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How to not get burned by fake uniforms!


Dave
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Although I don't know much about field gear and the like, I do know a little about everyday and dress uniforms. So, here's a guide on how to buy uniforms and not get burned. Please feel free to add to this thread with your own helpful tips and suggestions!

 

I’ve been in the uniform business now for the past 20 years and have learned a few rules of thumb. Let me start out though by saying that for every rule of thumb, there are exceptions, and for every exception there is another rule.

 

The best way not to get burned is twofold:

 

1. Buy and read reference books. These cost money (and sometimes LOTS of money – more than what you’re buying!) but are generally worth it and will pay for themselves multiple times over in the long run.

 

2. Get to know a reputable dealer or collector and LOOK at their collection. Feel what “real” uniforms feel like…get to know the smell, the feel, and where those little things are that show that a uniform is right versus one that has been doctored.

 

The first thing to remember is that for every one of these common things to look for, someone unscrupulous has already figured out a way to duplicate it. I’ll give you a couple things to look for that are tough to duplicate, but it’s only a matter of time before someone figures a way around those.

 

With that bit of real-world cynicism over, let’s get to what to look for. Let’s assume that you’re at a show and have the opportunity to view the uniform in person. This is always the best way to buy a uniform, though that’s not to say that plenty of real uniforms are sold on eBay and other auction websites. Some of the best uniforms in my personal collection have come off the internet…but you have to know what you’re looking at.

 

Let me inject here another dose of reality: Most uniforms were stored by the veterans without insignia. Yes, that means that the vast majority of uniforms fall into the category of what we call “stripped”. And stripped uniforms are TOUGH to sell. Unless the veteran was truly remarkable, stripped uniforms will bring a fraction of the value that a uniform with insignia will. So what does that mean? It means that it’s tough – really tough – for a lot of people to get by the temptation to add insignia to a uniform in order to enhance the value and get it to sell. This is something that we have to remember as collectors and keep in mind when laying out hard-earned cash on new uniforms for the collection.

 

I’ve been collecting uniforms for 21 years, and have had at least 2000 uniforms from WW1 to the modern day from all branches, services and ranks through my hands. I have made some (probably many) mistakes. I’ve bought uniforms that were most certainly made up, and I know I’ve sold uniforms (either from my collection or consigned) that have been doctored (something I’ve tried to prevent, but have found out after the fact, unfortunately…) But for each of these mistakes, I have learned and gained experience (sometimes learned the tough lesson of not dealing with so-and-so again…) and hopefully some of that can be of use for you all.

 

Back to the show...You are looking through a dealer’s rack of uniforms and you see a uniform that really catches your eye. After obtaining permission from the seller, you take it off the rack, and proceed to look it over. What do you look for first? Here’s what I look for:

 

1. The price. Is the price exceptionally low or high? Of course, you can only learn the market price from experience, but a bit of a light should come on if the uniform is unusually inexpensive, particularly if the seller has other items of “market price”. Of course, this is common sense: “if it’s too good to be true, it is”. It could mean that the dealer is “dumping” it because something is wrong with it. Just keep that in mind.

 

2. So the price is right on, what do you look for next? Well, what are the “value points” of the uniform? The points “where the money is” are: the unit patch (and combat patch, if they have one), the name and date in the pocket, the “chest candy”, the collar devices and finally the rank insignia.

 

3. The first money spot is the unit patch. I’m no expert on patch authenticity, and that’s an entirely different ball of wax to gain experience on – but you’ve got to learn what you’re looking for especially if you’re willing to lay out the dough for higher-end uniforms. What do I look for? First, does the condition of the patch match the condition of the jacket? A patch that has been on the uniform for six decades (or longer) should show a bit of wear and soiling. Unless the patch has been covered the entire time, the white portions of the patch should be a bit soiled, and the patch should show the same amount of wear as the rest of the uniform.

 

Soldiers laundered their uniforms as well. Part of the laundering process includes pressing the patch into the uniform cloth. Thus, it should show the same amount of pressing as the rest of the uniform. If it shows more pressing (more shine, or more damage to the fibers of the patch) and particularly if it shows any signs of excess pressing that shows where a crease might have been – beware! This might mean that the patch came off a shirt, and was added later to the jacket. A soldier wouldn’t do that – patches were cheap and they’d never make it through an inspection with a patch like that.

