Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The RZM and the SA

The RZM (Reichzeugmeisterei) was the regulatory agency which governed the manufacture and sale of all Political insignia, uniforms and uniform equipment for the various Parly Organizations. The RZM controlled licensing and design specifications for the numerous manufacturers and sales facilities. The RZM itself did little actual construction of insignia. This was limited primarily to the development of Muster (construction examples) for the manufacturing firms. It should be noted, however, that even the construction of Muster was usually contracted out to a highly reputable firm with the actual work receiving final approval from the RZM. Original Muster insignia issued by the RZM is difficult to find and is a fine addition to any collection. RZM Muster insignia should have a specific tag marking it as such. For example, a set of collar tabs constructed as a Muster would normally be attached with a multicolored cord fastened together by a round metal seal approximately one half inch in diameter. The seal displayed the RZM logo on one side and an item code number or description on the other. The Muster tags can also found in cloth and in paper variations depending on the type of insignia involved.

Primary manufacturers were required to place RZM tags (normally paper) on each item which they manufactured under RZM specifications. The tag indicated the firms RZM number, individual tag number, and license cost. The license cost was designated by the color of printing on the tag and also by a letter code on later tags.

The placement of the RZM labels on the insignia was also regulated. It was a requirement that a label be placed on each piece of insignia which was produced. Despite the rules it was common practice for the RZM label to be attached only to the left collar tab when a pair was completed and only one tag to a pair of shoulder boards. The following photos are provided to give the collector an idea of the general appearance and placement of the RZM labels on SA insignia.

David Fuller,"Collectors Guide to Sturmabteilung Insignia", Postal Instant Press, 1985

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Friday, January 9, 2009

The Nazi Party Gorgets


The organization of Political Leaders, while one of the oldest organizations of the N .S .D. A. P. was one of the last to be awarded its two gorgets.

The flagbearer gorget and the Streifendienst service gorget were listed for the first time on April 25, 1939, in the "Uniform Orders for Political Leaders".

It is believed that both these gorgets were to be mass produced and unveiled for the first time at the 1939 Reichsparteitag events during mid-september of that year. Cancellation of the 1939 Reichsparteitag was caused by the outbreak of World War II on September 1st.

The Organizationsbuch Der N S D A P 1940 edition pictures for the first time both gorgets along with the appropriate bandoleers. A flagbearer arm patch, identifying the flagbearer was not worn by the Political Leaders Organization. Both Political Leader gorgets were ready for purchase by the Political Leader groups through local outlets of the Reichszeugmeisterei in late 1939.

The bronze plated neck chains are a series of stamped links made of pot metal, held together by wire loops. The alternate links have an eagle and swastika on one and a wreath and swastika on the other. The length of the complete chain is approximately 24" (70 cm) long and contains 31 links.

The chain and the reverse side of the plate are stamped with RZM and a manufacturer's code such as M1/102.

The cloth felt backing on the gorget is either of a dark green or light tan color.

The flagbearer gorget is worn at all P L functions while displaying the unit flag. A dress bandoleer is worn over the shoulder and the flag pole is supported in a leather cup at the bottom of the bandoleer. The bandoleer is leather, covered with gold brocade, the center is brown and the edges are white for Kreisleitung, while for Ortsgruppen the edges are dark blue. White gloves were a required part of the flagbearer's uniform.

The Political Leader gorgets are by far the largest or most massive in size of any of those used by enter the party or the military organizations. They measure 9" (23 cm) across by 4.5" tall (11.5cm) high. They have a deep concave shape, however this varies with the the firm which manufactured them. They are press-formed out of a lightweight metal with a rolled over edge, which not only does away with the sharp edges, but also serves to help retain the wool cloth backing which is glued to the reverse side of the plate. The upturned, spread winged eagle on the flagbearer gorget is massive and covers a good portion of the breast plate. The head of the eagle faces to the right and is setting on a large round wreath and swastika. A border of oak leaves runs around the entire edging of the plate.

The flagbearer gorget to plated in an antique bronze color ranging from almost a light gold to a dark bronze. Again, these are manufacturing differences. due to the fact they were manufactured by different firms.


The Political Leaders Streifendienst gorget has the same breastplate as the Political Leader flagbearer gorget, however, the eagle and swastika emblem is about one half the size and is centered higher on the plate. A stamped metal ribbon approximately 18 cm long by 2 cm wide is centered and affixed directly under the eagle. A border of oak leaves also appears on this gorget. A round rosette button is mounted in each of the top corners of the gorget pictured here.

