Figure 1: Gold Merit Cross with crown, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Introduction:

When Emperor Franz Joseph assumed the throne in Austria one of his earliest actions was to establish the merit cross (Verdienstkreuz) to be awarded to those who demonstrated proven devotion to the fatherland, many years of valuable service, or other significant services in support of the public welfare. This decoration replaced the Civil Merit Medal which had been introduced in 1848. This decoration was highly regarded and personally approved and presented by the emperor up until World War I.

Decoration Numismatics:

Date Issued: Established in 1849 and issued from February 16, 1850 to 1922

Reason Issued:  To reward proven devotion to the fatherland, many years of valuable service, or other significant services in support of the public welfare.

Classes or Types:  This decoration was issued in two classes with six grades in each class:

  • Gold Merit Cross with crown on the war ribbon with swords (After December 13, 1916)
  • Gold Merit Cross with crown on the war ribbon (After September 20, 1914)
  • Gold Merit Cross with crown on the civil ribbon
  • Gold Merit Cross on the war ribbon with swords (After December 13, 1916)
  • Gold Merit Cross on the war ribbon (After September 20, 1914)
  • Gold Merit Cross on the civil ribbon
  • Silver Merit Cross with crown on the war ribbon with swords (After December 13, 1916)
  • Silver Merit Cross with crown on the war ribbon (After September 20, 1914)
  • Silver Merit Cross with crown on the civil ribbon
  • Silver Merit Cross on the war ribbon with swords (After December 13, 1916)
  • Silver Merit Cross on the war ribbon (After September 20, 1914)
  • Silver Merit Cross on the civil ribbon

Interesting Facts:

  • The crosses were originally awarded personally by the emperor
  • The cross design was considered so beautiful that it is said to have influenced the design of the Order of Franz Joseph
  • The original golden crosses are gold and the center medallion of the cross can be opened.
  • Recipients of the cross were entitled to add “Holder of the Service Cross” to their name.
  • More than one cross could be awarded but only the highest grade and class could be worn and the lower class or grade of the award had to be returned until 1918.
  • After 1918 two crosses could be worn at the same time.
  • This cross was commonly awarded to chaplains, military officials and sergeants in support roles

 Hallmarks: Crosses only had makers marks until 1872. After that date they are often fully hallmarked with assay office marks and fineness marks. The following hallmarks have been noted on merit Crosses:  They are usually found on the suspension ring, the reverse of the banderoles, the back of the crown orb or the suspension ball through which passes the suspension ring on the crosses without crown.

  • The Mark of A. Bachruch of Budapest
  • The mark of Karl Bohm
  • The mark of F. Braun
  • The mark of the Hauptmunzamt Wien (Imperial Mint, Vienna)
  • The mark of Alexander. Kittner
  • The mark of Alexander E. Kochhert
  • The mark of Wilhelm Kunz
  • The mark of Rudolf Marshall
  • The mark of Vinc Mayers and Sons
  • The mark of Rothe & Neffe
  • The mark of Rozet & Fischmeister
  • The mark of Georg Adam Scheid
  • The Mark of the Heinrich Ulbrechts Witwe Uniform Company
  • The bronze gilt asterisk
  • The Vienna Assay Office Mark
  • The 1872-1920 small article 750 fine gold hallmark
  • The 900 fine silver mark
  • The 800 fine silver mark
  • The 750 fine silver mark

Design: A Rupert type clawed cross with an attached imperial crown for the highest gold and silver class.

