Welcome to the new Historic Military Impressions site and thank you for reading our first new post in a long time.
I bought this M-1916 German helmet in 1987 at the Oldsmar flea market from a US Marine who served in the Korean conflict. Knowing I was going into the Marine Corps after I graduated from high school he gave it to me for $50.00. It was painted black with a homemade liner and chin strap riveted in place where its bolts were to attach to the chin strap. I was 18 years old and did not know any better, it was the first German helmet I bought.
At a time before the Internet, information was hard to come by on how to identify original helmets, so I had no way to confirm if the shell was real or fake. When I left for the Marine Corps it went into a box. When I came home to see my mother and sister after Desert Storm, I discovered my mother had a garage sale and sold most of my stuff. My grandfather was in World War Two, in the Signal Corps, and now all the things he had given me, gone. Thank God, the SS M-42 steel helmet he gave me survived the purge along with this M-1916 that was in the same box, out of sight. When I returned to the Marine Corps, what little I had left, left with me.
Jump to 2013, and I still do not know if the M-1916 is real and I can’t find any stamps. I really can’t use it because it was repainted. I thought about selling it, but I have a history with it and I would have to sell it as a reproduction, so it sits.
Last month (December 2014) I decided it was time to find out if it is real or fake. I know many collectors and employees of museums have this ongoing debate on preservation vs. restoration. For me there is no one right answer. It is a case by case decision based on the individual item. I thought the M-1916 was fake, it was painted wrong, and the chin strap was wrong. I paid $50.00 for it and I had little to lose in value. Repainted it would only add to the educational value of our World War One programs. The decision was made; the chin strap was removed and paint remover poured in the shell.
Under the paint I found the stamps, “B.F.64” and “R958.” The B.F. Is the manufacturer “F.C. Bellinger, Fulda”. They made two sizes of helmet shells, size 62 and size 64. This is a size 64. The R958 is the heating lot code. R is for “Stahlwerk Röchling,Volkingen” lot 958. The shell is an original M-1916. After 27 years, I now know the helmet is real!
The pattern in not special. I googled images of M-1916 helmets and found one I liked and hand-painted it. I am one that believes it is ok to clean and redo original items. The question is how I am going to do it, is it going to add value or destroy the item. We have had items come our way where the owner thought doing nothing was best to keep the value but doing nothing allowed the item to rot away to a point where we did not want the item. Three weeks ago I passed on a whole foot locker full of items that have become little more than rags.
Items must be preserved and stored correctly to keep the value. In the case of our M-1916 my investment was $50.00. It would be hard for me to make it lose that value. By cleaning the item it is now where you can tell it is real and painted correctly for us to use in our World War One programs.
Did I increase the value? Well, its buyer determines the value. So what do you think? What would you have done? Leave your comments below.
Until next month,