|The Order of the Virtuti Militari and its Cavaliers 1792-1992, By Prof. Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski|
|Other polish military history books, By Prof. Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski|
|ARTICLE: THE POLISH MONTE CASSINO CROSS By Prof. Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski|
|ARTICLE: POLISH MILITARIA, Scarcity Contributes to Value By Prof. Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski|
|BLUE ARMY - AN APPEAL TO POLONIA AND FRIENDS OF POLAND|
|The Polish Naval destroyer ORP Blyskawica|
|OTHER POLISH RESOURCES ON THE INTERNET.|
Prof. Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski
origin of interest in military history and decorations
comes from many directions. Collectors, military
historians and former servicemen represent the majority
of individuals with interest in decorations. However,
many other individuals develop an interest because of the
historical nature of this field that is a part of the
nations history. Polish military and civilian
decorations make a significant contribution to the
understanding of Polish national history.
The History of Polish Decorations
Polish military and civilian decorations originated in 1705 with the Order of the White Eagle established by King August II. The Poles adopted the white eagle as a national emblem centuries before (ca. 966 A.D.) Individual awards of distinction were discouraged and the king was forbidden to make such awards because it was considered undemocratic to single out one specific individual. However, after a long battle with the Diet, King August II was able to obtain the approval for the Order.
Statistics indicate that Polish orders and decorations were rarely awarded - especially considering the large number of military conflicts and the hundreds of millions who took part. The Order of the Virtuti Militari, Polands highest decoration for gallantry in the field was awarded to only 26,000 persons since its inception in 1792 to the end of the Second World War. The Order of the White Eagle was awarded to 1,258 persons from 1705 - 1945. The Cross of Valor was awarded to 30,000 persons and the Cross of Merit to 60,000 persons, both decorations include multi-awards to the same individual up to four times.
In cases where decorations were issued at the expense of the government, the Polish military accepted bids from the lowest bidder to produce the decorations for the Polish Armed Forces. This is why there are at least five different versions of the 4th and 5th classes of the Order of the Virtuti Militari and at least seven versions of the Cross of Valor. For example, late versions of the Cross of Valor were reduced in size for two purposes: to conserve bronze and make the size of the cross at par with the Virtuti Militari. Each cross was similar to the others except for minor variations in the design of the eagle or the lettering on the cross, as well as the quality of the enamel. During the Second World War, Polish decorations were made in England, France, Italy, the Middle East, and in the Soviet Union - each with its own history and characteristics.
Orders and medals were frequently subsidized by the honoree. A poor officer awarded the gold 4th class of the Order of Virtuti Militari could not buy one in solid gold but obtained a silver or bronze with gold gilt. The military authorities issued the recipient a diploma, or an award document and identification card authorizing the person to wear the insignia of the order, medal or badge. With this documentation the individual could buy the insignia from a private jeweler.
The first government issues of the Order of the Virtuti Militari, Cross of Merit, Cross of Valor and the Cross of Merit for Bravery were serial numbered and are very rare. Many of these were personally presented to the recipient by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. As production increased and records were misplaced as well as military conflicts multiplied, serial numbers were discontinued. The use of pure silver before WWII in Polish decorations can be found in some breast badges, a small number of Crosses of Merit, the Twenty Year Service Medal, Red Cross Medal and the Life Saving Medal. All other decorations except for some issues of the Virtuti Militari with jewelers hallmarks and national assay marks, are gold or silver gilt, others are in bronze or brass.
During the Second World War a small number of Orders of Virtuti Militari, Medals on the Field of Glory and Polonia Restituta were made in solid gold and silver at the Moscow State Mint. In London, the firm of Spink and Son produced the Orders of the Virtuti Militari in the Grand Cross (10 sets), a large number of 4th and 5th class, the Order of the White Eagle (10 sets), Crosses of Merit and the Orders of the Polonia Restituta in sterling silver with gold gilt for the Polish Government in exile.
After Poland regained her independence in 1918, Poles who served in the armed forces of the German, Russian and Austrian armies acquired the tradition of military campaign medals, especially regimental unit badges. From 1914 to the start of the Second World War, Polish military unit members were wearing breast badges as unit designation and as badges of honor. Polish breast badges were awarded to officers and enlisted personnel for exemplary service and required a specific period of time of service in each regiment. Badges awarded to officers were mostly enameled and in some cases in silver. Breast badges, as well as some orders and medals, were not regular issue and had to be purchased from jewelers.