Figure 1: Gold Merit Cross with crown, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Obverse of the gold cross with crown: A Rupert type cross 36 mm in diameter with 5 mm wide flared enameled arms bordered in gold.  In the center of the cross is a 17 mm, vaulted and applied, round medallion. The medallion has a raised frosted gold rim inside of which is a white enameled circle.  On this white enameled ring is inscribed VIRIBUS UNITIS (with united strength, the motto of Franz Joseph’s reign) the letters are in gold and are separated by gilt ovals.  At the top of the enameled circle is a pair of gold clasped hands (this represents the loyalty of the people.  Inside this first enameled ring is a second raised frosted gilt border.  This border is 7 mm in diameter.  Inside the inner ring are the initials FJ (Franz Joseph).  The monogram is made of gilt metal and is applied to the center medallion.  The upper arm of the cross is attached to a 20 mm crown which is affixed to the cross by two banderoles of metal, which extend from the lower edge of the crown to the upper edge of the cross.  The crown is the imperial crown.  The crown has, in some cases, a red enameled bonnet within it.  The crown is very detailed. Through the orb at the top of the crown passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 2: Silver Merit Cross with crown, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Obverse of the silver cross with crown: A Rupert type cross 36 mm in diameter with 5 mm red enameled flared arms bordered in silver.  In the center of the cross is a 17 mm, round medallion.  The medallion has a raised rim.  Inside the outer rim of the center medallion is inscribed VIRIBUS UNITIS (with united strength, the motto of Franz Joseph’s reign) the letters are in silver and are separated by ovals.  At the top of the circle is a pair of clasped hands (this represents the loyalty of the people.  Inside this first ring is a second raised border.  The border is 14 mm in diameter.  Inside this inner ring are the initials FJ (Franz Joseph).  The upper arm of the cross has two banderoles of metal, which extend from the lower edge of the crown to the upper edge of the cross.  The crown is the imperial crown.  The crown has, in some cases, a red enameled bonnet within it.  The crown is very detailed. Through the orb at the top of the crown passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 3: Gold Merit Cross, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Obverse of the gold cross: A Rupert type cross 30 mm in diameter with 4 mm wide flared enameled arms bordered in gold.  In the center of the cross is a 14 mm, vaulted and applied, round medallion. The medallion has a raised frosted gold rim inside of which is a white enameled circle.  On this white enameled circle is inscribed VIRIBUS UNITIS (with united strength, the motto of Franz Joseph’s reign) the letters are in gold and are separated by gilt ovals.  At the top of the enameled circle is a pair of gold clasped hands (this represents the loyalty of the people.  Inside this first enameled ring is a second raised frosted gilt border.  The inner ring is 6 mm in diameter.  Inside this inner ring are the initials FJ (Franz Joseph).  The monogram is made of gilt metal and is applied to the center medallion.  The upper arm of the cross has a ball shaped eye through which passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 4: Silver Merit Cross, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Obverse of the silver cross: A Rupert type cross 30 mm in diameter with 4 mm red enameled flared arms bordered in silver.  In the center of the cross is a 14 mm, round medallion.  The medallion has a raised rim.  Inside this rim is inscribed VIRIBUS UNITIS (with united strength, the motto of Franz Joseph’s reign) the letters are in silver and are separated by ovals.  At the top of the circle is a pair of clasped hands (this represents the loyalty of the people.  Inside this first ring is a second raised border.  The inner border is 12 mm in diameter.  Inside this inner border are the initials FJ (Franz Joseph). The upper arm of the cross has a ball shaped eye through which passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 5: Gold Merit Cross with crown, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Reverse of the gold cross with crown: The reverse of the cross is red enameled with a gilt border.  The 10 mm center medallion is gilt and has a granulated border around it.  It has a raised gilt rim inside of which is a white enameled center medallion.  On the enamel is the date 1849 in gilt metal.  The date is applied to the cross.  The reverse of the banderoles and the crown are similar to the obverse side and are very detailed. The crown is the imperial crown.  It has, in some cases, a red enameled bonnet within it.  The crown is very detailed. Through the orb at the top of the crown passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 6: Silver Merit Cross, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Reverse of the silver cross with crown: The reverse of the cross is red enameled with a silver border.  The center medallion is silver and has a granulated border around it.  The center of the medallion is 12 mm in diameter. It has a raised rim inside of which is the date 1849.  The reverse of the banderoles and the crown are similar to the obverse side and are very detailed. The crown is the imperial crown.  In some cases it has a red enameled bonnet within it.  The crown is very detailed. Through the orb at the top of the crown passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 7: Gold Merit Cross, reverse. Image from the author’s archive.

Reverse of the gold cross: The reverse of the cross is red enameled with a gilt border.  The center medallion is gilt and has a granulated border around it.  The center of the medallion is 8 mm in diameter. It has a raised gilt rim inside of which is a white enameled center medallion.  On the enamel is the date 1849 in gilt metal.  The date is applied to the cross. The upper arm of the cross has a ball shaped eye through which passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Figure 8: Silver Merit Cross, reverse. Image from the author’s archive.

Reverse of the silver cross: The reverse of the cross is red enameled with a silver border.  The center medallion is silver and has a granulated border around it.  The center of the medallion is 10 mm in diameter. It has a raised rim inside of which is the date 1849.  The upper arm of the cross has a ball shaped eye through which passes a ring for suspending the cross from a ribbon.

Weight:  

  • Golden Merit Cross with crown = 11.3 -14.6 grams (4 Ducats)
  • Golden Merit Cross = 7.6 -11.5 grams
  • Silver Merit Cross with crown = 12.5 -16 grams
  • Silver Merit Cross = 7.4 – 9 grams

Size: 

  • Golden Merit Cross with crown = 36 mm in width, 55 mm high, including the crown and 7 mm thick at the center of the cross.
  • Golden Merit Cross, 1849-1914 = 30 mm in diameter and 7 mm thick at the center of the cross.
  • Golden Merit Cross, 1914-1918 = 36 mm in diameter
  • Silver Merit Cross with crown = 36 mm in width, 56 mm high, including the crown and 5 mm thick at the center of the cross.
  • Silver Merit Cross, 1849-1914 = 28-30 mm in diameter and 5 mm thick at the center of the cross.
  • Silver Merit Cross, 1914-1918 = 33-36 mm in diameter

Type of Material:

  • Gold crosses were made of gold from 1850 to 1916; of silver gilt from 1916 to 1922
  • Silver crosses were made of silver from 1850-1918; and from 1918 of silver gilt or silver plate base metal

Hope you enjoyed this blog. In part II of my discussion of the merit crosses I will describe some of the major variations in the Gold Merit Cross with crown. Until next time I hope you find joy in our shared interest

Rick

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