3rd Reich Railroad Eagle
Very much as in the same way that practically all 3rd Reich badges, cloth, uniforms, medals, daggers and etc, have been reproduced post war, we see a variety of copies of the railroad eagle that have hit the collectors market going back several years now. While many of the reproductions have been manufactured and marketed solely as “collector copies” in the past, today we are now seeing a more concerted effort in manufacturing practices of these eagles to actually defraud the collecting community. As the prices of legitimate WWII produced railroad eagles have climbed in today’s market to the value of several hundred dollars, the prices of even the post war reproductions so too have risen considerably. A check of Rex Reddick Enterprises which sells a plethora of every imaginable post war 3rd Reich item listed in their on-line website, shows this firm offering newly made railroad eagles for $90.00 each. A check of Ron Manion’s military auction catalogs of the mid 80’s, show original railroad eagles consistently selling at the $100-$200 price range. It’s quite remarkable that the reproduction that we see being offered today, are selling for what the originals did nearly 30 years ago!
It would be nice to be able to take the measurements of a 3rd Reich railroad eagle and state, that if the one that a collector was examining for originality did not conform to the dimensions of an original example, than it was definitely a post war reproduction. Well, there is a little more to it than that, but you will see that with a little experience in recognizing the feature known to be present on an authentic eagle, it becomes easier to spot a reproduction.
It is commonly accepted by the collecting community that the railroad eagles were manufactured in lengths of 24, 27, 28 and 35 inches. (600, 680, 720, and 900 mm). In light of the fact that one manufacturing firm’s 24” variety eagle may measure a ¼ or ½ inch longer that one produced by another company, we know that the LOK 600 stamped eagles actually measure out to be a 23 ½ inch wing span running from tip to tip. Consequently as collectors, we cannot rely solely on dimension of a railroad eagle as being a true guide to authenticity. No doubt the slight variation in these measurements from one molding company to the next, was due to the hand finishing and de-burring process involved finishing the final product.
When inspecting a railroad eagle for authenticity, a collector will normally examine the obverse striking pose of the eagle perched proudly on a ring of oak leaves, superimposed swastika, and outstretched wings. With a period manufactured eagle, we see a nice 3 dimensional bird cast in a relatively smooth natural aluminum finish. The fact that these eagles were the result of being produced from a mold, a collector may observe slight flaws in the metal surface in different areas of the plaque. Minor pock marks and residual metal that may have become trapped in the mold, could exhibit additional imperfections. Occasionally this has caused collectors to become overly concerned that the prized railroad eagle in their collection, is a reproduction. Be rest assured that not all of these eagles were cast with exact precision of flawlessness. If an eagle were to exhibit such gross flaws such as large scale porosity, missing or incomplete feather features, or a gritty rough surface throughout, this would raise a red flag of concern. For the majority of railroad eagles produced during the 3rd Reich, these hand polished eagles will exhibit a smooth obverse, and void of rough edges when you run your hand around all of the surfaces of the plaque. Bear in mind that if a railroad eagle was exposed to weather elements, or submerged in soil or water, this very well could affect metal and the appearance of how it now looks.
Although all 3rd Reich railroad eagles were cast with integral cone/stud fastening structures that was part of the mold, at times collectors will come across an eagle that has had holes drilled through the plaque. Because the only period photos that the collecting community has showing these railroad eagles displayed during the 3rd Reich are usually small and faint, verification of this method of attaching an eagle plaque cannot be positively confirmed. The drilled holes occasionally found on railroad eagles may certainly be the handy work of a veteran, and done in order to display his war trophy. But eagles found with precise, machined, and countersunk holes, may lend credence to the possibility that perhaps at least some were indeed fastened using a system other than the normal stud method.
Another anomaly that is occasionally observed with these railroad eagles, are examples that display painted swastikas, wreaths, and even the entire eagles themselves. Once again because the lack of clear and concise period photographs of eagles being displayed during the period, it is impossible to determine with certainty whether this type of enhancement occurred during the 3rd Reich period, or sometime later post war. Collectors have found eagles from veteran sources that have old paint to these areas, but just how old this or when it took place, is mostly speculation.
As with most collectibles, the natural undisturbed patina that has accumulated over time on an item, is something that is difficult to replicate on any reproduction. Very often we see eagles that are covered in soot from coal dust and almost completely black. No doubt this is likely sign that the plaque was affixed to a Reichsbahn locomotive or coach car, that moved men and supplies in and out of Germany during WWII. While some eagles offered in the collecting community today have been cleaned or even polished, they were probably never manufactured with a high luster shine. The more rough and sometimes porous surface suggests that these plaques were most likely finished to a degree that left them with a dull natural matte aluminum appearance.
Finally, one of the most important traits to the identification of a 3rd Reich railroad eagle, is to look for the evidence of hand filing or grinding that is usually found around the perimeter edges of these plaques. This was performed to d-bur and smooth the outline of the eagle, after it was removed from the manufacturing mold. The area that is most noticeable of this hand filing, is the upper wing ridge which runs tip to tip, across the top of the entire wingspan. At times, even the top of the eagle’s head area will show course grinding marks also. This hand filing and grinding can actually can give the metal a squared off shape, as opposed to being round. Look for evidence of hand finishing, it can be an important tool in identification.
With few exceptions, nearly every 3rd Reich era railroad eagle will exhibit some type of maker marks and or numbers/symbols, that are usually recessed in the reverse side of the plaque. These maker marks are actually part of the mold, and not something that is stamped later, after completion of the final product. Since many of the firms responsible for the manufacturing of these eagles have never been identified, the collecting community usually refers to them by the initials seen on the reverse. In other words; 28" J&Z, PS LOK 680, HE, etc. By no means does the presence of any maker marks, actually make a railroad eagle legit. Because we know that post war reproduction eagles, will also exhibit these same manufacturing symbols. Most reproductions that are found in the collecting community, have been cast using an actual 3rd Reich eagle, as a pattern. Even with some period railroad eagles, a collector will at times find it difficult to clearly identify the makers initials. Some of these symbols are very obscure, and use a small font. Consequently maker marks alone, are truly not a definitive method for authenticity nor identification.
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