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Authenticating Helmets With XRF Spectroscopy


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ADMINISTRATIVE NOTICE: AN IMPORTANT UPDATE TO THIS DISCUSSION BEGINS AT POST #49, WITH ANOTHER UPDATE MADE AT POST #62
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At one point this science looked like it was going to be an answer to collector's prayers for if a helmet was real or not. Of course with US helmets being worthless, all they really looked at were WW2 German ones, and from one witness to a large blind test it was right on the money every time.

 

Now as I understand it, a large part of the collector /dealer community rallied against it and rabidly tried to decree it not a real thing- but when I go look for their arguments I find deleted posts from internet boards, and blind leads. A LOT of people were upset as that expensive cammo helmet they paid tons of money for was declared fake, making the collector feel bad and the dealer that sold with a guarantee really pissed off.

 

Of course the guy behind the entire endeavor got ill and died, so the whole concept fell apart.

 

So what I am interested in, is exactly what were the arguments against it? I know the science works, In theory it should be no problem, and yet many people to this day call it a scam- while the technology is in use by many professionals for other things.

 

(if you do not know what XRF is, wikkipedia it, but in short it is a technique where you can tell chemical composition of a material without damaging it).

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It's a form of "denial"....not wanting to know the truth. A case of.... "I know this marked 1st ID went ashore on D-Day and no scientific analysis of the paint will make me believe otherwise!" It's just like those people who think they can fool lie-detectors.

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"

 

Winston Churchill

" Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

John Winston Lennon

 

 

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Well, as one well known British TR dealer said " I don't sell Militaria, I sell dreams."

 

However, I like to keep an open mind. I know the science, and that it does work for many, many things

 

.But I really want to know what the "facts" people used to discredit the technique. Maybe they had a point. Maybe not. Perhaps they had good reasons, although I have yet to find them as the references all seem to be erased, just a lot of name calling.

 

Apparently at one point many TR collector's boards just banned all discussion of it.

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Sabrejet, on 04 Sept 2013 - 11:22 AM, said:

 

It's a form of "denial"....not wanting to know the truth. A case of.... "I know this marked 1st ID went ashore on D-Day and no scientific analysis of the paint will make me believe otherwise!" It's just like those people who think they can fool lie-detectors.

This is absolutely TRUE! This was a wonderful approach and 99.9% accurate! There were many dealers that had their livelihoods at stake and many collectors who would have been devastated to have found out the truth behind their "gems". So how did the overall dealer community react?? they shot the idea down and denigrated the science of it on every step along the way. I have personally seen this approach work on German helmets, to include decals and camo schemes. This is something which was based on pure forensic science. Furthermore, this approach is used by many high-end museums. Even if someone was to mix paints utilizing original formula (lead content, etc....) it would not fool the XRF test. So plain and simple: this was buried, since many folks had a great deal to loose! Also, the man behind the research and development, was a real good guy, who wanted to bring something to the hobby and community which would help collectors.

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I can understand the reluctance of collectors who've invested thousands of $$$$ over many years in their collections to subject their helmets to this process. The prospect of finding that your prized pieces might be worth three figures each rather than four must be difficult to contemplate. :o

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"

 

Winston Churchill

" Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

John Winston Lennon

 

 

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After the Berlin Wall came down and East Germany opened up, I clearly recall a marked increase in (alleged) TR items at the big British militaria shows. Suddenly, double decal Nazi helmets were everywhere, only they weren't "barn finds"...the most common story doing the rounds were that crates of them had been found "in East German warehouses" etc. I don't know if this was true or not (probably not!) but there really was a bit of a collectors' feeding frenzy at that time. I wonder how many of those would pass the "paint test" today!? :lol:

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"

 

Winston Churchill

" Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

John Winston Lennon

 

 

