|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 pay for.
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 and techniques.
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.