In many cases, the badge was worn on a ribbon, later versions were changed to a screw post and a back plate. By the 1930s, Marshal Jozef Pilsudski ordered a standardization of badge size and issued an authorized list of officially sanctioned badges which could be worn on the Polish Military uniform. Officers badges were made of silver, gold, or silver gilt. Only a few can be found numbered with makers hallmarks.
Since the publication of my book, Polish Orders, Medals, Badges and Insignia, requests have been made by many collectors for authentication and valuation of Polish decorations. I have completed extensive research to determine the rarity and real value of Polish decorations. This task was very difficult since limited data was available from bits and pieces from Polish sources. After completing my research, I can now present some important facts to assist in determining the value and rarity of Polish decorations and help in deciding on the price of a decoration which the collector wishes to buy or determine if a seller is asking a realistic price.
The fact that Polish militaria is rare comes as no great surprise to experts and knowledgeable collectors of Polish militaria familiar with Polish history and the Polish military establishment since 1790. It is the best kept secret in the field. For example, if during the Republic era, 1918 - 1939, there were six Grand crosses, 19 Commanders crosses, 14 Cavaliers crosses and 50 gold crosses awarded of the Order of the Virtuti Militari, the odds are four billion to one that the piece you have is one of them. The last Virtuti Militari and Cross of Valor for WWI was awarded in 1923.
Their rarity can be explained by some important facts. Poland was occupied by foreign powers - namely Prussia, Austria and Russia - from 1794 to 1918. During these years there was considerable oppression against all things Polish - including decorations which were confiscated, destroyed an forbidden to be worn. During the war for Polish Independence (1914 - 1921 against Germany and the Soviet Union), 8,000 Poles were decorated with numbered Orders of the Virtuti Militari and 30,000 with numbered Crosses of Valor. Today, these original decorations can not be found. When Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviets in 1939, military decoration recipients hid or destroyed decorations out of fear of reprisal upon capture. Thousands of Polish soldiers were executed because they had participated in military operations against Germany and the Soviet Union during the 1914 - 1921 War for Independence.
In 1939 soldiers hid or buried their decorations and award documents near their homes or elsewhere to be retrieved after the war. Thousands never returned to Poland after the war and others could not locate their decorations amongst the destruction that had taken place. My fathers Order of the Virtuti Militari number 4,231 and the Cross of Valor number 24, 243 which he received for the First World War were lost. Some collector somewhere may have them, or they may have been lost forever...
Decorations were lost in other ways. For example, at one time and at one place, namely the Katyn Forest, over 15,000 Polish officers in full uniform were executed by the Soviets. Photos of exhumed bodies show these officers wearing their military decorations. Since the Order of the Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Valor were required to be worn on the uniform at all times, many were lost as these officers were in full uniform.
During the years 1939 - 1945, six million Poles were killed - a considerable number were soldiers. After the war, returning veterans were unable to obtain replacement decorations since the post-war Polish government became a Peoples Republic. They were forbidden to wear pre-WWII decorations because military contributions of pre-WWII soldiers were not recognized by the new government. During the last few years, the politics have changed and veterans of WWI and WWII who have their old decorations can now wear them. Those who did not, purchased jewelers retrikes or bought them from collectors.
Please note that pre-WWII Polish decorations and badges are extremely rare.
They are found only in Polish museums or in the hands of collectors who started collecting just after the war and persons to whom the decoration was awarded. During the years 1925 - 1935, the height of badge awards, Polish armed forces consisted of only 280,000 soldiers assigned to about 100 regiments. Each regiment had about 50 to 250 soldiers. In order to qualify for a regimental badge, a soldier had to earn it. Just being assigned to a regiment did no qualify him to wear the badge. The unit badge was considered a badge of honor and some regiments had several hundred years of traditions. A minimum of one to three years of almost perfect service was required to earn the regimental badge in peace time, and three months service at the front during war time. It was awarded once or twice during the year during the regiments holiday or a national holiday. Not every soldier was awarded a badge. Misconduct or short service in the regiment disqualified many candidates. Pre-WWII Polish badges are as rare as those of Imperial Russia.
