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Book Review: The Iron Cross 2. Class, by Dietrich Maerz & Mario Alt

New book on the 1939 (WWII) Second Class Iron Cross called “Comprehensive” and “Incomparable”
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The Iron Cross 2. Class, by Dietrich Maerz & Mario Alt 

(ISBN: 978-1-5323-3691-1, B&D Publishing, LLC, POB 652, Richmond, MI 48062 Available from: Hardcover, 9 ½” x 7”, 600 pages, 2,600 illustrations, nearly all color, 2016, $167.00)

The Iron Cross 2. Class, by Dietrich Maerz & Mario Alt

The Iron Cross 2. Class, by Dietrich Maerz & Mario Alt

This book is the product of many years’ toil by authors Dietrich Maerz and Mario Alt. The Iron Cross 2. Class is incomparable … in any language.

Certainly, the treatise is the deepest dive yet into the Second Class Iron Cross, least of Germany’s bravery medals trilogy (First Class and Knight’s Cross sit above it) and by orders of magnitude, most commonly bestowed. Nevertheless, 2nd Class Iron Cross remains very respectable, to say nothing of collectible. Yet, for many there’s much to learn.

The work is laid out methodically, with a great deal of care and thought. Most of the sober, exacting text centers on the attributes of all 62 known crosses profiled with a few by makers unknown. That is, construction techniques and typologies, cores of iron, brass and zinc; size in millimeters and gram weight, frame distinctions, and suspension (aka “jump”) rings and lugs..

Plus, crucially for enthusiasts and students of medallic art, variances from the norms are cited. “These are several,” note the authors, “including examinations of the ‘Über-Größe’ (over-sized), Schinkel types, ‘Round 3,’ ‘Flat 9,’ and others.”

Besides ticking off the traits, some questions long simmering in readers’ minds have been answered. The elusive “15” maker mark is just one. Others, unsolved or not, are intelligently examined.

But there’s a lot more on offer here. Neat, concise histories of the firms start off individual makers sections. These dovetailing with the discussion and images to follow. Transitions are seamless.

Samples pages showing details of Iron Crosses

Highlighting details and identifying nuances is a strength of the book.

Search tools not uncommonly absent in this genre are present and prove useful: table of contents, index, bibliography, appendix, attributions and maker/distributor charts. Helpful, too, are neatly explained primers on authorizing, distribution, and awarding bodies: the Leistungsgemeinschaft der Deutschen Ordenshersteller, or LDO, the Präsidialkanzlei, etc. and their respective numbering systems and protocols. Official issues and private-purchase examples get thorough treatment. We also get a good idea of EK2 numbers manufactured, known and estimated.

As with the expert narrative, full-coverage photography illustrates key aspects of all the dozens of examples: both sides full on and micro, including suspension ring letter and number stampings. It’s worth noting that many Second Class Iron Crosses are unmarked. Therefore, growing accustomed to manufacturers’ “signature styles” helps a lot, in the way that daggers with so-called generic fittings can help pinpoint makers of otherwise unmarked examples.

All this nomenclature and detailed manufacturing techniques and statistical lore, award ceremonies etc. is, thankfully, interspersed with information about, and photos of some select Second-Class winners — in-wear field images and studio portraits. This includes obscure yet deserving service members such as heroic females (Hanna Reitsch was not alone!).

Enlivening the text are period manufacturers’ promotional sheets and captioned color photo sections. These depict ancillaries such as paper packets, parade-mounted medal bars (Große Ordenschnalle), award documents formal and field-typed (Besitzurkundne), ribbons, miniatures, hard cases and the like. All these adjuncts are welcome and teachable.

Physically, the book is high caliber and substantial, strongly bound, with sturdy page stock and varnished covers. Structurally, it’s wrought with the precision that typifies the output of B&D, Maerzs’s publishing house. There are few frills or flourishes, substance being the authors’ guiding principle and goal. This is not a carnival show like some respectable but annoyingly self-satisfied works. It’s more “sit down-read-me-see-the pictures and learn.” A major strength in my view.

Another advantage here is how deeply Maerz and Alt burrow to exemplify “tells” that help novice and advanced collectors and museums identify or date original from modified examples. The signs are many. The inner-rim “beadwork” is one. These decorative touches, we learn, are often maker-specific with distinct, if tiny characteristics. 

As with mixed-maker parts of daggers, this raises the question of whether cores with specific traits have been wrongly mated with other firms’ beaded rims at some point in the medals’ lives. Chicanery with awards isn’t just the domain of the Knights Cross and other high-ranking / high-value medals. EK2s can be worth upwards of $1000, so it pays to stay on your toes about minute details.

Sample page showing crisp photography throughout the book

Crisp photography throughout the book permits intense scrutiny to identify nuances and details of various examples.

Still, the sheer plenitude of Second Class examples gratifies advanced, deep pocket collectors as much as it does those of lesser means.

With average prices hovering around $100, even struggling high school or college students can afford one now and again. Which coheres somehow with the leveling purpose of the Iron Cross: to recognize everyone showing courage in combat, from aristocrats, to the high-born, to monied war college graduates, down to the simplest farmhand in a private’s uniform.

In sum, this is a top-flight reference work of great depth and rigor. Some may say it’s too somber or dour. Well, this isn’t a fashion-show screaming, “look at me!” and ought not to be as suggested earlier. Declares Maerz, a man little given to hyperbole, “… [this book] will be a valuable addition to any collector’s library for a very long time to come.”

I concur. Top marks to him and Alt for a dogged, exhaustive, and satisfying research study. It is impressive in concept, content, and execution. — David C. Walsh

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*As an Amazon Associate, Military Trader / Military Vehicles earns from qualifying purchases.

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