20th century military history in old gun show find: The Research Desk

German cavalry honor clasp real
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 12/02/15
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The Research Desk column from Dec. 14, 2015, issue of Coin World:

Sharp-eyed collectors find many a mystery at coin conventions and events featuring historical objects, such as at gun shows. Pieces turn up for which there are no comprehensive guides in English, along with many fantasy, replica and counterfeit items of uncertain origin. Particularly numerous are items relating to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in Germany, 1933 to 1945.

At a Des Moines gun show 25 years ago, I came upon a colorful goldplate and enamel pinback badge of remarkably high quality, obviously dating from the Hitler era with two red-white-black swastika banners. These flank a high relief uniformed bust of Field Marshal August von Mackensen. 

In a fiercely mustachioed portrait he wears the uniform and towering fur shako of the World War I Death’s Head Hussars, encircled by a sans-serif legend WAFFENRING DEUTSCHER KAVALLERIE, “Fighting Circle of German Cavalrymen.” Decorated with oak and laurel, the oblong 50.5- by 28.4-millimeter pinback is heavily gold plated with a plain back bearing a heavy-duty pin.

Mackensen ordered the erection of a monument to the heroism of the Serbian soldiers defending Belgrade against the Austrian and German invaders, of whom he was one. He conquered Romania in record time when that kingdom belatedly joined the Allies.

Revered as Germany’s only undefeated field marshal, he took no political role after Germany’s 1918 defeat until the civil strife of the early 1920s. 

The Waffenring was founded in 1928 as one of hundreds of generally right wing veterans’ groups. At its peak, the Waffenring had 53,300 adherents including 8,339 officers and 1,031 honorary members. The group instituted its First Class Honor Cross (gold) and Second Class Cross (silver) in 1928. After Hitler’s Gleichschaltung (Nazi uniformity) decrees, the Waffenring Honor Clasp replaced the Cross, complete with the two swastikas. 

The manufacturer was C.H. Arnold of Coburg.

Mackensen was never a Nazi and his historic stature protected him against reprisals when he denounced atrocities committed in the invasion of Poland, calling them “the actions of hired subhumans and criminals” in a letter to Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch on Feb. 4, 1940.

He very publicly defied Hitler’s personal order and attended the funeral of exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II in full uniform in 1941 at Doorn in the Netherlands.

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