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After the Berlin wall came down and East Germany opened up, I clearly recall a marked increase in (alleged) TR items at the big British militaria shows. Suddenly, double decal Nazi helmets were everywhere, only they weren't "barn finds"...the most common story doing the rounds were that crates of them had been found "in East German warehouses" etc. I don't know if this was true or not (probably not!) but there really was a bit of a collectors' feeding frenzy at that time. I wonder how many of those would pass the "paint test" today!? :lol:

The Berlin Wall collapsing was at the same time "more or less" as the collapse of USSR and other communist regime's in Eastern Europe. When this all transpired there was a great supply of TR material which came to light from movie studios, theaters, as well as small museums which had closed (this source yielded the least amount, but some nevertheless), there was also a great deal of material from the former Baltic Republics of USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) So the example of the mentioned supply increase in 1989/1990 is not a good one, since there was indeed a good deal of authentic material which flooded the West. Ofcourse there was a fair amount of garbage to go along, but most of the material was good.

 

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This type of scientific method is only as good as the established "standard." If you generate a XRF spectra for helmet X, you have to have another spectra from helmet Y (an acceptable original "standard") to compare it to. I disagree with the comment about new old stock paint not fooling the test. The XRF test is going to react to the composition of the material, it is is the same paint used on an original, it will be the same.

 

With this in mind, how do you make a library of acceptable "standards" with the variance manufacturers and suppliers to the those manufacturers. Did Schlueter use the same paint supplier as McCord? Did McCord use the same paint in 1942 that they used in 1945? How about paint used for insignia applied in the field? Probably too many folmulations to even comptemplate. On and on... Too many variables for this to be foolproof and 99.9% accurate.

 

That's my two cents from my understanding of the science...

KANSAS ITEMS WANTED - WWII Uniforms, photos, Purple Hearts, etc - TOP DOLLAR PAID!!!!

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Sad that for so many folks the value is not the history, but the monetary. The real history then gets lost in the greed as the fakes flood the scene. Isn't it sad that on one hand anyone felt a need to come up with a forensic way to try and proove authenticity. And isn't it even sadder that it would get written off to protect the money, not the history.

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If you attend big outdoor militaria events as I do, you'll often see lines of Jeeps and GMC trucks parked side by side, all ostensibly the correct shade of "OD", but if there are twenty trucks I guarantee there'll be at least 15 different shades! Same applies to M1 helmets. I've got five or six mint from-the-crate examples...no fading or wear and tear etc. All similar, of course, but even they exhibit slightly differing shades. This is even more marked with their liners with some having a semi-gloss dark OD and others a much lighter matt OD. So which is "right"? Answer: all of them! So, as has been noted above, any such process would have to allow for the range and composition of the different paints used in their manufacture.

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"

 

Winston Churchill

" Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

John Winston Lennon

 

 

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The assumption is that certain chemical characteristics of paint will be roughly the same. Such as, you won't find lead in modern paint. You won't find cadmium or whatever in 1940's paint. If you have a good sampling of period paints, and a good sampling of modern paints, it seems that at the very least you'd be able to tell if it was done with krylon from the local store or not. As the theory goes, if you look at 100 helmets and they all match in terms of chemical composition to some degree, and then the 101st (pun intended) shows up with new chemistry that has not been seen in any other known good period paint sample, That makes a pretty good case there's something odd about it.

 

I can not say for sure what the reliability rate would be of fake positives, but I am sure it would turn up a large number of fakes quite easily.

 

 

The range in vehicle paint mentioned is due to multiple manufacturers over a period of many years, some for civilian sale, some from a specification for military sale, with different amounts and periods of weathering, what's under it, etc. IF, and I am saying IF, you can get a very specific profile for WW2 era OD paint (which in theory was made from a specification), and then you get a major variation on a rare airborne helmet- it means something. Like wise it will mean something if you have profiles of period white or yellow paint to see if the shell is original paint, and the markings of a different era paint.

 

It also raises the possibility of getting a metal composition profile from say the grommets in an assault jacket, then testing against known modern reproductions. Possibly they will have the same chemical content, but I suspect there will be enough variance to show a difference. Like wise it may be possible to tell German form British from Paki bullion. There is a lot of science and chemistry to be done, but theory seems very sound.