The Streifendienst gorget was plated with identieal coloring to that of the flagbearer gorget and the chain hanger was interchangable between the two gorgets.

The Streifendienst gorget was worn by men on patrol service at party functions or in local town areas.

Deeter and Odegard, "Gorgets of the Third Reich",D.O. Enterprises, 1977

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The RZM SS Wool Armband

In Nazi Germany, there existed a quixotic mixture of manufacturing firms. The textile industry was a large factor in Hitler's plan to re-vitalize his Third Reich. These consisted of industrial corporations, small regional companies and "Mom and Pop" shops. Even tailoring shops did a certain amount of manufacturing. Not only did they make uniforms, they often made shoulder straps, collar patches, and other cloth insignia as well.

The RZM mark found on Nazi State contracted goods, was the signet of quality control, proof of license, and an ominous warning for would be counterfeitors. It was a crime to have manufactured an unapproved state controlled item under Nazi law. To qualify for the license to produce a single RZM regulated item, a "Probe", or a proof item was required to be submitted to the RZM for inspection. This cap, badge, flag or other sample would then be approved if it met the standards of the RZM.

In Hitler's Germany, counterfeiting an RZM item, was dealt with in Criminal Court. Stealing from the state would be dealt with harshly. Controlled goods were not costly. Going into competition with government contracted industrial factories would not have been a profitable criminal enterprise when any company could try for an RZM approval.

This armband is an official government uniform accessory. It is manufactured to strict government design, and materials regulations. These are standardized official pieces of insignia. There are no significant variations of the wool black edged band in this grade. This is the "patented" model, inspected rigorously by the RZM and rejected immediately if not up to the standard defined by the design specifications.

This photo clearly illustrates the rayon grosgrain edge ribbon on 9 absolutely 100% original, Allgemeine SS RZM

Fine quality red melton, or doeskin wool badgecloth comprises the body of the armband. Note that the color is very consistent. An indication of strict uniformity control in a nation where there are dozens of variations of "Field Grey".

A 10 MM band of black artificial silk grosgrain rayon ribbon, is mounted on each edge of the face in the prescribed position. Unlike many armbands, the raw cut wool edge, is folded over and sewn over onto the front face of the body of the wool. The application of the black ribbon edge band, covers the raw edge of the wool and leaves a clean appearance on the interior.

The old saying "Exception to the rule", applies even in the rigid confines of the RZM regulations. Here is a veteran acquired example, which is up to spec in every respect save one. The border area is sewn over on the rear face of the wool, and the raw edge is exposed. It was worn, removed from a uniform, and is known to be original. I speculate that it was tailor made as part of an officer's uniforms order, and was applied during the assembly of the uniform. The lazy RZM approved tailor, apparently never applied the RZM tag either!

There is also an armband specifically said, to be for the Black Algemeine SS overcoat or mantel. It should closely resemble the black edged model but without the ribbon stripes themselves. In fact it will likely appear to be a wool Nazi Party or S.A. armband except for carrying a black cloth or black printed on white SS RZM tag, instead of the blue printed on white N.S.D.A.P. or S.A. tag.
The armbands are often found with either their cloth or paper inspection tag. The paper tags are often missing as they were applied with a simple adhesive glue. Use and cleaning, are the likely reason for those losses.

The color displays differently on computers. The best true example of the actual red used seems to be the red leaf of the Christmas flower, the poinsetta. Here is a picture of the leaf laying on the armband. I would classify it as blood red.

Note how the color is so similar despite different use, condition and soiling.

The Nazis were not playing around. Anybody, including an ss man, could get in a world of trouble, for not towing the official line at all times. It is unlikely an RZM item would either be non-standard, or counterfeit during that regime. Any anomaly would be noticed immediately on parade by a sharp eyed NCO during inspection and there would have been a terrific row and hell to pay. The pressure to conform, and the many levels of domination and submission, were unlike anything that collectors understand today.

There are some other patterns of SS armbands. Early ones were made before the standardization took place. Cotton examples exist. But as far as the black edged wool armband for Allgemeine SS formations, this article should supply you with a good working knowledge of what features should be present in a genuine article.

