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Colonel J's - Pickelhaube and Imperial German Musings
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As of 7 Nov. 2007

 

1. Are the front holes on all Prussian Helmets the same distance apart? For instance if I got a junk Prussian line shell how hard is it to affix lets say an Oldenburg plate to it?
2. What is up with double holes? Are they all bad and mean a "parts helmet?"
3. What is up with the zinc gray metal fixtures on an otherwise brass officer fixture?
4. What is the difference between Bavarian Officer Cavalry, Artillery and Infantry helmets?
5. Why do some helmets have "green" stuff around the edges of the brass parts?
6. I got this neat officer's cockade from Hamburg. Why don't I just pop off the Prussian Officer's cockade on this Prussian Line Officer's helmet and I can make it a 162nd helmet?
7. What is a Fähnrich and why do I care?
8.  What should I look for if I'm buying a new helmet?
9.  I'm new and am awed by some of the knowledgeable old collectors.  How should I approach the learning?
10. What is the worst thing you think you have done and have had done to you in collecting?
11. What is a Zahlmeister?
12. Are all reserve forces easy to understand?
13. How can you spot a fake cockade?
14. What is a garniture mark? 
15. Do all screw in spikes and trichters have matching threads.
16. What is a serrated cockade?
17. Can you tell an NCO helmet from the pearlring?
18.Repro wappen often have little detail on the back--explain.

 

Faking a helmet or repairing one with proper parts.  Call it what you want. Improving the helmet but keeping it in its original purpose is a great idea.  Some folks try to switch parts to make the helmet more valuable. (No say it isn't so Joe!)  I have had a MAX Certified Dealer look me in the eye and tell me he didn't know that one of his helmets was an obvious ... Doctor job ...   I do not repair or restore helmets. If you want to have it done look elsewhere. My fingers do not work.  So forget it.  I love to kibitz though!

I admit up front to being wrong and will take no responsibility if you ruin your helmet by following any ideas I have. There are many experts.  Ask one of them. I'm trying to share data but it is your helmet. I do little reworking of my own helmets.  I regularly buy those helmets that need little attention.  Experts remind me of life.  After 9-11 the once unpopular world of "Homeland Security" became a major cash cow and job source. Experts came out of the woodwork.  One of the resumes I reviewed was for an individual who allegedly had run one of the homeland security projects I was responsible for.  The resume detailed this person's actions and relationship with higher leadership ... Only problem was I had never heard of him.

Ok so here are some random thoughts.  I'll organize later maybe. Right now it is like grazing.  Q&A plus random musings.  

 

Q.   Are the front holes on all Prussian Helmets the same distance apart? For instance if I got a junk Prussian line shell how hard is it to affix lets say an Oldenburg plate to it?

 A. No not all holes are the same (one size does not fit all) however, it might match or you could punch additional holes (:-() but in order to pull it off there would have to be no markings in the helmet ie. Regt and Army Corps. No collector worth his salt would buy it without checking these out first. Eventually it will have to be sold down the line. You are better to get a shell that has the correct markings and then look for a plate that is correct. You should not change these helmets but repair them to their correct form for posterity. Many OR shells had depot marks. Sometimes multiple ones. If you are going to collect enlisted helmets you absolutely must understand these marks, and how to read them. Officer helmets seem to have been seldom marked by unit.

 The holes on Prussian helmets are not the same distance due to the different manufacturers and the different sizes of helmets being made. Some M15 plates are smaller ie. a shorter distance between crown and tail probably to save metal. Older wappen are taller because the crown of the helmet was higher at the front than the M95 and M15 helmets. All of these factors influence the spacing of the grommets and the loops on the back. There are two spacing theories: 1. what they did was go by size of helmet. For instance, certain wappen would probably would fit sizes 54 to 56cm. 2. Each wappen maker had their own distance. I side with theory #2 however, this is a theory that might well be wrong.  Do not think that any plate will fit any helmet.  One size does not fit all.  Julius Jensen apparently made helmets for both XIV and XV Corps so you could find Baden and Prussians with the same distanced grommets.

I actually saw a collector buy a scrap Uhlan helmet and a scrap M15 eagle and they matched first time!  A helmet was restored at a fraction of the price.  I would never have that kind of luck.