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The problem I see is that if you wanted to make period correct paint knowing what this test looks for you can very easily.

A bunch of "purist" artists feel that the lead paint applies smoother and the shade has never been match with its modern equivalent. All you would need to do is get the lead, pigment and oil mixture correct and I would think you can trump that system even with a litmus test of real vs fake, which in the long run could help get the mixture correct.

 

There are companies that have gone out of their way to make these artists happy and have matched composition of may paints including those with lead and people pay high prices for them.

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So the moral of the story is....don't ever lick your WW2 helmets! (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Getting the lead out"!)

"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender!"

 

Winston Churchill

" Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."

John Winston Lennon

 

 

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I think my opinion is that the helmets this method will show to be fakes would have been considered fakes by most knowledgeable collectors anyway. Too many variables when you are dealing with the composition of paint, decals, metal, etc etc when you are looking at the elemental makeup.

KANSAS ITEMS WANTED - WWII Uniforms, photos, Purple Hearts, etc - TOP DOLLAR PAID!!!!

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I'm going to share with you my understanding on this as I was told by a few people who are more in the know concerning x-ray fluorescent spectroscopy, I am not a scientist and honestly, I do not think anyone on this forum can truly say that they understand it's nuances. What I do know is what Tyler(wildcat123) correctly mentioned earlier, for the spectroscopy to work, It needs a certain amount of data(known originals) to use as comparisons. What that number is, is unknown to me but, I believe it requires hundreds of comparatives. The more comparatives, the finer the data. While 99.9% sounds great, I think you'll see that it's a an incorrect yet visionary number.

It's my understanding that this process worked very well on aged decals, such as those found on Third Reich helmets. All decals were manufactured in similar plants under similar conditions and applied to the helmets in the same fashion by the manufactures. This meant that there were more comparatives for these than there is for U.S. helmets. Now, the jury is still out concerning the TR decals and many folks who are much more in the know in the TR helmet world will tell you that this is not working well and has only limited merit.

The problem arose, again from my understanding, that spectroscopy does not work well when it came to paint. There just simply weren't enough comparatives. This was based on multiple formulations of paints made during WWII by both the Allies and Axis alike. Each company & each batch of paint had different levels of pigments, binders, bases, lead, solvent etc. Add to that, the enviroment in which the paint was made, stored, and/or used, played into the way the paint ultimately looked(chemically and visually) once it was applied and dried.

Example: A 506th A/B trooper paints a spade on his helmet using white paint supplied by a U.S. manufacturer. On the other side of the camp, another trooper is painting his spade on his helmet using white paint supplied by a British manufacturer.

Both helmets look exactly the same on June 6th, 1944, they have identical white spades. However, chemically, these two spades are completely different. They have: two different manufacturers, two different formulas, two different paint binders, two different pigment combinations, two different levels of lead contents, etc. BUT... they look exactly the same.

Fast forward to today: Which one of the two would you use for the legit comparative? Now multiply that one comparative by thousands of possibilities and the spectroscopy technique concerning paint... especially paint on paint, over steel helmets, done in the field, under various conditions, using multiple types of paint and formulas, could become highly controversial. Which is exactly what happened.

Again, let me state that I am limited in my knowledge concerning X-Ray Spectroscopy but, I do know paints, having worked in the automotive paint industry for a great many years. The debate concerning formulations is a very legitimate argument thus, I think spectroscopy, as a collectors tool, is open to error.

"There is no such thing as an expert, only students with different levels of education."
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I have two xrf machines at work and inspect paint for a living. I'll have to give my original US helmets a shot to see what the factory paint spectrum looks like. At best you will only be able to check if there is no original paint underneath camo paint because the signature would be different. You can only analyze the paint down to the substrate surface and an XRF would still pick up metals in the metal shell used to harden the steel. I have the same problem checking paint on pipes made for gas.

 

I did shoot some German radios once and did not find lead on those. At the time some other collectors were curious about the hazards of the chipping paint.