Charles Warriner, "The RZM Wool SS Armband",, militaria blog, 2008

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Introduction to Belt Buckles

Most of the regulations cited in the pages that follow deal primarily with the introduction of the buckle, the condition for wear, the nature of the belt, sometimes reference to type of metal construction and design, but rarely definitive information concerning manufacture or marking. Most of this latter information has been derived from observation and admitted conjecture. During my travels throughout Germany visiting some of the still existing firms, I found that manufacturing techniques, while usually consistent throughout the industry, varied as did the metals used, depending on the year of production.

The text relative to specific buckles is broken down into sub-sections dealing with military, political, civil and unidentified/prototype/points of interest. A code precedes each buckle for the purpose of continued identification. The structure of the code is as follows, reading from left to right: the first number at the left identifies which of the four sub-sections the buckle falls into, eg., 1- military, 2 - political, 3 - civil and 4 - miscellaneous. The second number (and possibly the third) represents the specific organization with the sub-section, eg., under military 1 - Army, 2 - Landwehr (alleged), 3 - Navy, 4 - Air Force. The number within the parentheses represents the pattern sequence within the specific organization. The number after the period represents the Reid reference number as found in German Belt Buckles 1919-1945. For a more detailed breakdown, refer to the index.

I do not wish to give the impression that this buckle coverage is the "be all and end all" on the subject, as there are other buckles that were produced for which we have no data, variations that are yet unencountered, information that has yet to be made available, etc. If you should have a pattern that is not described here, or information that might serve to further inform or correct, it would be greatly appreciated if you would provide it for future release. Any material provided will be credited.

I will remain consistent as with my previous references by not placing a current value on buckles. Values vary from one location to the next, and are subject to increases with inflation. I have indicated, however, the relative rarity of buckles in some 6 cases.

It becomes rather obvious that there is little or no discussion relative to reproductions. Except in obvious cases, I do not consider myself "expert" enough to provide a scholarly discourse on the subject. The best advice regarding this matter is to know your source, and "let your gut feeling be your guide."


Belt buckles produced during the period 1933-1945 were not unique in concept, but were unique in many cases in the manner in which they were produced. The German states and some organizations had long used the belt buckle to partially identify the wearer with the organization or state to which he belonged. Hitler expanded considerably on this practice with virtually every military, political and civil organization given authorization to wear a uniquely designed buckle. This attention to detail where a uniform accouterment was concerned was not without purpose since it was Hitler's intent to use every device possible to further advance the recognition and cause of national socialism. Hitler's grasp of psychological motivational techniques was astounding. Considerable attention to detail went into each design, often with Hitler playing an active role. Buckle production and resultant sales, as with virtually every aspect of Nazi regalia, provided a much needed infusion of capital into the German economy which had been reeling under heavy unemployment and unchecked inflation. Lack of controls coupled with a relatively simple production technique gave rise to many "mom and pop" operations - those family operations that produced with a minimum of equipment and overhead, and serving either as a retail source or providing the finished work to a retailer. In 1933 the creation of the Reichszeugmeisterie (RZM) served to allow controls over the production of NSDAP uniform material. The headquarters of the RZM, located in Munich, assembled regulatory notices and distributed them in the weekly journal Mitte/ungsblatt der Reichszeugmeisterie. Specific details were provided as to the exact measurements, pattern design, metal construction, etc. Pattern pieces were produced and made available by the RZM by which the manufacturers could compare their finished products.

With the established firms, production was largely one of mass production where dies, presses and assemblers were brought into play. Smaller jobbers often had to resort to a greater degree of hand work, turning out fewer finished pieces in a long work day. As techniques improved and raw materials became more difficult to obtain as a result of the war effort, metals transitioned from the basic brass and iron, to aluminum to pot metal, and the presses later shared production with the injection molds. The drop forge and die technique was used until the end of the war. The following study in the buckle reverse gives some insight as to the degree of hand work and the changes that took place from 1933-1945.

J.R. Angolia: "Belt Buckles & Brocades of the Third Reich", 1982, R. James Bender Publishing

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Nazi Party and the RZM


The scarcity of properly researched written information regarding the RZM (Reichszeugmeisterei der NSDAP or National Materials Authority of the National Socialist German Workers Party), and the volumes of incorrect material published on the subject have left collectors of Nazi material largely misinformed. Within the context of Nazi party organization the RZM is actually very easy to understand.

The Nazi Party (NSDAP) was founded in Munchen on 1 April 1920, drawing members and inspiration from veterans groups, the "German Workers Party", the Thule Society and others. As it grew, the inner circle of power within the NSDAP concluded that the restructuring of German society was of utmost importance to the reconstruction of the country in the wake of WWI.

