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The Michael Baldwin collection of First World War imperial German militaria is one of the very best of its type, with the first slice offered at Kent auction house C&T producing impressive results across the board, for items ranging from classic pickelhaube helmets to tunics, regimental shoulder boards and bayonets.

That part one selection featured on January 31, with the second to follow on May 23 and the last portion earmarked for October or November.

C&T militaria expert Matthew Tredwen was a personal friend of Baldwin, who died last year. Baldwin was involved in the trade as a professional antiques restorer, but his great interest was in imperial German militaria.

“I’m not sure why he was fascinated with this subject,” admitted Tredwen. “When he died we found some items from his schooldays and in there were sketches he had drawn of imperial German soldiers in the First World War, so obviously from a very early age he must have had that interest.

“Like all such things there is a probably a fascination with the losers - the items brought back as souvenirs are more unusual, while the British stuff was around in quantity.”

Auction trio

With the rare nature, quality and size of the collection, C&T was wary of flooding the market so the three sales are taking place.

Tredwen added: “It is a fantastic collection, near on 1000-plus lots. He authored a number of books on the subject as well, so a lot of collectors took the opportunity to buy things that were featured in the books. Once it had been up at auction, chances of finding another one are few and far between.”

Baldwin was producing a five-volume work on imperial German militaria, called Feldzug, covering separate years of 1914-18. The first one, Feldzug 1914, came out in 2013. His last book, on 1918, was published just after he died.

Strangely enough, added Tredwen, although Baldwin was an antiques restorer he never actually touched any of his own items. “It was very odd. If he got a helmet with the lining falling out he left it like that, never touched any of his own stuff, which is quite unusual for someone with such skills.”

However, original condition for items such as these is of course keenly sought-after by many collectors and so can boost the price.

The collection overall isin “pretty much good condition but also how he found it - he liked the idea that was how it was brought back to the UK so that’s how it should stay,” said Tredwen.

“I would say this is near to being the best such collection in the UK and probably the best in Europe. It is very difficult to say ‘best in the world’ but is certainly up there in terms of if scarcity and untouched condition. You see a lot of collections where lots of things have been cleaned, which a lot of collectors don’t like, but Michael’s collection was very much as found and certainly one of the best collections in the world.

“It produced a very strong first sale with lots of people in the room, commission, online and phone bidding. A lot of people were blown away by the prices; many highly over estimate. Pickelhaubes did incredible money – I knew they would do well but some of the prices blew me away.”

Body armour

Some of the most unusual lots sold on January 31 comprised German body armour harking back to the Middle Ages in style but adapted for modern trench warfare use.

An ‘extremely rare’ facial defence shield known as the ‘Elephant Plate’ still retained much original field grey green paint to the front side, and also with its head bar and internal metal bracing straps to which the remains of the leather attachment straps remain.

Probably no more than five examples exist in collections or museums around the world, says C&T. Full explanatory details appear on pages 76-81 of Baldwin’s Feldzug 15 book.

The plate sold for £7000 against an estimate of £5000-8000.

See illustrations for more examples of lots sold.