment Standard, sold for $26,000 at Mohawk Arms in November 2010.
- A night pistol from Adolf Hitler’s personal guard, with tracer ammunition and flashlight, sold for $160,000 at a Rock Island Auction in April 2012.
- A German Enigma cipher machine sold for £133,250 ($208,137) at Christie’s in September 2011.