1. For an extremely interesting view of these pre-war events as seen from the German side see, "Weitere Dokumente zur Kriegsausweitungspolitik der Westmachte", Auswartiges Amt publication number 5, 1940. This 100+ page German Foreign Office document provides reprints of a large number of secret French and British military documents turned up by German agents operating within their ranks or intercepted by the German secret service. The captured British and French documents make clear their intention to occupy a part or all of the countries of Belgium, Holland, Norway and even Sweden if necessary, to isolate Germany. The German Library of Information in New York published a full English translation of this book in 1940 under the title, "Allied Intrigue in the Low Countries". Copies of either edition are now very scarce.

2. Although long out of print, the book "Handbook of RZM Codes" by C.R. Davis, Runic Press, Box 2842, Houston, TX 77001, 1975, is highly recommended for a good understanding of the RZM.

Among those Nazis with a particular flare for paramilitary organization were Ernst Roehm, Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Hitler. As the little party grew each of its units was conceived and deployed along paramilitary lines and with a paramilitary purpose. Uniforms, insignia, flags and all other similar paramilitary trappings were understood well by the early Nazi leaders and their adoption and use was a major consideration within the Political Section of the NSDAP.

Throughout the 1920s the NSDAP was a "poor" party, depending heavily on charity, private contributions and private purchase to equip itself and its paramilitary units like the SA and the SS. Many photos of the period depict formations in similar but not the same uniforms. It is clear that the members did their best to look alike but that standards in uniforms and equipment could not be afforded or enforced.

With the Nazi accession to power in early 1933 party leaders found themselves in a position of adequate resources and staff to bring desired uniformity to their previously rag-tag paramilitary formations. They also recognized that to properly equip millions of their members (many of whom had uniforms for more than one organization) they would control a very large industry doing millions of Reichmarks (RM) of business each year. The Nazi party answer to the problem and the opportunity was the RZM.

Like every other element of the NSDAP the RZM was a paramilitary organization of the party and not of the German government.

It directed the specification of the production and distribution of clothing, insignia and equipment to be sold or issued to paramilitary units of the NSDAP.

It did not have any authority regarding the same items to be consumed by the armed forces or the government. The RZM was purely an administrative organization of the Nazi party.

The RZM was organized in 1934 as Hauptamt VIII (Head Office 8) of the NSDAP Treasury under party treasurer, Reichsleiter Franz X. Schwarz. The RZM street address was Tegernseer Landstrasse 210 in Munchen and its first Reichszeugmeister (National Materials Master) was Richard Bochner. Bochner was later replaced as Reichszeugmeister by SA Obergruppenfuhrer Wilhelm Helfer. A shop selling RZM merchandise was operated by the NSDAP at Schwanthalerstrasse 53-55 in Munchen. Most RZM approved merchandise was sold through independent shops operated by RZM authorized retailers.

Designs and or production specifications for items of clothing, insignia or equipment were generated by individuals, groups, companies and consultants and submitted to units of the NSDAP for approval. Once approved for use the specifications were passed on to the RZM which prepared standards, Standardmuster (samples) and production requests on which any RZM approved manufacturer in the item category could bid. The samples the RZM sometimes sent out were specially made for them and came with a wax or metal MPA = Materialprofungsamt (Supply Approvals Office) seal attached.

The selection, licensing and inspection of companies which could bid on, manufacture and/or sell RZM approved material was also a principal part of the RZM's business. Applicant firms were investigated to determine their production capacity, labor pool, quality control and ownership prior to acceptance and licensing.

Other factors such as the need to employ people in a specific city or village, and the political expediency of doing business with the people involved were major considerations. A great many people became wealthy making and/or selling RZM approved merchandise during the Third Reich. A RZM franchise was a very valuable asset for the Aryan firms lucky enough to get one.

This franchising was also very valuable to the RZM. A subscription to the RZM newspaper was obligatory for all RZM licensed firms and there was a good deal of pressure exerted by the RZM to get the licensed firms to place display advertising in it. Far more importantly, licensed firms were required to pay "fees" to the RZM which in reality were commissions on their gross sales of NSDAP merchandise.