 

Note how the patch is sewn onto the uniform. Is it hand sewn? Is it machine sewn? WW1 patches are typically hand sewn, whereas later patches are typically machine sewn – though WW2 patches are just as often seen as hand sewn. I’ve seen every kind of possible sewing – from crap to really good, all from veterans, so it’s tough to say that one kind of sewing is fake and another is right. But what can you look for? Well, look around the edge of the patch and see if you can find any other holes where thread used to be. Even if the soldier reused one patch off another dress uniform for this uniform, the a couple times laundering the uniform should take care of the old holes in the patch.

 

Watch out too for any loose threads around the patch, particularly if there are any loose threads not in the vicinity of the patch. This might show the removal of an earlier patch that wasn’t cleaned up well. Also, check to see if there’s a shadow of another patch around the edges of where the current patch is. This happens, but over 60 years, those shadows have mostly faded. If there’s a definite shadow, particularly if there’s a shadow and you can feel raised bumps around the edges where another patch was cut off and the original thread was – beware. Also, check the lining of the jacket inside the sleeve. Are there signs of another patch that was removed? Real uniforms will sometimes have this, but it needs to make sense. For example, if you’re looking at a 101st Airborne uniform, and inside the sleeve you see the marks of a round patch…does that make sense? That’s where knowing what you’re buying – knowing from experience and reference books – is key.

 

The next thing to look for is the bend of the patch. Yes, bend the patch and see how it follows the fabric of the uniform. It should follow exactly if it’s been on there for 60 years. But what if it feels stiff? Or perhaps crackles if you hold it up to your ear? Buyer beware… this could be an indication of several things: one, it could have been first glued to the uniform before sewing, if that is the case, normally the glue will have dissolved by this time. Two, and most likely, the patch was taken out of a photo album and that glue on the reverse might even have a piece of the old page behind it! Yes, some foreign patches were manufactured and glued to a piece of paper to stabilize it, but I have yet to find an original one of those that has the same stiffness as one from a photo album – especially considering that the patch in the album was kept flat for all these years…and is now expected to bend with the uniform.

 

Next, look for a characteristic “sag” under the patch on the sleeve of the sleeve material. This sag comes from the “adder” adding the patch and sewing it with the material stretched taught – but without the patch stretched taught as well. I have never seen a from-the-veteran uniform with that sort of sag under the patch – but I have seen plenty of uniforms on eBay and at shows with the sag. Is it a guarantee? No. But once again – buyer beware.

 

No type of sewing is a guarantee of originality. Why do I say that? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “well, it’s got X stitching, of course it’s real.” Well, that can be faked just as easily as anything else. Anyone with a talent for sewing (and there are plenty out there) can sew “X” stitching around the edge of a patch. Just one more thing to watch for…

 

Finally, look for the dirt. Yes, the dirt. For a uniform that has been sitting in a closet or attic for decades, they will get dusty. Look for dust between the top of the patch and the uniform. A uniform that’s artificially aged will have dirt on the uniform and on the patch, but it won’t have dust down in the cracks and crevices between the fabrics. That aging is key!

 

4. The next “money spot” is in the pocket (or other place) with the name on the tailors label. Obviously, a uniform with a name will bring more dough than a uniform without. So, don’t get burned by a named uniform – with a bad name! What should you look for? Well, your best bet is to stick with uniforms with nicely typed labels. Although I’m sure uniforms exist with doctored labels, when you take a good look at them, I can’t figure out how to unstitch one, re-type it, and stitch it back without stripping out the lining of the uniform. Possible? I’m sure, but worth it? I don’t know about that. Much easier to doctor though are labels with handwriting. You should be scared if you see a WW2 vintage uniform with clean link and especially with ball point writing (yes, I’ve seen that). These have to make sense… does the ink look old? The old-school handwriting as often seen in WW1 and pre-WW2 uniforms is almost unduplicatable these days (at least from my searching of handwriting books) especially using the same brown- and black-based inks. But what I have seen before are uniforms with labels where the veteran wrote their name themselves on the label. Nothing wrong with that, but easy for a faker to duplicate. Two ways of identifying this are: On solid cloth labels, look for the spiderwebbing of modern inks into the material. If this did during the time the uniform was made, most of that spiderwebbing has washed out or faded out over time. On paste-covered cloth labels, check any cracks in the paste cover and look to see if the ink from the name has colored the back fabric. If it has, beware – the ink should not be able to go through the front paste, and if ink is there, it means that someone added the ink later – once the label had started to disintegrate, which normally takes 20 years even in the best (driest) environment, and normally much longer.