 

 Q. What is up with double holes? Are they all bad and mean a "parts helmet?"

 A. Perhaps THE question.  Yes Dorothy there were good double holes. Helmet plates were changed especially as folks went from active to reserve duty normally as a one-year volunteer. BUT, it also could be an indication of a recent plate change.  Quick and easy test ... There is no quick and easy test. Officer helmet plates changed as they changed regiments.  As a helmet could cost 30+ marks would you spend it or just get a new plate.  The odds of the posts fitting the existing holes? OR helmets could also be asigned to different regiments over their life. this is predominately true when new units were created for army expansion. Studying that timing is essential to understanding your helmet. Unit markings must match the wappen. It is best accepted on reserve officer helmets where time as a OYV might explain the holes. Poor education on the part of most collectors make all double holes "bad."

 

 Q. What is up with the zinc colored gray metal fixtures on an otherwise brass officer fixture?

 A. It alright and normal.  Apparently in mid-war they covered some parts with a brass colored covering.  So what was brass pre war became steel with a thin gold wash. This took several forms.  For some reason I do not understand (gilt did not adhere to zinc) some of these brass colorings have disappeared.  Some you see "rubbing off". Others have vaporized.  Completely gone. I understand the desire to save brass and use steel in Germany. I had a nice officers helmet that had two links in the chin scales that were steel.  Rest brass.  I have another helmet where the spike base is zinc but spike top is brass. The front brim on some helmets are zinc but the brads brass. I have seen such a mix helmet go for a small fortune in Germany.  Apparently these can be more rare than a run of the mill brass model.  Go figure. Some of the later chin scales are real thin. Apparently attempts to fire gild zinc proved to be a poor idea and is responsible for much of the vaporization

One author in the old Kaiserzeit magazine claimed that these fixtures were all steel and that the zinc fittings were post war veterans copies made between 1918-1933.  Unfortunately the article gave no sources or other evidence. You can tell the difference between steel and zinc as steel is magnetic.  I have no idea if this guy is right or how to tell the differences between post war copies and others but I doubt if he is correct at all. 

 

 Q. What is the difference between Bavarian Officer Cavalry, Artillery and Infantry helmets?

 A. That is a very interesting question.  The key difference is not in the branch the difference is in mounted troops and foot troops. mounted troops had bigger Wappen. In order to provide unity for the manufacture of helmets after 1914 all Bavarian officers carried rounded chin scales.  Prior to that time infantry and foot artillery units carried flat chin scales. "The Kriegsministerium-Verordnungsblatt Nr. 17 of the 20th of February 1914 introduced convex scales for officers of foot troops. The flat scales were permitted to be worn until the 1st of January 1916."
The Johannssen book shows an erstaz helmet with flat chin scales on page 62.

 Q. Why do some helmets have "green" stuff around the edges of the brass parts?

 A. BRASSO!!!!!! Yuck. Having spent my youth polishing military brass with this concoction, I have seen the green- brass oxidation.  Brasso can work on some brass fixtures but I would not put it on any helmet plate. Brasso is a destructive polish.  It eats the gilding that the Germans used. Do not use brasso on any helmet plate. Get some Haggerty's Silver Foam. I believe most jewelers carry it or even Wal-Mart. This comes in a white plastic jar. The stuff itself is a brown paste that you apply with a soft tooth brush and some H2O. The whole idea behind private purchase mercury fire gilding is that you didn't have to maintain it. Just brush it off.  Over the years many collectors have polished the gilding with a destructive polish.  If you remove officer plates that look dull you can often find a dazzling gilding behind the plate where it was not polished. 

Brasso can be useful. If you ever end up with one of those M15 Jäger zu Pferd or Cuirassier helmets with the steel shells, brasso and fine steel wool works great at taking off the surface rust that they usually have. Elbow grease is needed and time.   

Q. I got this neat officer's cockade from Hamburg. Why don't I just pop off the Prussian Officer's cockade on this Prussian Line Officer's helmet and I can make it a Hansiatic helmet? I can make a lot of $$ on paper and can sell it as a 162nd helmet. 