Once the RZM Amt for Normierung und Zulassung (Office for Standardization and Admissions) had approved a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer, they provided an Erlaubnisschein (permit) franchising the applicant to make and/or sell NSDAP merchandise. They also gave the licensee a RZM number denoting the category of product and the licensee's identity number. The normal form was:

RZM M4/72

The RZM number above is for the firm of Wilhelm Deumer of LOdenscheid (72) and the category M4 is for metal (M) belt buckles (4). The Deumer firm also held RZM number M5/230 for uniform parts like hooks and buttons of metal, and M9/39 for metal badges. They are still in essentially the same business today (1992) in spite of the destruction of Lodenscheid by bombing during WWII. The M (metals) categories of RZM production were M 1 - badges and insignia, M2 - subcontractors (badges and insignia), M3 - symbols, M3 - official seals, M4 - belt buckles, M5 - uniform parts, M6 - aluminium ware, M7 - edged weapons, M7 - subcontractors (edged weapons), M8 - accessories, M9 - metal badges, M10 - musical instruments, M11 - NSDAP service awards, M12 - NSDAP miniature service awards. There may have been others.

3. More complex RZM codes are frequently encountered. A variation of the RZM M4/72 code shown above could easily be RZM M4/72/39. In such a case the /39 at the end records that 1939 was the year of manufacture of the item the number was on. On occasion they issued their own contract numbers and they are found in at least two forms:

RZM SS 4107/42. or RZM SS 4107/42 M4/72

The first example is the SS contract number and the year of production while the second example is the same but with the addition of the RZM M series license number. Because RZM codes were sometimes attached to an item on a paper label that was later detached, many original items are encountered today with no RZM number at all.

Because the RZM system provided valuable franchises for manufacturers and/or sellers it also provided penalties for licensees who abused the privileges they were given. Among other things, licensees could run afoul of the RZM by substituting cheaper materials than specified or by selling to non-authorized retailers. Punishment for infractions of RZM rules could be a fine, imprisonment or even the loss of the RZM license.

To stay in touch with its manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing licensees as well as party officials concerned with insignia, uniforms and equipment the RZM published a weekly (later a bimonthly) paper, the Mitteilungsblatt der RZM der NSDAP (Announcement Paper of the RZM of the NSDAP). All the news any interested party needed to know was contained in the "Blatt". This illustrated tabloid carried official announcements, price changes, new licensee information, advertising and news of legal or punitive actions taken against those who violated RZM rules.

The Handbuch der RZM der NSDAP (Handbook of the RZM of the NSDAP) was published in 1935 and was intended to provide a comprehensive listing of RZM licensees with their addresses and code numbers as well as the rules and regulations which governed RZM procedures.

It is very clear from examining Nazi party items made under RZM control that the system didn't work particularly well, and/or that enforcement was not very rigid. The quality of the craftsmanship varied widely among supposedly identical pieces from various manufacturers. An excellent example of this problem can be found in the collectability of Nazi daggers. Those made by Eichhorn for instance, are sold today at higher prices than those made by lesser manufacturers largely because of differences in workmanship. In addition to the obvious differences in craftsmanship, RZM standards became far more lax and subjective as the war reduced the availability of many metals after the Winter of 1941. The RZM had no choice but to look the other way as substitutions became a way of life in Germany.

The RZM as an institution was certainly not unique to the NSDAP or even to Germany. A similar system could be found in use in many countries, and even the US Marine Corps used an "approved vendor" system during the same period.


The belief among some collectors of Nazi militaria that RZM licensees were required to make high quality merchandise is without basis. To come to that conclusion requires the same kind of logic that would describe any restaurant kitchen as clean because it had an inspection certificate from the Department of Sanitation. Everybody knows better.

Many firms that did not seek or have RZM licenses produced fabulous quality orders and decorations for the German armed forces and even for the Nazi party. Those firms that sought and got RZM "M" category licenses were mainly firms that were capable of producing large quantities of simple items on a normal industrial basis. The big producers of NSDAP knives and daggers were also the big producers of Bestecke or tableware - knives, forks and spoons. Big NSDAP badge and insignia producers were also the big producers of overshoe buckles, costume jewelry and souvenirs.

The common element in all firms licensed by the RZM to produce items in the M category was that they possessed the machinery and employed the die makers who could create light metal products. These firms were accustomed to manufacturing or assembling and applying an artistic finish (plating, antiquing, painting, etc.) to small metal items. Some of the metal firms were also among the leaders in Germany in the use of the then-new art of plastic injection molding.

The process by which something like a small metal badge or the eagle on a SS dagger handle is produced is very simple. A pattern, drawing or a sample is given to a die maker who cuts by hand or with rotary tools (like a Dremel tool) a reverse image into a piece of steel. By pressing a clay like material into the die and then examining the image on the clay the die maker can tell when his job is done properly. When he is satisfied that the relief or depth of the die is correct and that the finish is smooth enough, the tool is sent out and heat-treated to make it hard.