 

Over time, you’ll learn the types of handwriting to look for. English made uniforms have a very similar handwriting, and some US tailors had the same people working for them for decades. I know that the Lauterstein’s labels were written on by the same person over the course of about three decades, with the same handwriting.

 

What about names written in the lining? Unfortunately, this is fairly easy to duplicate, and inks similar in appearance to vintage inks are easy to come by that can make the writing look old. The only way to really tell with writing in the lining is by noting the handwriting – is it typical to the period? Also, take a loupe to the handwriting. Are the tips of the fabric clean? Or are they inked as well? If the uniform has been laundered and worn, the ink will be darker in the crevices of the material, and lighter – to the point of being non-existent – on the tips of the fabric as it raises from the base.

 

The name is also one of those points where having a good library is helpful. The uniform might have a good name in it…but if you look him up in a register and he an artillery officer when the uniform has the brass for that of an infantry officer – beware!

 

5. The next “money spot” is the chest. Once again, like the patches, you need to know what you’re doing here by knowing what to look for with insignia, particularly wings and other metal objects. But, for a general what-to-look-for, here’s what I look at when I am looking at a uniform at a show. First, I take a general look at the insignia. Does it all appear to be the same age? And is it the same age as the uniform? Is there broken enamel on some of the insignia…but the uniform is near mint with no other damage? Conversely, is the uniform damaged, but the insignia in perfect condition? Next, I open the jacket up and look behind the insignia. Look at the clutches. Are they the right style? WW2 uniforms have flat-faced clutches, or the piston-style clutches. If there are dimple-faced clutches – beware. I can accept maybe one or two as perhaps the veteran or the veteran’s family replaced them at some point. But multiple ones? I don’t think so.

 

So when could I be comfortable with a dimpled clutch? Well, that leads into another topic entirely. After looking AT the clutches, I want to remove the clutches and look UNDER them. What I want to see is old, crushed fabric. This is toughest with the piston clutches as they have a tiny area where they touch the fabric, but it’s easy to see with the standard flat faced clutch. I want to see at least crushed fabric in the same circle. Preferably, I want to see a layer of dust surrounding the edge of the clutch (obviously there will be none underneath) and I’d like to see some darkening of the fabric, either around the clutch area that matches the patina of the clutch, or, under the clutch, which will form if any oxygen/moisture has had a chance to leech into the fabric and caused the face of the clutch to form a patina. Surprisingly, this is often common on uniforms from the Vietnam-era uniforms, particularly because of the thinness of the tropical fabric common to dress uniforms of the time.

 

You will also be able to see if the dimpled clutches have been on there for a long time as the dimples will show on the fabric as well.

 

In the same way, if the pocket flap is lined (as most uniforms have) and the uniform has insignia through the pocket flap, I would expect to see multiple pin marks through the pocket flap (they are tougher to get out of the pocket flap lining than anywhere else) as well as the marks from the clutches.

 

Thinking about pin marks, on more modern uniforms, there should be multiple pin marks where the ribbons and insignia go through the fabric of the lining, particularly with the shiny rayon or silk lining. A uniform worn by a career soldier for 10 years or more will have dozens of pin holes where the insignia was, particularly if the person was a “staffer” who wore the uniform on a regular basis.

 

The other thing I look for on the reverse is if any steel insignia parts have protruded through the uniform. I’m talking about ribbons and wings with steel pins. If the steel goes through the fabric and the uniform has been near any moisture at all (e.g. a basement, a humid environment…just about anything other than being in the California desert for 60 years…) I’d expect to see some rust on the pin. And if there’s rust on the pin, there’s going to be a residue of rust on the uniform cloth. There will be rust on the uniform cloth, as well as some residue of rust on the front of the uniform where the pin goes into the cloth.

