One of the most famous representations of the German soldier after World War II is the German helmet. Its distinctive form evokes the dread and fear that German soldiers instilled during this trying period, while still representing a technically sophisticated military architecture. The German helmet was manufactured from 1935 to 1945, and it is estimated that about 25 million were manufactured. There were five suppliers of these helmets at the moment. However, not all German helmets that you see on sale are authentic.
Differences between genuine and postwar modified German helmets
German steel helmets are divided into many types based on their originality. Of course, not everybody decides on which helmet fits in which division. The unissued, mint-condition headset that was never worn through WWI or WWII is the most valuable. Unfortunately, some of the finest postwar adapted helmets may be confused for genuine antiques rather than the falsifications that they are.
And there’s the helmet, which was used during the war but also has its initial color, liner, and decals and was never altered afterward. They are in strong demand since they are unique in any way, with the key draw being that they are authentic historical artifacts that have been used by war soldiers.
Another type contains helmets that were restocked during this historic period. New color, liners, and decals were often applied to these. This reissuing was done on occasion in the area. Field removal of liners, repainting, and application of fresh decals are all done in less-than-ideal settings, and these helmets show it. Again, it’s a shame that this has enabled all kinds of postwar updated headsets to be passed off as “reissued.”
The next type is postwar modified headsets assembled from initial components. The application of time decals and the combining of initial shells and liners are two examples of postwar changes. And if they are crafted of original pieces, many enthusiasts do not believe them to be authentic. It’s not really possible to figure out whether a liner or decal was removed. This is where the meaning of “original” gets a little hazy.
These headsets have never been entirely replicated, owing to a large number of shells with a “German” look. The final group includes helmets that are clearly marked as having been updated in the postwar period. The shell and liner could come from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Norway, or Spain. The shell may have been produced between 1916 and 1945 or older. Any of them have been repainted to look like camouflage. The broken rivets that kept these liners in place on the genuine German shells might have too many or no holes in the shells.
In addition, all of these shells have vent holes that are not the same as those on initial German shells. The noticeable fresh paint and decals, as well as the newness of the leather liners, distinguish these helmets. West Germany managed to produce these liners for their army until around 20 years ago. These West German helmet liners are quite close to those manufactured before the war, except for certain plastic pieces.
How can you spot a fake German helmet
Fake helmets have a paint smell
A typical paint odor will last up to a month. On the other end of the spectrum, a scent will take anything from 14 to 24 weeks to fully vanish. Authentic WWII German helmets have an ancient scent on them, while 60+ year-old paint does not. It’s complicated to explain, but after you’ve handled a few originals, you’ll realize what I’m talking about.
Fake equipment looks too “new”
False German helmets have a distinct metallic appearance. Since they were lightweight and snuggled into the wall, an initial decal would usually have the same feel as the helmet. Lacquer or water slide decals were used on the original Heer, Waffen SS, and Kriegsmarine decals. Fraudulent artists will attempt to age a decal, however, you can distinguish easily.
Only fake helmet liners smell like leather
A flexible or reinforced lining for a helmet is known as a helmet liner. For safety, it’s built to be worn under a steel helmet. Any liner that stinks like leather should be avoided. Leather that is 65 years old has no odor. If they are scratched or worn, the initial M1931 liners usually show signs of age. Even if any initial liners are near mint, they would always have the right design and markings.
Counterfeit helmets may have red rust that is easy to rub off
Rusting is an oxidation phase in which iron reacts with water and oxygen to create rust, a reddish-brown layer that occurs on the iron’s surface. About any genuine German helmet will have some rust on it, but it will usually be smooth and brown. You’re more definitely dealing with a headset that has been purposely aged if the red rust rubs off quickly. The crooks take initial shells, re-paint them, scratch up the surface with fine-grit sandpaper, and either leave the helmet outside in the rain or hide it in the dirt for a bit.
Skip “too good” price offers for German helmets
If the cost of a German World War II helmet on the internet seems too nice to be real, it really isn’t. While many scam artists have trained to market their fake merchandise on par with fake goods, most imitation helmets are marketed at extremely low rates to entice unsuspecting customers.
Pay close attention to the fake chin strips
Chin straps used in reproduction can often be difficult to spot. The fresh leather on these fake chin straps is always aged using a chemical procedure, which makes it feel very stiff and has an odor. Bear in mind that an authentic 60-70 year-old leather from World War 2 doesn’t smell.
Where to buy authentic German helmets?
On online sale sites, there are plenty of helmets to choose from. There are also a few that are very cool. However, a large proportion of these are misrepresented, whether deliberately or accidentally. Nothing is more frustrating than anticipating a nice helmet getting crushed before it arrives on your porch.
If you’re considering purchasing a German helmet from an online sale, proceed with caution and ask the right questions. Do not offer whether the seller gives you blurry pictures or is hesitant to address queries. A large number of German helmets listed for sale on the internet are fakes or have been tampered with in any way. If you’re fortunate, you may be able to find decent German headsets at an online auction. When the nice ones turn along, collectors normally know about them and demand a high value. On the other hand, if a contract seems to be too sweet to be real, you’re more definitely working with a reproduction. The decals on over 95% of headsets with false decals are so graphically inaccurate.
Since you can check it, it’s safer than online auctions. However, the rule of thumb remains “let the consumer beware”. Only because it belongs to an older individual doesn’t suggest it was taken home by another person from the war. And if it was, there’s no assurance that the owner didn’t repaint it, install decals, or otherwise alter it. As if you were purchasing it from a complete stranger in a parking lot, inspect it.