The hardened tool is then sent to the stamping department or to an outside stamping contractor who mounts it in a press which stamps out the required number of pieces from the proper material very quickly, just like coins at the mint. The pieces so stamped are finished and inspected and an appropriate back (such as a pin or rivet) is soldered on. After cleaning in a chemical "dip" the pieces are plated or otherwise finished according to specification.

This process was a highly automated one even during the Third Reich, and pieces made in a good die required little or no hand finishing after they were stamped out. It was quick, simple and efficient and satisfied the minimum standards specified by the RZM.

An assembled product like a dagger was only slightly more complicated. The firms that made them under RZM license also made things like kitchen knives and hunting knives. Their principal business was usually forging blades, and other parts like the hilt, pommel, handle and scabbard could be purchased from subcontractors and assembled into a unit by the RZM licensee. Some RZM M7 licensees may not have even made the blades, but simply assembled daggers from vended parts.

4. Semiautomatic die making machines that worked directly from oversize plaster models were also very common in Germany at the time.

The relationship between stamping firms, forging firms and assemblers is somewhat difficult for North Americans to understand because we live on such a large continent, with major cities and manufacturers separated by distances as great as 3000 miles. A trip to the area known in Nazi times as Gau 38 and 39 (Westfalen) or a look at a map of the area will make it much more understandable. Within a circle less than 35 miles in diameter one will find a substantial percentage of the firms that held RZM licenses in the M category.

The Westfalen area includes the cities of Solingen, Wuppertal, LOdenscheid and Remscheid along with the villages of Altena, Barmen, etc., all major factors in the RZM M category. The names of the firms located in this area are a Who's Who of Nazi insignia and edged weapons manufacture. An example of the proximity of these firms to each other is illustrated by the location of the factories of Wilhelm Deumer and F.W. Assmann & Sohne in Ludenscheid; only a street separates them, even today.

Naturally, as demands of war grew more intense in Germany these Westfalen firms produced less and less of the insignia and ceremonial weapons they were famous for and converted their capacity to more basic military needs. Factories that made light metal insignia could just as easily produce light metal parts for rockets and aircraft. As the firms in Westfalen converted to strategic products Allied planners moved them up from low priority bombing targets of opportunity to mission targets. In the late Winter and early Spring of 1944 these RZM M category cities were reduced to rubble by concentrated aerial bombing, with a great loss of life and property.

With the end of the war the people of the area returned to their former professions and the factories were rebuilt. Nazi dagger makers of Solingen went back to making scissors, silverware and small appliances and the badge and buckle makers of Ludenscheid returned to buttons, overshoe buckles and industrial stampings. They also mounted up their old dies now and then to turn out "Nazi warehouse finds" to supply the "war souvenir" trade driven by the demand of occupation soldiers. The post WWII years were good to Westfalen industries and the hardworking people who worked in them. So good in fact, that there were not nearly enough workers to produce the goods the companies could sell. In the 1960s "guest workers" from Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey came in droves to take advantage of the opportunity to learn a metals trade and earn a good living. Today these cities are heavily polluted industrial areas with high populations of "German-born foreigners" and the Wilkinson Sword logo hangs over the Solingen factory of a once proud Nazi dagger maker.

The postwar laws of occupied Germany in essence forbade the display of items containing a swastika and effectively discouraged most Germans from trading in and profiting from Third Reich material. For many years, Germans got rid of anything and everything that could in any way connect them or their family to the Nazi party. Much of the military equipment, uniforms (without Nazi insignia) etc., left over from the Nazi years was simply "used up" in a civilian role. Few people in Germany wanted to be reminded of the horrible war years or the years of cold, hunger and deprivation that followed them.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s collector demand for Nazi party regalia and German forces militaria from the WWII period had begun to professionalize a market-driven trade that could no longer be supplied easily from inside the old Westfalen industries themselves. New tooling was made from old patterns and was sent along with original tooling to places like Greece and Turkey where many former "guest workers" had returned to establish their own metals businesses. Other tooling went to England (Westfalen was in the British Occupation Zone) and from there to India and Pakistan where production took advantage of very cheap wages and a tradition of metalwork. In many cases the production of these small factories was smuggled back into Germany by shipping it along with fruits and vegetables, on some of the hundreds of Greek and Turkish trucks that made (and still make) the trip every day.