 

Turning to the front of the uniform, I’m looking for plenty of dust around the insignia edges, and behind the insignia. Just like patches, dirt can be applied to the front, but it’s impossible to get it behind the insignia naturally. Likewise, I would be looking for at least some fading around the insignia, with the area under the insignia darker than the surrounding insignia.

 

The insignia is also needs to make sense. Of course, making sense is based on the sense that comes from reference works and experience. But this treatise is not to make anyone an expert on what insignia should be on a uniform. That’s up to you to learn by experience. However, there are a few things that you can look for to verify that what’s on there is original – or at least original to the period.

 

First off, the simple stuff about metal insignia: Clutchback insignia is okay on WW2 uniforms. Really. But, the clutches shouldn’t be excessively long, but most often are excessively short. Just a rule of thumb… same with the metal insignia not having the alphanumeric codes as on later insignia and the like. More importantly, check the back of the ribbons and make sure they too don’t have the alphanumeric codes on the reverse. Although I said that clutchback insignia is okay, cluchback ribbons (for the most part, save for uncommon clutchback multiple ribbon bars) are a no-no on WW2 uniforms, particularly the single clutchback ribbon bars.

 

Check the back of the ribbons and make sure that the accoutrements on the ribbons have uniform wear, and that their wear matches the wear on the ribbons. On the backside, the devices should show some dust and age or patina on the reverse. Really clean ribbon reverses, or bright copper anywhere on the device is a bad sign – buyer beware!

 

Mismatched ribbon devices, mismatched ribbons, pinback ribbons, ribbons out of order and so on aren’t reasons to make a uniform bad – so long as they are within reason and make sense.

 

And, sewn-on ribbons are no guarantee of originality. I know that might tough to swallow for many, but they can be duplicated by anyone good with a needle and thread with a few pieces of old card or dense fabric. Buyer beware!

 

6. Now let’s talk about lapel devices and rank insignia. What can you look for? Many of the same things that I’ve discussed before apply to both of these. Yes, you want to see dust under the insignia, the right clutchbacks, the right clutchback marks and the like. If the brass is numbered, check the reverse to make sure that an even patina covers the entire piece to ensure that new numbers haven’t been added or altered recently. There should also be shadows under the collar insignia, as well as under the rank insignia on the shoulders. The rank insignia is the biggest trap for dust as well since dust comes from above and lands on the shoulders, so those should be the largest depository of dust.

 

So what if the uniform was dry cleaned? Very good question. Some people have allergies to dust and old wool (like me) and need to dryclean old uniforms to maintain sanity. But here’s the trick: even if the uniform has been drycleaned, no drycleaning in the world will completely remove the residue of 60 years of dust/dirt/rust on a uniform, and/or especially crushed fabric under clutches and insignia. And, no drycleaning in the world will get rid of shadows on uniforms where insignia once was.

 

I hope this was helpful and can give some guidance to both newcomers and veterans alike in the collecting world.

 

Happy collecting!

 

Dave

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Dave, an excellent primer for the uniform collector! As you have already touched upon this, none of the above points are absolute and exceptions will be encountered, but they are certainly the basics of what to look for.

In the end, an experienced collector will sometimes just have to rely on gut instincts in some cases.

Using the above as a guide will help one deal with this situation when it inevitably arises!

(I just hope no "Artistes" get any ideas from this...)

 

CB

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  • 3 weeks later...
teufelhunde.ret

Well though out and presented advise for anyone considering & starting a uniform collection. One of the finest posts in recent memory...!

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This is a fantastic basis for the uniform collector. All collectors of uniforms, especially beginners, should read this several times and commit the key points to memory!

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Dave,

 

GREAT advice!

Another rule of thumb that has worked for me ( and I have been collecting uniforms for as long as Dave) is that when I am dealing with a dealer/seller I don't really know, I rarely pay more for a uniform than the sum of it's parts, if I were to break it up (which I don't do as a rule). This way you can't really get "burned". Also, don't pay extra for the "story"!

 

I can't agree more with the statement about reference books! I have about 6 different books on uniforms alone!! ( Apparently some are collector's items now also, who knew! :) )

 

Again GREAT advice!

 

Paul

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Also, don't pay extra for the "story"!