Military surplus stores and antique shops
These individuals are well-versed in all matters historical or military. You should hope they learn a fair bit about it, but don’t allow them to know much more than the most specific information. As a result, the task of judging honesty and value falls entirely on your shoulders.
Direct purchase from Veterans
This is a brilliant place to buy a helmet. However, vigilance is always essential. A man isn’t a vet either because he is “old”. The gory tales he says may have come directly from HBO. He may have purchased the helmet at a yard sale in 1972, also as a vet. As a result, inspect as thoroughly as possible.
If you’re lucky enough to come across the real deal (both the vet and the helmet), make sure you treat him with the dignity he deserves. You have no idea what he has achieved for you and this world. Don’t bother to have it for a low amount. If you give him a fair price for the helmet, you’ll be more confident of it over time.
Tips for buyers of German helmets
- Buy the book The History of the German Steel Helmet 1916-1945 by Ludwig Baer. This 448-page work of art includes images and examples of any specific form and variety of military and non-combat helmets. It is extremely well-researched and, by far, the most detailed resource possible.
- Rare helmets do not mean authentic. The more unusual a helmet is, the more often it was modified during WWII. To stop getting taken advantage of, it’s a safe rule of thumb not to purchase any helmet that lifts even one “red flag”.
- Basic German helmets should be your first collectible items. Single decal Army and Luftwaffe helmets are more widespread than double decal SS helmets and are less likely to be replicated. Keep in mind that over time, silver Army decals will oxidize and transform gold, making them quickly confused for a more costly naval Kriegsmarine helmet. Chemicals and heat may be used to mature leather liners and shells artificially.
- The shell has to match the liner. Replaced liners should be avoided at all costs, even though they seem to have been finished during the time. Examine the rivets that connect the shell to the liner as well. The liner band should be flush towards them. Try purchasing a new helmet whether the rivets seem to have been bent back and forth. This is valid with both WWI and WWII German steel helmets.
- Helmets should look aged and fit against the paint. Replication decals are typically painted on plastic, allowing them to be distinguished by contact. The shell and decal could have been heated to mimic aging, as shown by their bubbled look. Another telltale sign of postwar use is a rubbed look. The aim of the rubbing is to get the decal to match as tightly as possible. There were many measures to applying the rule decal, and there was so little space for mistakes. “Spidering”, or the forming of thin cracks across the decal’s surface due to age is one sign of an initial decal. To cover the decals, a slim coat of lacquer was sometimes added. The tiny volume that normally overlaps the region right around the decal is a good indicator of this. Lacquered decals seem to get darker over time than un-lacquered decals. The type of lacquer used may have anything to do with it.
- The liner has to fit in the shell properly. Keep in mind that all German helmet liners (made of steel) are adjustable to the size. The liners were manufactured in various sizes to suit the various shell sizes. A poorly fitted liner that is either too big or too short for the shell it is seated in may often be used to identify postwar lining swapping. Normally, the Germans may not have made such a blunder. In addition, the liner band should be precisely aligned with the helmet’s inner cover. Between the liner bands and the inner casing, there should be a rather slight even difference. Even, keep an eye out for the reddish-brown Norwegian substitute liners. The Norwegian liners’ wider ink stamped size branding is another distinctive attribute of these substitutes. These liners were installed in German helmets left over from WWII and then applied during the Cold War. They are real militaria, but they are not German.
- Avoid SS helmets if you are a novice. The more valuable a helmet is, the more likely it is that anyone would want to replicate it in any form. When seen under strong sunshine, the original decals have a shiny luster that is very noticeable. Initial SS decals are being applied to a large number of no-decal M-42 helmets. This will transform a $400 headset into a $4,000 or more helmet. SS helmets can be avoided before a dealer has sufficient expertise or has full faith in his source.
- Skip camouflage helmets. Camouflage helmets from WWII should be avoided at all costs. During WWII, camouflage paint schemes changed. There are several postwar camouflage helmets on the market now, some of which retail for over $1500. It’s more likely a recent fake if the paint seems to be new and has been sprayed over old rust. Rust forms in places where the shell’s initial color has been rubbed away. The color of rust darkens with age. Since helmets were sometimes put upside down on the field during rest times to avoid soil, mud, and other debris out of the liner, there could be flaking to the finish and wear to the top of the shell. Many modern camouflage helmets don’t have this kind of wear on the back. Go browsing before you come across one that does.
- Receive the guarantee from a collector. Get a guarantee, at the very least for the duration of the exhibition, or 3-7 days if you’re buying from another dealer. This appears to be the accepted practice these days, and it should not be an issue. It’s often a smart idea to seek the advice of other collectors or a professional acquaintance. Guarantees of a lifetime and a year are no longer as popular as they once were. So, rather than depending on the dealer’s ability to offer a refund later, you can learn to test a potential purchase before purchasing it or shortly afterward.
- Buy only the helmets in the best condition as experienced collectors do. Spending a couple of bucks more today would save you money in the long term. This is an essential aspect of the collector’s life to remember when it comes to German helmets. There’s a lot to understand about these helmets, but the more you learn about them, the more fascinated you get. They’re interesting to buy, and they’re a lot more predictable as stocks than the equity market. So, at first, educate yourself, and then start your collection.