The Prussian Military Merit Cross, the „Pour le Mérite“ for NCOs and enlisted men, was awarded until the first World War in real gold. With the beginning of the first World War the cross was made from gilt silver – nevertheless the remaining 16 pieces from earlier days were awarded during the first days of WWI.

The popularity among collectors, especially as being an "equivalent" to the real Pour le Mérite, let to the manufacture of many fakes that are flooding today’s markets. Besides poorly made cast pieces and cheaply coined examples made from various nonprecious metals, there is one falsification that isn’t easily identified.

Looking at the three different classes within of the Prussian Military Merit Cross bracket, the related Military Honor Cross 1st class seems to be of the identical design. Naturally so, as they are both coined from the same tool. A perfect choice, it seems, to gild a Military Honor Cross 1st class and enhance its value to that of the Military Merit Cross.
After looking at the number of awarded Military Honor Crosses 1st class in conjunction with the number of awarded Military Merit Crosses this doesn’t make sense anymore.

Since the creation of the Military Merit Cross in February 27, 1864 the following award numbers could be verified:

Year number of awarded crosses
1866 16
1878/79 17
to Russian NCOs during the Russian-Turkish War 1877/78
1902 4
to Russians in China
1895-1906 5
during the Colonial Wars
1914-18 1770

Therefore the Military Honor Cross 1st class (only 917 awarded pieces) is at least twice as rare then the Military Merit Cross, its silver gilt “twin brother”. There is still a number of gilt Military Honor Crosses 1st class on the market at artificially lower prices.

But how is it possible to figure out the difference between those two?

Luckily the Prussian “Punzierungsgesetz” (punch mark law) ordered that all silver gilt pieces had to be marked with a silver content mark “938”. 

The Military Honor Cross 1st class would not have that mark but as the Military Merit Cross makers mark (“W” or “FR”).

Below the decoration made by J. Wagner has the "W" and "938" marks punched into the lower cross arm:

Military Merit Cross revers
Military Merit Cross avers

I also like to point out that the tooling for the Military Merit Cross/Honor Cross 1st class broke during the course of the 1st World War. Therefore all crosses show a flawed "T" in Verdienst. The damage worsens gradually over time towards the end of the Great War.

Here an example of the deteriorating T on a Military Merit Cross awarded February 15, 1918, to Johannes Gewald. One of the very few ever awarded to somebody serving on a submarine during WWI:


© A. Schulze Ising, XII/99