1. Never purchase any item from a
dealer who does not offer a 100% money back guarantee.
There may be a limit on your return time. Nevertheless, any dealer not
willing to back up his or her merchandise with a refund of purchase
price does not have real confidence in what they are selling.
2. You should study your intended
quarry for at least one year prior to purchase.
Okay, six months. Impulse buying or striking when you think an item is
a good deal is when most collectors make a mistake they will seriously
3. You are buying an item, not a story.
Once you have educated yourself with reference materials and real-world
handling of original pieces, a story becomes secondary to your personal
examination and knowledge about a military decoration.
4. Buy rarity and quality. Have the
patience to wait for your intended purchase.
Buy a mint-condition example of a common award or hunt until you find
that rare gem, taking pains to pay a little more for examples in better
condition. Your collection will then reflect your true desires and not
a patchwork of common pieces you'll soon want to unload.
5. Seek out a mentor.
So often collectors ask so-called "experts" question after question
without completely absorbing the material or the reasons for the
answers. Find someone you respect and trust, take time to contact them,
and—most importantly—find answers from your own research. If you can
tell an "expert" something they do not know you are taking the first
step toward becoming one yourself—but never admit it. Those that do
typically act like they know more than they actually do.
6. Compare sources and learn the
tongue of your study.
If you only take the time to learn from sources written in English, you
are missing a wealth of information and comparison of data
opportunities. Learn the basics of German, for example, and you will be
able to use one of many fabulous military libraries in central Europe
that few English speakers ever visit. Imagine what wonderful history
and discoveries await.
7. Understand manufacturing processes
What is the difference between die-forging and die-stamping? What do
you look for in a casting? Many fakes are cast because the heavy
equipment used to make the originals is just too expensive. Know the
difference by knowing the process.
8. Study history.
This may not seem expressly relevant until you realize the kaiser of
Germany switched his country's highest awards from a gold standard to
silver gilt at the end of 1916. Now that Pour le Mérite you so
desperately wanted means more in gold as you'll know it was an actual
wartime presentation piece.
9. Build a complete reference library.
Most of the criteria already listed will find they are guided by your
direct investment in personal knowledge. Someone once said, "Knowledge
is power." Enough said.
10. Create a portable tool set,
including a magnet, 10x & 20x power loupes, a jeweler's weighing
scale and a camera.
Record notes of what you see and—this may be the most important—study
known fake decorations. Download images from auction houses and
websites for personal use. Keep a running catalog of what you have
seen. Become what you've always wanted to be: a serious collector.