As German and occupation authorities relaxed their scrutiny of the sale of this "Nazi era" material in shops and flea markets many Germans and Austrians re-entered the manufacturing business in an effort to derail the Turks, Greeks and the British. By 1980 a great deal of original tooling was in place in the most modern factories in Taiwan and Korea, turning out undetectably fine replicas of very scarce and valuable Nazi relics. The business of "Nazi Business" had turned a corner.

5. There are many books that recount the terrible conditions faced by the German population in the years immediately following WWII. Two in English that are worth mentioning are, "From the Ruins of the Reich, Germany 1945 - 1949" by Douglas Botting, Crown, NY, 1985 and a much earlier book, "America's Germany, an Account of the Occupation" by Julian Bach Jr., Random House, NY. 1946.

6. Unlike the laws of the United States, the laws of Germany and Austria DO NOT require that imported articles be stamped or marked with the country of origin. A large portion of the "Black Forest" type of souvenir merchandise (from wooden nutcrackers to straw Christmas tree ornaments) found in German and Austrian shops is imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and similar places. These things are almost NEVER marked with the actual country of origin and in fact are usually found with local labels on them. Foreign tourists pay outrageous sums to carry the stuff away by the kilogram.

With the floodgates wide open and with the Germans and Austrians back in control of much of the manufacture using original tools and dies the "Nazi Business" grew rapidly. Enough "Hitler" silverware, table linens and glassware flooded the market to serve an army.

Uniforms of high ranking Nazis with personalized labels were everywhere. Even Hitler's "private diary", hidden for decades, turned up in 1983. Only because this obvious fake attracted too much attention, was it declared a fake. One of these days somebody will "turn up" the "original" Blutfahne (Blood Flag), the most sacred of all relics of the Third Reich.

Cowdery's law states that there are solid industrial reasons for unscrupulous people to create the products which satisfy any demand-driven collector market. At the point when the demand for a collectible item exceeds the supply, the price will rise. When that price has risen above the industrial cost of manufacturing that collectible item, someone will begin to make it. It has happened for centuries with paintings and other objets d'art and religious artifacts. It has happened with coins, Faberge eggs of the Tsars, Roman pottery, Egyptian jewelry and even industrially complex things like automobiles. There is no stopping it.

Ray R. Cowdery: "Nazi Militaria-Fake or Real", Self Published, 1993

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Buckles and their Manufacture

The manufacture of the Koppelschloss, or belt buckle is a simple process. So simple in fact, that many of the companies certified by the RZM were family or one-man or­ganizations. Many companies had the master dies cut by a larger concern, thus eliminating the need for the most expensive labor and equipment. Because of the availability of government (RZM) contracts to small companies, financial aid was more accessable than any time before.

Buckles during the period in question were stamped from a number of stocks or metals. The most common was brass, an alloy of copper and tin. This popularity was due to its low price and its similarity in color to gold. The stock was usually c.2.5mm thick, although some thicker var­ieties were used in the 1919-1933 period. A metal which first came into use for buckles after 1933 was an alloy of aluminum. The color of this alloy varies from silver-white to grey depending upon the amount of base metal added. In the case of alloys approved by the RZM, the purer white is prevalent. The most attractive metal, used almost always for leader's buckles was nickel-silver. The name is mislead­ing since the alloy contains nickel, zinc, and copper. This alloy takes a high polish and looks very much like silver. Iron was used (not steel) for many buckles which were to be plated or painted. The last of the metals was a base alloy called pot metal. It is made of some copper and much lead, and was used in buckles which were cast or injection molded.

The metal was cut into sheets of the proper size and placed in a die. These dies consisted of one into which the design had been engraved, and one upon which the design was cut in relief, or standing out. The lat­ter die pushed the metal into the incised areas of the engraved die, thus the finished buckle has a raised re­lief on the outside and a reversed (mirror image) on the inside. Naturally the quality and age of the dies have considerable effect on the strike or image on the finish­ed product. Like coins, some buckles are weak or indis­tinct due to die deficiencies. These are seldom worthy of the collector's attention.

A few buckles approved by the RZM late in the war were injection molded using pot metal. They are easily recognized by their slate grey color. Usually these were spray painted with silver paint. They will not lighten in color if cleaned or polished, but rather acquire a dull gloss. They are also discernable by their flat reverse side, on which no image of the design appears. Usually four circular areas will show where the hot metal entered the die. Their intrest lies not in their quality, but in their post 1942 production. The commonest pot metal buckles found are the Hitler Jugend, the Hitler Jugend Leader, and the Politische Leiter 60mm.