A. Yes you can. Lots of repro officer cockades running around.  You can buy a fake cockade, put it on a helmet designed for another regiment, sell it to your friends and make a couple dollars. While you are at it you can buy some Enron stock and sell it to folks. A couple years ago I saw a friend of mine buy such a helmet. Sad.  I will never buy from that seller. Soon you won't have to worry about selling to your friends. You won't have many. The real sad thing is when the buyer finds out he has a phony. I got took once on a helmet and it burned the lesson into me.  I bought it on Manions. No doubt I will get fooled again. The really sad thing is that in September October 03 I became aware of two such sales.  The officer one did not even have the prized cockade mounted properly, The OR one might have been good but had no depot marks for the regiment.  In cases of cockade only different helmets I would be seriously cautious especially as the cockades are tough to determine authenticity.  

 

Q. What is a Fähnrich and why do I care?

A. So many of the mistakes with Pickelhauben stem from a misunderstanding of the rank system. Conventional wisdom often "lumps" Imperial German soldiers into categories. Officer, Non-commissioned officer, Mannschaft ... and if it didn't fit One Year Volunteer (OYV). Actually many were right in the OYV call but there are other ranks .... Not all have equivalents in the US Army .... (say it ain't so Joe) So the discovery of a OYV helmet might instead belong to a different rank.  Let's take a look at Fähnrich as that rank caused a huge controversy in a helmet I recently acquired. There is no US equivalent to any type of Fähnrich. However, the helmets are there. There are a LOT of different ranks . Fähnrich is like on officer aspirant or cadet. A wanna be.

This is a direct quote from D.S.V. Fosten's book pg 15. "Portapeefahnrich": Ranked senior to the longest serving Sergeant. After passing prescribed examination the Fähnrich became a degenfähnrich and then ranked senior to the wachtmeister.  Initially the Fähnrich wore the "unterofficer" distinctions with the officer's sword knot on the saber. As a degenfähnrich he wore the officer's sword and mutze and officers cockades on the helmet."

This gets real confusing and I recommend you to the articles tab. There is a long article there looking at OYVs, cadets, and Fähnrich.  So if you have a mix it could be a load of things.  While many of these are super rare they do not have the demand of an officer. 

 

Q. What should I look for if I'm buying a new helmet?

Quality and condition. Provenance. Buy fewer good than many poor or questionable items. No I haven't followed this advice all the time.  For goodness sake look at the dragoon OYV in my collection.  I wish I had started 30 years ago and had perfect items.  Today I will probably go for condition and quality. 

 

Q.  I'm new and am awed by some of the knowledgeable old collectors.  How should I approach the learning?

Senior collectors to a person love to share knowledge and info. Ask.  Just ask questions and you will get answers from even the most experienced. Now the caution is all of us are wrong from time to time but some will not admit it. No person can rule ex-cathedra on Pickelhaubes but some try. Some talk down to others and some laugh at new guys.  Hey we were all new once.  Learn to think critically and don't take anyone's word as gospel.  Well maybe Trawnik,  but he is so nice that he doesn't let his ego get in the way.  Don't worry about what others say or think -- you make up your mind.  I've gotten lots of emails saying this guy or that is no good or something else -- who has the inclination to gossip?  Just ask questions and question each thing yourself.  This is fun!

 

 Q. What is the worst thing you think you have done and have had done to you in collecting?

I failed to have purchased a helmet that I thought was too expensive. I offered too little and it was worth far more. Penny wise pound foolish so to speak. The worse thing that ever happened to me?  I got took big time in an early helmet buy. I didn't know better at the time. Thank goodness it was only $1500.

 

Q. What is a Zahlmeister?

One of a type of Beamte most folks think pay officer or finance officer right away. Actually these guys had a sort of S4 logistics function as well as pay.  I became involved in this one when a friend of mine scored a great Zahlmeister helmet off eBay while I was sleeping (really). He paid almost nothing. Zahlmeister were military officials known as Beamter as opposed to active soldiers. After 12 years of service. NCOs could apply for training as a Zahlmeister. After going through a probationary period as "Unterzahlmeister" they would be appointed as Zahlmeister. This was  an appointment as an official and not as a soldier, comparable in rank to a "Leutnant". They had their own style of Pickelhaube and most books ignore Beamte helmets. However, you see a lot of these type helmets offered for sale and seldom do they have accurate descriptions. They were ranked the comparable military ranks , their designation as Beamte being (in descending order) Stabs-/ Ober-/ Zahlmeister. Equivalent rank of captain would be as far as they could get, as the next senior career group for Beamter, the Höherer Dienst, started with the equivalent rank of major, but required a university degree. 

