Original Imperial German WWI Prussian "Vaulted" Non-Magnetic Iron Cross First Class 1914 with Pinback - EKI
Original Item: Only One Available. Established by Frederick William in 1813 for gallantry in action, the decoration was revived several times for later conflicts. The bulk of the issues are divided into 1st and 2nd class versions, but a rare and superior 'Grand Cross' was also awarded for successful field commanders. During WW1 the lower decoration was freely awarded with 5½ million second class types issued. Originally, the Iron Cross was an award of the Kingdom of Prussia, however given Prussia's pre-eminent place in the German Empire formed in 1871, it became an award for all of Germany.
The basic design of the WW1 crosses is a central Tatzenkreuz (cross pattée) struck from iron and mounted in a silver frame which has a raised crenulated decorative border. The obverse of the cross bears the date 1914 under a crowned W monogram. Second class crosses would have a ring at the top where a ring was attached, and had more markings on the back. The first class award, however, was meant to attach directly to the front of the uniform, and this example has a barrel hinge, a soldered catch, and a securing pin. There is no maker mark on this award that we can see, but that is not uncommon.
Condition of the award is very good, with much of the original silver still bright, with only light tarnishing. The enamel on the central cross is very well retained, with just a bit of wear through on the raised portions of the award. This example is a very desirable "Vaulted" shape, instead of the much more common flat type. The silver has a great aged patina, and the painted central area is still clear, showing some crazing and checking due to age.
Of interest is that this example is completely non magnetic, with the core looking to be made of brass. The crenulated border also looks to possibly be brass, and the plating has worn away. Definitely an interesting variation!
Please note the edge seam for authentication, which is not present on reproductions. Iron crosses were commonly constructed from an iron core sandwiched in a surrounding two part silver frame, normally the seam of these two silver parts is visible around the edge of the cross as is seen on this fine example.
This is a fantastic chance to own a solid period example of the most iconic of all Imperial German awards.
Emperor Wilhelm II reauthorized the Iron Cross on 5 August 1914, at the start of World War I. During these three periods, the Iron Cross was an award of the Kingdom of Prussia, although—given Prussia's pre-eminent place in the German Empire formed in 1871—it tended to be treated as a generic German decoration. The 1813, 1870, and 1914 Iron Crosses had three grades:
Iron Cross 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse, or EKII)
Iron Cross 1st Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse, or EKI)
Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, often simply Großkreuz)
Although the obverse of the medals of each class was identical, the manner in which each was worn differed. The Iron Cross 1st Class employed a pin or screw posts on the back of the medal, and was worn on the left side of the recipient's uniform, like the original 1813 version. The Iron Cross 2nd Class, and the larger Grand Cross, were suspended from different ribbons: the Grand Cross from a neck ribbon, the 2nd Class from a ribbon on the chest. The usual display of the 2nd Class version was as a ribbon through one of the button holes in the recipient's tunic.
The Grand Cross was intended for senior generals of the Prussian or (later) the German Army. An even higher decoration, the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (also called the Blücher Star), was awarded only twice, to Generalfeldmarschall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher in 1813 and to Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg in 1918. A third award was planned for the most successful German general during World War II, but was not made after the defeat of Germany in 1945.
The Iron Cross 1st Class and the Iron Cross 2nd Class were awarded without regard to rank. One had to possess the 2nd Class already in order to receive the 1st Class (though in some cases both could be awarded simultaneously). The egalitarian nature of this award contrasted with those of most other German states (and indeed of many other European monarchies), where military decorations were awarded based on the rank of the recipient. For example, Bavarian officers received various grades of that Kingdom's Military Merit Order (Militär-Verdienstorden), while enlisted men received various grades of the Military Merit Cross (Militär-Verdienstkreuz). Prussia did have other orders and medals which it awarded on the basis of rank, and even though the Iron Cross was intended to be awarded without regard to rank, officers and NCOs were more likely to receive it than junior enlisted soldiers.
During World War I, approximately 218,000 EKIs, 5,196,000 EKIIs and 13,000 non-combatant EKIIs were awarded. Exact numbers of awards are not known, since the Prussian military archives were destroyed during World War II. The multitude of awards reduced the status and reputation of the decoration. Among the holders of the 1914 Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class was Adolf AH, who served as an Austrian citizen in the Bavarian Army with the rank of Gefreiter (lance-corporal), he received these medals for showing bravery on the field of battle. Most photographs of AH show him wearing his EKI in standard fashion on his left breast.
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