Well, did Tiffany really out-source the making of their WW1 wings to Johnson Manufacturing or did Tiffany make them in their own shop? Without access to their archives we won't be sure but Patrick has covered a good number of interesting view points to consider.
I've always thought that Johnson Mfg. made identical wings for Tiffany until Russ brought up the question in post #2 and showed us pictures of his Tiffany and Johnson Mfg. examples. At first the two may look identical but they are not exactly similar and thanks to Russ I still have a few questions to consider.
Yes, in the early 1900's Tiffany out-sourced the manufacturing of some products; however, their whole reputation was built on selling the finest jewelry available to some of the most prominent members of American society and the firm had even been appointed as Imperial Jeweler and Royal Jeweler to the crown heads of Europe and the Ottoman Emperor. Well, with a reputation like that why would such an (aloof) exclusive, independent firm like Tiffany elect to sell a (near) duplicate wing made by an outside vendor like Johnson Mfg. who sold a similar wing in their own store located just 6 blocks away, through their mail order business, and at various Military Base Exchange stores across the country?
Keep in mind that in 1918 American aviators were wearing wing badges that had been designed with the basic requirement that each be three inches wide and have a center shield with letters US on it. With few restrictions, that gave jewelry makers the freedom to create exquisite looking silver badges, some of which had individual elements for two silver wings and center shield with letters US in real gold. Again, we are referring to 1918 when there were few restrictions on how a badge could look, not 1919 when the War Department began enforcing drastic new revisions that limited the shape of wings, removed the letters US from the center shield and required one piece construction, etc.
My point? In 1918 the silver studio at Tiffany was known as the first American School of Design and Teacher of Art Progress. The company also had shops to make their own jewelry. Hence, why would Tiffany choose to sell a Johnson Mfg. wing rather than create and sell an exclusive wing of their own design? It would have been simple for them to do it.
There is one more question on the subject of exclusivity or lack of it. How many manufactures made "Dallas" style wings in 1918? There were at least three that did it which meant two of them pirated or copied the original design. In consideration of how "Dallas" style wings were copied by other firms, should we remain willing to assume that the same thing could not have happen with Tiffany wings? In other words, could it not be that Johnson Mfg. copied a Tiffany wing for their own gain rather than make one with a design all their own?
That last question may remain unanswered for awhile since a request for Tiffany to research their archives to settle the matter would require a fee of $1,000 and can take up to three months to get a respond.
Cliff, with your approval, I would like to forward excerpts of your statement above, along with some of the ideas posted earlier in this thread, in a letter to the Tiffany & Co review board and see if they would consider helping us with a little archive research without cost. In accessing the Tiffany & Co website and viewing the "FAQ" section, I saw this question:
"How do I access the Tiffany Archives collection to aid my work on a paper, exhibition project or master's thesis?
Reseachers who wish access to the Archives must submit a request in writing. In the letter, please state the nature of your project, your time frame, and the goal of your research. Include a list of sources already consulted. The Archives Committee will review your proposal and will contact you with their decision within 60 days of our receipt of your written request."
I thought I'd submit a request to answer our questions with a reply directly posted to this thread on the Militaria Forum. By forwarding a short cut lead to the Forum website, they could see for themselves this is a non-profit group comprised of many collectors and amateur militaria historians. Seems to me they would preceive their participation as good public relations.