Decorations made for the Polish Armed Forces in the West during the Second World War are still available in limited number. These were made in England, Italy, France, and the Middle East. Collectors are not always aware of their origins or value. For example, a badge of the 2nd Artillery Group made in Italy in sterling silver, hallmarked and numbered was recently sold for $25.00. Its real worth is about $150.00. A numbered, original silver cross of the Virtuti Militari recently sold for $250.00 Its real worth is at least $1500.00. Polish decorations are considerably undervalued because few people are familiar with their true value and historical importance.
Popularity of collecting Polish militaria, especially badges, has grown during the past five years. Veterans now wearing their old decorations and the growth of collecting Polish militaria on both sides of the Atlantic has resulted in a scarcity. Collectors should remember that Polish decorations were made and awarded in lots of tens and hundreds, not millions as in the case of Nazi Germany and other nations.
The rarity and valuation scale I have developed does not take into consideration the economic forces of supply and demand in todays collector market in determining the price. The index is based upon several major factors: the number of awards made, the era of their issue, the historical period they represent and their metallic value. The sum total of these factors resulted in the determination of the rarity scale and valuation. The listing of documented awarded decorations can give you a true indication of the number of each decoration and their possible value. Current market prices are not taken into consideration because Polish decorations are undervalued due to lack of information. The value of a number WWI Cross of Valor is inelastic from the historical point of view. It is elastic in terms of value over the years which results in an increase of price over time. Please use the rarity and valuation scale as a guide, not a final answer to your collecting needs.
The Polish Order of the White Eagle, Polands highest decoration, can be considered equivalent in importance to the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Its rarity also falls into the same category. The Order of the Virtuti Militari can be compared to the American Medal of Honor or the British Victoria Cross in rarity and purpose. In pre-WWII Poland, the Order of the Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Valor were the only two official awards for bravery on the battlefield. The Cross of Valor is comparable to the American Distinguished Service Cross and the Cross of Merit to the Distinguished Service Medal.
Good luck and good hunting.
STATISTICAL INFORMATION REGARDING POLISH MEDALS AND ORDERS
Status of the Polish Armed Force on August 1st, 1939
|ARMY AIR FORCE||6,300|
Polish Standown Armed Force in the West, November 1, 1945
estimated that between the years 1939 - 1945 over 500,000
soldiers served in the Polish Armed Forces in the West
|RARITY SCALE INDEX
1. Extremely rare, found only in major Polish Museums
2. Very Rare, found in a few collections and museums
3. Rare, examples available in very limited number.
4. Scarce, examples on the market in limited number
5. Currently available on the market in ample supply
1- 9999, Examples are beyond the traditional price system
2- $15,000 to $25,000
3- $1,500 to $2,500
4- $250 to $1,000
5- $50 to $150.00
DECORATIONS BY THE II
REPUBLIC OF POLAND, 1918 - 1939
|Name of Decoration||Number Awarded||Rarity Scale|
|Order White Eagle||13||1|
|Order Virtuti Militari|
|--1st Class, Grand Cross||6||1|
|--2nd Class, Commander||19||1|
|--3rd Class, Cavalier||13||1|
|--5th Class, Silver||8,563||3|
|Order Polonia Restituta|
|1st Class, Grand Cross||79||2|
|2nd Class, Commander with Star||241||2|
|3rd Class, Commander||1,370||3|
|4th Class, Officers||2,729||3|
|5th Class, Cavalier||2,465||3|
|Independence Cross with Swords||1,817||3|
|Independence Cross W/O Swords||35,271||3|
|Cross of Valor (includes multi-awards to same person)||55,116||3|
|Cross of Merit for Bravery||377||2|
|Cross of Merit|
|1st Class, Gold||15,576||3|