Four types of catches were used on the rectangular (enlisted type) buckle. Type I is used only in conjunction with a soldered inset. It is simply a depressed slot in the metal. Type II is the commonest, and is a ([) shaped bar secured to the reverse of the buckle by brazing,or in the case of Type IIa, by spotwelding. Type III is found on aluminum and pot metal buckles, and is a protuberance in the metal with a slot drilled for the catch. Type IV is not often encountered. It is a notched bar which fits into two holes in the sides of the buckle. Although it appears to be a 'home made' variety, some RZM proofed DAF buckles are seen with this catch. They are usually made by C. Th. Dicke Co. (M4/22). It is surprising the RZM would have approved such a departure from the norm.

The post and prongs used to attach the buckle to the belt are by their nature highly standardized. Only two varieties exist. The earlier type chronologically is more difficult to produce, and was discontinued around 1930. The prongs are a single piece of metal brazed to a tube, through which the bar passes. The other type attaches the prongs, once again a single piece of metal, to the bar by means of a loose fitting mechanism of pre-formed sheet stock. This type of construction was introduced c.19l6 to aid in mass production. The transition was not rapid, however, many SA buckles manufactured during the late 20's used the earlier style of construction. This is one positive way to identify earlier pieces. The latest use of the brazed prong mechanism was on round leader's buckles made of nickel silver
alloy c.1936. It was last used on rectangular buckles in the late 20's or very early 30's.

The attachment of insets to buckles follows a similar genesis. Very early c.1871 buckles have insets soldered to the buckle through four holes. By the time of the First World War, the number of holes had decreased to two. SA buckles with silver insets are attached in this way. The attach­ment of insets with solder declined with the advent of the aluminum alloy buckle. Many companies in addition to solid stamped aluminum buckles offered at a lower price buckles with paper-thin insets attached by tabs. These tabs were a part of the inset and passed through slots in the buckle to be bradded or simply bent over. No buckle approved by the RZM was manufactured in this way. The difference in the wholesale price was often as little as 15pf (US 4ยข), and why anyone would have been tempted to forego quality for such an amount escapes the modern observer. Buckles of the Luftwaffe and the Reichsheer are frequently of this type. As a method of manufacture, this lends itself particularly well to mass production, since all buckle blanks could be made the same. The late Type III Reichs Luftschutz Bund buckle was produced this way exclusively.

Round leader's buckles fall into three major manufac­ture varieties. The first type encompasses the period 1870 to 1945. Type I buckles are stamped or cast and the catch and prong-bar keeper added by brazing. This method is not particularly well suited for mass production, but is seen in very late pieces nevertheless. The second and most prevalent type was manufactured in two parts. The face of the buckle was stamped with a wide flange around the outer edge. This flange was crimped around a perforated disc which served as the catch and as a keeper for the prong-bar. The third method was used with pot metal. The catch and keeper was fitted into a depression on the flat reverse of the buckle and attached by solder. All three methods were approved by the RZM at one time or another. Types I and III are the favorites of reproducers since they require less sophisticated equipment.

Officer's buckles exist without prongs on either side of the buckle. They are designed for use on brocade belts. The right hand side of the catch (the removable side) is sewn onto the belt. The buckle is attached to the other side by means of a loop in the belt. This loop terminates in a hook which can be secured to several grommets on the inside of the belt, thus making it adjustable.Frequent examples of this are Reichsheer, Luftwaffe, and RLB buckles.
It was not a method approved by the RZM.

All officer's belts, both leather and brocade, were fitted with two runners, one slightly larger than the other. Since these fittings are loose on the belt, they frequently are missing. All leader's belts approved by the RZM were marked L5/.The first two numbers are the manufacturer code, the second, the year of manufacture. Other markings found on belts are 'KERNSTUCK', '90', and '95-115'. The first is indicitive of high quality leather. The second and third are belt sizes, and may range from 75(cm) to 115. They are often noted from the smallest to the largest possible adjust-
ment, e.g., 95-115.

There are a multitude of finishes found on buckles. In the order of their quality, they are gold plating, silver plating, nickel plating, silver or gold wash, silver paint, and various enamel painted finishes. There was too much variation among companies to pin point anything about this.

Thomas Reid and John Nauer:"German Belt Buckles 1919-1945", The Montrose Press, 1974

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