Monday, August 23, 2010

Fakes and Fantasies

For a collector of period items there is nothing more vexing than a fake or forgery offered as an original, vintage item. The higher the rarity, the greater the amount of fakes circulate.  Unfortunately, in the field of nautical insignia and hat badges in particular, there is a cottage industry of unscrupulous vendors offering fakes and thus inserting into an already small field a score of spurious items. Some collectors unwittingly scoop up these fakes, to the financial gain of the faker and detriment of the hobby.

An issue with maritime industry and U.S. Merchant Marine hat badges is that published references are few and far between for the interested student and serious collector. It is often difficult to determine what is truly a period or piece, given the paucity of information and relative sophistication of fakers.  Coupled with the aforementioned, insignia items are often altered, defaced or invented by bored mariners, thus provenance and determination of "genuineness" is at times problematic. Fortunately there exists a small number of references devoted to the subject: a self-published book by Rudy Basurto acts as a general catalog and starting point for anyone interested in the subject - it is not an academic treatment of insignia, rather is more a collection of images and pithy descriptions and some of the insignia depicted exist only in long-lost regulations; a smattering of articles published in the ASMIC Trading Post by Dave Collar and Bill Emerson have depth to their descriptions and illustrate insignia quite well; a more specialized treatment of U.S. Maritime Service and Army Transport Service (in its various guises) is found in a self-published work by Steve Soto and Cynthia Soto; ATS-only topics are treated by Bill Emerson in his encyclopedia survey of U.S. Army Insignia; perusing Herbert Hillary "Sarge" Booker's newsletter "Crow's Nest" details some of Basurto's material and offers variations of maritime insignia; Joseph Tonelli, in his Visor hats of the United States Armed Forces presents some handsome examples of many common and not-so-common head wear of the sea services, with the Maritime Service and Merchant Marine included.  In a future post I will provide a list of the majority of published and "self-published" works on the topic.  Readily accessible, Collar and Emerson are indispensable; take care in looking at  Basurto's "book"; it is a good starting point, however many of the hazy depictions of insignia have been picked up by forgers.

As follows is a gallery of fakes, plain and simple, along with a discussion of each. A great many of these items were manufactured in the 1980s and began re-surfacing in the early 2000s to the present day.

ATS Chief Petty Officer
This device comes up in online auctions from time-to-time with examples in bronze. The dead give-away for this badge is the "hand applied" rope. The wire is loose, and the reverse solder is blotchy. Fakes of this badge often have the NS Meyer hallmarks - this is due to the fact that the dies were sold at auction in the 1990s when the NS Meyer plant closed - every quarter about 3-4 of these badges find their way to sale.

USMS Chief Petty Officer
The applied anchor is a dead giveaway. No USMS CPO devices were ever manufactured that have said application.

US Coast & Geodetic Survey Officer
This is a fun badge. The eagle is actually a MSTS eagle with a USCG shield and USN anchors. US C&GS hat badges from the time of the Second World War are exclusively woven. Only postwar did metal hat badges come to be manufactured; and with those matching NOAA examples from the present day.

US Coast & Geodetic Survey Senior Chief Petty Officer
This badge is problematic in several ways. It was not until 1968 that the US Navy Uniform Board approved a Master and Senior Chief Petty Officer cap insignia - similar to their collar devices, with one or two silver stars superimposed on the anchor, inverted and centered on the stock. The US Coast Guard soon followed the US Navy's lead in 1970, as did the US C&GS. The US C&GS never had Chief Petty Officers, per say, as all unlicensed mariners aboard ship were un-uniformed Federal, civil-service employees. Proposed insignia tables were published in 1965 without examples being produced. With the transfer of the agency to the Environmental Science Services Administration, all non-commissioned officer positions were removed and finally ceased to be with the 1970 reorganization into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Further complicating matters for this particular hat badge is the fact that the star is not of the type used by any of the licensed manufacturers of US Military establishment insignia, and and the anchor itself is that of a US Navy ROTC/Anapolis midshipman. The only US CG&S true device is the triangle within the circle.

USMS Supply Officer
This purports to be a hat badge, however, it may be an attempt to create a collar badge which existed only in regulation form.

US Navy Commissioned Officer
This is quite frankly a fantasy. An actual US Navy Commissioned Officer hat badge of the "pre-1940s" type has been detailed previously. This badge may also be seen in a similar configuration as a WSA badge with bronze anchors. Caveat emptor.

USMS Gunner
No such badge was ever produced or existed. Unofficial ATS examples are without supporting strut and are wreaths with a pin-on center device; the same is true for MSTS hat badges.

ATS Radioman
This is sometimes advertised as either an ATS Electrician or Radioman. See above.

ATS Craftsman
See above.

ATS Clerk
See above.

US Army Harbor Boat Service - Tug Boat Service
This is a fantasy.

Harbor Boat Service Officer
This is a fantasy, and a fun one, at that. Oftentimes fantasies will purport to be a variation by the mere application of a small device on the shield of a US Navy Commissioned Officer's hat badge. Given that not only is the hat badge incorrect for the period (pre-1940), the US Army Quartermaster's device is also incorrect for the same.