 

Paul

Unless, of course, there's some solid documentation or other proof thumbsup.gif

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Guest ragtime

Thanks a lot for that helpful section Dave, it will save greenhorns like me a lot of blood, sweat and tears crybaby.gif

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  • 1 month later...

I just found this thread. (Where have I been looking on this forum ermm.gif )

Well done for finding the time to put this all down on paper.

Dave you are the man thumbsup.gif

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  • 1 month later...

I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write all of that. It must have taken a good bit of time. Lots of good tips in there.

 

Yank

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  • 5 months later...

I have been collecting uniforms for 40 plus years and this is the best information I have yet to see on the subject wish I had someone tell me this a long time ago but then again a lot of this stuff was not very expensive 10 to 15 years ago. Thanks Dave!! thumbsup.gif

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All:

 

I split the fastener discussion off of this thread and gave it it's own thread. Thanks for the great discussion!

 

Dave

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Dave -

 

Interesting post! I, too, have had the pleasure of collecting uniforms for many years. There have been a handful of times that I have purchased a uniform directly from the veteran where 1/2", non-theater made ribbon bars were on an army uniform (Not Navy/Marine).

 

Also, I find it common to find campaign stars on ribbon bars that do not correspond with the number of campaign's that the division took part in. Some collectors attribute this to the possibility that the soldier was not assigned to that division for the entire time, therefore he would not wear campaign stars for campaigns that he did not participate in. While other collectors maintain that even a replacement was eligible to wear all of the designated stars of that division, just as they were permitted to wear unit awards that they, themselves did not earn (DUC/PUC, Fourragere).

 

Any thoughts?

 

Patriot

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  • 1 month later...

The patches on this uniform are not fakes or repros, but this is where research and knowledge kick in.

 

http://cgi.ebay.com/ww2-officers-uniform-7...=item3ca929ddb1

 

The Ike has a 75th ID patch on the right sleeve and a 710th on the left. The 75th arrived in the ETO 23 Dec 45. The 710th Tank Bn arrived in the SWPTO (Palau) 17 Sep 44. The odds of an officer transferring from the 75th ID to a separate tank bn are remote at best. Both patches are entry level so should not be worth more collectively than individually.

 

I don't take stock in that this is supposed to be an officer's uniform as the SSI are not sewn to AR.

 

I didn't show the pix of the patches as they are common, both are real, and the 75th is depicted in the SSI section.

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  • 1 month later...
The patches on this uniform are not fakes or repros, but this is where research and knowledge kick in.

 

http://cgi.ebay.com/ww2-officers-uniform-7...=item3ca929ddb1

 

The Ike has a 75th ID patch on the right sleeve and a 710th on the left. The 75th arrived in the ETO 23 Dec 45. The 710th Tank Bn arrived in the SWPTO (Palau) 17 Sep 44. The odds of an officer transferring from the 75th ID to a separate tank bn are remote at best. Both patches are entry level so should not be worth more collectively than individually.

 

I don't take stock in that this is supposed to be an officer's uniform as the SSI are not sewn to AR.

 

I didn't show the pix of the patches as they are common, both are real, and the 75th is depicted in the SSI section.

 

Since Dave is lazy :rolleyes: and I must not have enough to do......( or I don't want to do it)

 

post-182-1267132193.jpg

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post-182-1267132276.jpg

post-182-1267132212.jpg

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  • 2 months later...
hhc1stidf

Thanks for posting this! I have learned a lot of this on my own. Looking at what and how much you have written says a lot about how you are and how you really want to help!

 

Thanks very much! This information is invaluable. You must care quite a bit about all the forum members and others who will view this very important information.

 

I want to say thank you and I really appreciate your advise and expertise! I will use this in the future, even though I have been collecting uniforms for almost as long.

 

I still can't even touch your wisdom! :thumbsup:

 

AL

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  • 2 months later...

Thanks Dave. You told about reference books. Can you tell us some of them. I am newby and it will be ver interesting.

Thxs,

 

Rafa

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  • 2 months later...

Thank`s Dave for the excellent information you have given us.Paul that`s right what you said`I want to buy the uniform- not the story`.Great Guys in that Forom.

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  • 2 months later...

Dave,

 

It took me three years, but I have finally gained sufficient modicum of understanding to where I find this discussion extremely interesting, and thank you.

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