29 June 2010
Restoring Pickelhauben Part 1 To restore or not to restore ...
This article by the late Graham Maddocks appeared in the Sept 1995 edition and is part of our look back into the archives to celebrate he 100th edition.
All serious collectors acquiring a new item of militaria face the dilemma of ‘to restore or not to restore’. None of us ever really owns any item of militaria, we are simply its guardian until we decide to dispose of it – or life decides to dispose of us – but most of us would agree that all items should be in as good, if not better condition, when they leave collectors’ hands as when they are first acquired. This, however, is where the dilemma begins. Coin collectors are united in the belief that coins should never be polished and some medal collectors follow this rule also, although medals were meant to be polished for wear – ask any Regimental Sergeant Major! Restoration, however, is a slightly different argument.
There is also a difference between restoration and conservation. Restoration implies that an item should be put back into the condition it was in when first used or worn, whereas conservation means that an item should be stopped from deteriorating any further by any possible means. Archaeologists, for instance, usually conserve items but very few would consider restoring them. Thus the remains of the Mary Rose, snatched from the bed of the Solent, are still in the process of conservation, but they will never be restored to their original condition!
Thus, it is up to the individual collector whether or not an item should be restored or merely conserved, and those who believe that minimal cleaning should be the only attention given to a newly acquired item of militaria, should not read any further.
However, most of us collect militaria not just because of its historical associations but also because it is attractive to look at and any item which is mud-caked tarnished, filthy or otherwise distressed, certainly is not attractive. How many of us really want or ever buy items that dealers frequently describe as ‘in relic condition’?
There is an obvious exception to the ‘relic’ principle, however. Any item which has suffered damage during the course of its original use and not since then, such as an aircraft panel with an original bullet hole in it, should never be restored, but it might have to be conserved if it had seriously deteriorated since its combat days! Thus, no one would ever seek to darn the hole in Admiral Nelson’s jacket, but they might want to clean off l90 years of dust and stop it from being eaten by 20th century moths!
However, I have no such problem with pickelhauben. Never being sufficiently rich to be able to buy perfect items, I have seldom acquired one in issue condition, with all the original parts present. Furthermore, items acquired with damage to them have almost certainly sustained it since the Great War, not during it. Thus, helmets with parts missing have equally certainly lost them since l9l8 – we tend to forget that most families had a pickelhaube in the 1920s and they were more often than not used by the post-war generation to play war games re-enacting their fathers’ part in the ultimate victory!
All I do, therefore, is to try to restore them to the condition in which they would have been worn, wherever possible using original parts and original methods.
The rest of this article appears in the July/August edition of the Armourer