 

Brad

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I have two xrf machines at work and inspect paint for a living. I'll have to give my original US helmets a shot to see what the factory paint spectrum looks like. At best you will only be able to check if there is no original paint underneath camo paint because the signature would be different. You can only analyze the paint down to the substrate surface and an XRF would still pick up metals in the metal shell used to harden the steel. I have the same problem checking paint on pipes made for gas.

 

Brad

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Thanks Brad, I'm looking forward to your results. Your explanation sounds something like what I was told.

"There is no such thing as an expert, only students with different levels of education."
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I think that XRF technology is an excellent tool to use in helmet authentications. I use the world tool because for reasons mentioned above. Two helmets could be 100% original WW2 examples and have a different XRF fingerprint. However, XRF could with 100% certainty unmask a faked helmet by identifying a post war element in its composition. In other words I don't think you can take a helmet, scan it with XRF and say this helmet is without any question an original WW2 helmet. However, you could scan a helmet with XRF, uncover an element not found in original examples and determine it to be a fake.

 

In reference to this technology being used in German SS helmet decal authentication, there are several known and agreed upon wartime manufacturers of these decals. When decals of each maker are scanned with XRF they share an exact match in elemental composition. The percentages of these elements may vary between decals but the elements will all be represented in similar fashions. So they will not share an exact fingerprint but will share the same elemental composition. An EF decal will have a different elemental footprint when compared to a CA Pocher decal. Fakers of these decals have advanced to the point where they are able to reproduce a decal which is graphically correct when compared to an original. However, these fake decals fail to match up correctly in elemental composition when compared to originals and can thus be exposed as fakes.

 

So as mentioned before I think XRF is a great tool. If I was going to invest in a $6,000 SS helmet, a $12,000 DD SS Helmet or a $15,000 M2 Paratrooper helmet (just ballpark figures) I would certainly like to know that the elemental compositions of these helmets are consistent with known originals. In addition to this I would also want to examine the helmets with Digital Magnification and of course with the human eye and brain to form an overall conclusion on the helmet.

 

There is no reason not to embrace this technology as a tool. Should it be treated as the final answer on helmet authentication? No. Should it be added to the collectors arsenal to out a fake helmet? Absolutely. Unfortunately many will try to write this technology off because of personal egos or for financial reasons.

http://www.ww2germansteel.com

 

Looking to Buy Named and Unit ID'd US Militaria from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Apparently this was part of the issue - that the folks would not release their "database" and show what they were looking for (duh). Thus it was "not transparent" and thus accusations were made it "was not science." It cost them a lot of money to fly around and examine helmets from some pretty high end collections. I did talk to one individual that a great many helmets checked, and he had thrown in some ringers- and at they nailed every fake.

 

I agree that one of the problems is when you say it is 99.9%, that's a tough number to live up to. However, it just seems to me if you can easily eliminate helmets that were made without having special paint created, etc, it's worthwhile. Like all the helmets made by former reenactors from humbrol hobby spray paint, then found their way into the hands of a chain of dealers, and eventually, voila! "found in a farm."

 

From my limited research, there are various kinds of these gizmos, which detect to various levels, different sensitivities in various spectra etc. So apparently not all such equipment is the same.

Seems like one of the main problems it that it needed to stay kind of proprietary to work, and people (mainly dealers with scads of money on the line) just did not trust folks that could make or brake them. I wonder what would happen if a group of non-dealers- museum people, historians, a retired general, a university professor in the field... whatever set up a non-profit for the betterment of the hobby, and thus there would be a board of folks with no vested interest in cheating, which could oversee a database, and people who were properly trained to do this kind of thing.

 

Brad- if you have a chance, look at some plain old WW2 OD paint. then if you can't find someone that has a more modern painted helmet like an MP or medic, see if the composition of just modern spray paint is. If it is possible to rule just the ones that have an obvious modern composition it would be a pretty important tool. Although then without any known good period white paint it would just be a guess.