 

Q. Are all reserve forces easy to understand?

The reason all texts ignore this problem is because it is too hard. I do not know if anyone understands it. I would have thought that IR92 would sprout a reserve infantry regiment RIR92, and a Landwehr Regiment LIR92. Wrong! I think this might be the case in about a third of the regiments. There were reserve regiments associated with an active regiment of a different number. For instance a LIR78 photo shows them wearing the running horse plate of IR92. This seems to have happened as the Army Corps and the local Bezirkskomando ran the Landwehr and Landsturm units. I know of no list that shows which regiments in the reserve wore what helmet plates when. You can quickly see why the relative scarcity of reserve and Landwehr helmets becomes impossible to determine. You can also see why all references show the logical and orderly active army in 1914. The Landwehr and reserve were not standing units in peacetime. After mobilization the entire deal went out the door. You are now dealing with these designations as a subset:

Infanterie-Regiment
Ersatzbataillon
Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment
Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment
Ersatz-Infanterie-Regiment
Reserve-Ersatz-Infanterie-Regiment
Landwehr-Ersatz-Infanterie-Regiment
Landsturm-Infanterie-Bataillon
Landsturm-Infanterie-Regiment

 

Q. How do you spot a fake cockade?

Tough one.  Some are easy, sloppy paint jobs poor construction or base metal. The lightning rod is the red in the Reiches cockarde.  The real thing is more of an orange red and others are often called repro red.  With dirt, sun fading, and wear it is very hard to tell.  Experienced collectors often make mistakes.  Handling is far superior to photos but it is not a 100% pick.   You really have to check your gut on this one. Many collectors look for chips and cracking in the paint. Old can be chipped. Not all cockades do this and I am told you can get the same chipped cracked paint effect by baking them at low heat.

Q. What is a garniture mark?

Clothing depots marked issue items for condition from 1-5. Best condition was a 1.  This was supposedly applied to all helmets, clothing and equipment. As the item was turned in for reissue or repair it was re-graded and if needed a new mark applied increasing the number of roman numeral hash marks. If you see hash marks in the depot mark area of a helmet it is probably a garniture mark.  This was far from universally applied.  It was also discontinued at some point. 

Usually the regiment had to keep three sets of each article on stock. First set (erste Garnitur) got issued only for mobilization and for parade purposes and was recollected again after parade. Second set (zweite Garnitur) was the "better" service uniform and third set (dritte Garnitur) was the drill and exercise set. For spiked helmets there were only two sets usually. When soldiers were sent home after service the regiments had to discharge them with a complete uniform (no helmet but cap - Krätzchen) - which was certainly not erste Garnitur.

Usually the company commanders took pride in keeping a fourth set and a fifth set of uniforms in service. To save budget the soldiers had to spend a huge deal of their time with cleaning and mending clothes (Putz- und Flickstunde). You certainly may imagine how shabby a soldier wearing a fifth set (fünfte Garnitur) uniform looked. Getting worn out, dented, torn and mended, the uniform pieces moved down the line by first having a "I" stamped into it, after a couple of years that received a "II", later a "III" - fourth and fifth set pieces were not marked since they were unofficial. Soldiers were only allowed to walk out of the barracks in "zweiter Garnitur" - the guards had to check this.

 

Q. Do all screw in spikes and trichters have matching threads?

No not at all. In fact, matching the top to bottom threads can be almost an accident. You cannot take a spike from helmet one and just screw it into helmet #2.  It might fit but it might not. I think there are at least 3 different types of threads and then there is diameter of posts that differ.  This was true then. The DOV catalog states in 1913 that if you didn't buy the helmet from them and you want to add a trichter, you must give them the spike base to match the threads. 

Q. What are serrated cockades? 

Spiky points around the edges are serrated. No points but smooth round is non-serrated. Examples below.

Q. Can you tell an NCO helmet from the pearlring?

No. Everyone enlisted had them until 1895 (some exceptions) and then they were discontinued. Older helmets with pearl rings were still used but it had nothing to do with rank. It was decorative like the spike itself.  Officer spike bases had "pearl and dart" ring around the spike base. Each type pictured plus a unit with old pearl ring helmets in 1914.

 

Repro wappen often have little detail on the back--explain.

Wappen were stamped by banging two plates together. The front plate had the same amount of detail as the back. More modern plates are cast leaving a gritty side, air holes or lack of detail. The back of the wappen holds many keys. Always Always Always look.

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