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American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham c.2004

Introduction: Reproductions and Fakes

Second World War

Reproductions of World War Two insignia had been created ever since the end hostilities. Manufacturers had created a tremendous capacity during the war to produce patches and the quartermaster corps abruptly canceled most existing contracts at war's end. At the same time many persons had begun to collect the colorful shoulder sleeve insignia (patches) worn by the returning troops. A number of firms got the idea of marketing patches to collectors in the same way stamps and coins were collected. They even offered albums for the storage of a collection. The best known of these firms was "The Patch King." Their stock was mostly surplus patches but they also supplemented their inventory by producing new insignia. In some cases, the new insignia they produced were unlike originals. The actual name of "The Patch King" was Sol Marks. He is widely given credit for developing the idea of marketing patches to collectors and advertised introductory offers of a small group of inexpensive patches to beginning collectors in national magazines. The Patch King was not the only firm in the business. These firms were not attempting to trick or deceive anyone. Their prices were modest and most collectors were not that particular regarding the issue of originally. Most of these firms disappeared during the 1960s, perhaps as a result of anti-military feelings generated during the Vietnam era. A number of older collectors, including the author, dealt with them during their heyday. Some of these distinctive older reproductions are becoming collectible in their own right.

ranger Women's Ferrying Sq
Original 6th Ranger Battalion Arc
shown with a Post War Reproduction
The reproduction fluoresces under UV light.
Postwar Women's Ferrying Squadron
(later Women's Air Service Pilots or WASP)
patch produced for collectors

In more modern times collectors have become more sophisticated and the more unusual W.W. II patches have begun to command prices that makes out and out faking profitable. The difference between reproducing and faking is more dependent on the ethics of the seller than any characteristic of the item itself. What begins as a reproduction may end up as a fake if a future seller makes a claim that it is an original. It is amazing what buyers on Internet auctions will pay for items that are being totally misrepresented. It is as if putting a false claim brazenly in print makes it true in some people's minds. Fake insignia of elite and aviation units are particularly popular. In some cases these patches are practically indistinguishable from originals. In other cases, they are fantasy pieces that never existed as originals. Bullion patches are produced in places like Pakistan and sold as originals.


Fake 101st Airborne Division "Theater-made" Patch
The fake fluoresces under UV light.

It is fortunate that faking has not yet destroyed the hobby of collecting American World War Two insignia and that originals are still available at reasonable prices. Other areas of collecting have not been so lucky. A good example is the collecting of artifacts of the Third Reich. This market has been so flooded by fakes that most novice collectors, even those who might otherwise have an interest, avoid buying both the originals and fakes. Extensive faking can destroy the market for original items and the number of collectors of that particular type of artifact is reduced to a small elite, who have learned the hard way how to distinguish originals and fakes. The price of acquiring that knowledge involves making mistakes and induces a paranoia can remove much of the enjoyment of a hobby.


A Reproduction 8th Air Force under UV Light

I have mentioned the use of a UV light in detecting fakes. One should not view this as an absolute way to distinguish real from fakes. Natural fibers that were used to manufacture patches during the Second World War do not fluoresces under UV light. On the other hand, synthetic fibers, often used after the war, fluoresces under UV light. Lighter colors light up like a Christmas tree, while dark colors do not. In practice it is not so simple. Some fakes are made with natural fibers. When testing a patch it is good to have a positive and negative control. Some original patches will seem to faintly fluoresce. The presence of traces of detergent can impart a florescence to an original patch.

We are fortunate that there is an interest among the senior collectors in organizations, such as the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors, to expose and discourage faking. I would encourage those who are worried about fakes to belong to this organization and also to read books, such as Christopher P. Brown's U.S. Military Patches of World War II, that include discussions of how to recognize fakes.

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