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However, XRF could with 100% certainty unmask a faked helmet by identifying a post war element in its composition.sons.

 

That's what I've been thinking in reading this discussion: a technology might not be able to prove what a helmet is but it could prove what it ain't.

 

In an era when fake painted helmets vastly out number real painted helmets, this could be important. But the problem there is, "Who is going to allow the fake they hope to sell for $2,000 to be tested?"

 

I would also like to address the comments we always see in such discussions about how knowledgeable collectors can tell the fakes without hi-tech tests. Maybe so, but the number of collectors who are truly knowledgeable is not as big as we maybe think it is and most helmet buyers rely on dealer representation and some basic general knowledge, but they are not experts. I'm sure that's true in most types of collecting, which is why forgers make a killing in helmets, art, Chinese ceramics, and what-have-you.


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It's Friday and pretty slow around the office so I brought in two M-1 helmets today to test. One is an early McCord fixed bail with heat lot A68 and the other has heat lot 853E which I guess is also a McCord with swivel bales. Both have original paint on the shell and liners.

 

I shot the first helmet (A68) and then the liner. I then shot the first shell several times for lead (which my XRF is set) and I was getting a low range. I did the same for the second helmet and got a high reading for lead on the (853E) shell. (So don't sand those old pots without cleaning up). Both liners were low for lead.

 

I'll work on looking at the full spectra to see if I can save the files and upload them. The second shell could have some different hardening process in the metal and without scraping the paint off and just testing the paint in a lab you can not really tell if the metal is affecting the reading.

 

I think if one could determine the composition of the original McCord or Schluter paints, and use those heat lot numbers to ID the period of manufacture, you could probably get a good data base that could weed out some fakes.

 

Brad

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In an era when fake painted helmets vastly out number real painted helmets, this could be important. But the problem there is, "Who is going to allow the fake they hope to sell for $2,000 to be tested?"

 

 

Hopefully, if this technology ever becomes readily available a potential buyer would have the ability to have such a helmet tested prior to a purchase, especially when we are talking about high end helmets. Because the technology is non-evasive there is no risk of altering or damaging the helmet so it would be a reasonable request. However, as long as there is a buyer out there who won't require such a test in the authentication process than potentially bad helmets will continue to get passed around. I for one if selling a helmet would have zero issue with it being scanned prior to it being purchased and I would assume that anyone else trying to complete an honest deal wouldn't have a problem with it either. XRF should be used just like any other tool in the current collector's arsenal. Imagine paying $6000 for a helmet and being told by the seller that you aren't allowed to look at the helmet under a loupe before completing the deal; hopefully one day this will sound as outlandish in reference to the XRF technology.

 

An added advantage to this technology is that there is a machine doing this work and not a person. The elemental composition will be recorded without any prejudice whereas two collector's may have a different opinion on a painted unit insignia based off of their in hand examinations even under magnification. It takes the human element out of the authentication process.

 

Jeremy

http://www.ww2germansteel.com

 

Looking to Buy Named and Unit ID'd US Militaria from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Here's my readings that I took this morning. This is only for lead concentrations in the paint, and the level in the late war helmet shell is three times the amount considered to be lead based paint. The first shell has some lead but in much lower concentrations, so at some time the manufacturer changed the paint.

 

The shots were pretty consistent. I have the other metals but am trying to figure a way to show it here.

 

Brad

 

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I am not an expert on chemical make up of paint, so I don't know if lead is the thing to look for. I just know they don't use it anymore so if you don't see it, the chance is very probable that it is modern paint.

 

However, as good a tool as this might be, looking at what the German helmet collectors went through This would be fought tooth and nail. And as always there would be the ' well MAYBE the company was short of lead that month due to the war, and so maybe they just made up a batch without it, and maybe that batch ended up in the UK where Maybe it was issued to the 506th...

 

I think everyone would pretty much agree that there is a great possibility of being a very useful tool- if not to identify originals, but to weed out some fakes.

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