|2nd Class, Silver||41,900||4|
|3rd Class, Bronze||93,558||4|
|Cross of Merit Central Lithuania||1,252||3|
|Medal of the 3rd of May||5,000||3|
|Medal for the War of 1918-1921||50,000||4|
|Medal for the Tenth Anniversary of Independence||45,000||4|
|Silesian Cross, 1st Type||3,500||3|
|Silesian Cross, 2nd Type||5,000||3|
|Life Saving Medal||500||3|
|Academic Laureate Grand Star||5||1|
|Academic Laureate Medal|
|--1st Class, Gold||205||3|
|--2nd Class, Silver||629||4|
|Ten Year Service Medal||15,000||4|
|Twenty Year Service Medal||1000||3|
|Thirty Year Service Medal||0|
|Red Cross Medal||2000||4|
|Silesian Grand Cross with Swords||25||2|
|Silesian Grand Cross without Swords||75||2|
|Silesian Grand Cross Star||550||2|
|Wolyn Grand Cross Star||250||2|
|Wolyn Cross With Swords||500||2|
|Wolyn Cross Without Swords||5000||2|
|Balachowitz Grand Cross Star||125||1|
|American Soldiers Cross||25,000||4|
|Ideological Prisoners of War Cross||700||3|
|1863 Uprising Cross||258||3|
|Pulaski Legion Medal||2,000||4|
|Air Defense Cross|
|--1st Class, Gold||910||3|
|--2nd Class, Silver||1,363||4|
|--3rd Class, Bronze||2,096||4|
Awarded by the
Polish Government in Exile, 1939 - 1989
|Name of Decoration||Number Awarded||Rarity Scale|
|Order White Eagle||9||1|
|Order Virtuti Militari|
|--Grand Cross, 1st Class||0|
|--Commander, 2nd Class||5||1|
|--Cavalier, 3rd Class||16||1|
|--Gold, 4th Class||252||2|
|--Silver, 5th Class||5,997||3|
|Order Polonia Restituta, all classes||11,222||3|
|Cross of Valor||25,000||4|
|Cross of Merit with Swords|
|--Gold Cross, 1st Class||114||2|
|--Silver Cross, 2nd Class||540||2|
|--Bronze Cross, 3rd Class||2,572||3|
|Air Force Medal||4,434||3|
|Merchant Marine Medal||1,055||3|
|Monte Cassino Cross||48,498||4|
|Home Army, AK Cross||100,000||4|
|Polish Resistance in France Medal||1,780||3|
|Cichociemny badge, (silent, unseen) Secret Mission Jumps into Poland||316||2|
|Original regimental badges||4|
Decorations by the Peoples
Republic of Poland 1943 - 1989
|Name of Decoration||Number Awarded||Rarity Scale|
|Order Virtuti Militari|
|--1st Class, Grand Cross||13||2|
|--2nd Class, Commander||19||2|
|--3rd Class, Cavalier||58||2|
|--5th Class, Silver||4,852||3|
|Order of Grunwald|
|1st Class, Commander||69||2|
|2nd Class, Officer||376||2|
|3rd Class, Cavalier||5,382||3|
|Cross of Valor||38,736||4|
|Silesian Uprising Cross||20,321||4|
|Wielkopolski Uprising Cross||22,195||4|
|Medal on the Field of Glory|
|1st Class, Gold||38||2|
|2nd Class, Silver||35,741||3|
|3rd Class, Bronze||75,699||4|
|Order of Builder of Poland||275||2|
|Medal for Our Freedom and Yours||1,475||3|
|Medal for Warsaw||131,242||4|
|Medal for Odren Nyse, Baltyk||321,975||4|
|Medal of Victory and Freedom||671,698||5|
|About the Author
Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski is a former officer of the United States Air Force, retiring at the rank of Captain. He is currently a Colonel in the South Carolina State Guard, attached to the reserves. He is a Professor of Aviation Management at Florida Memorial College in Miami and President of the Polish American Chamber of Commerce of Florida and the Americas.
He is the author of four books and twenty-five scholarly articles in business and economics.
As an amateur Polish military historian and collector of Polish militaria, He credits these interests his fathers military service in the Polish Army and Navy. His father also served in the U.S.Army Transportation Corps as the commander (Captain) of the USAT Ganandoc, an auxillery aircraft carrier during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II. It is interesting to note that during his service with the U. S Army, his father was a Polish citizen. Few persons in American history ever commanded a naval ship during a war while being non-US citizens.
Wesolowski invites your comments or questions. He also
has an excellent list of Polish medals and decorations
which are being offered for sale. You can contact him via
e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org You
can also visit his web site and learn more about Polish
medals and decorations at
©copywrite Z. Wesolowski, 1997, & The Militaria Collector's Exchange