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Vietnam Reproductions: Southwest Series


gwb123
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I have been remiss in writing a full discussion of one of the most prolific series of Vietnam era reproductions that continues to plague the market.

I refer to these as the Southwest Series because of their point of origin. These were sponsored by an actual, decorated Vietnam veteran who was actively selling them in the mid-1980’s through the mid-1990’s. The maker had a good knowledge of Vietnam patches and took advantage of the fact that there were very few reference books on this subject available at the time.

As older collections come to market, the patches are showing up over and over again and still manage to confound collectors.

 

SF patches 4.jpg

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Overall, they are roughly made, loosely stitched, and often misshapen. They build on the mythology that Vietnamese made patches were poorly manufactured. While some local made patches looked worse for wear after a few washes and exposure to the field, most of them looked very fine and were full of detail when they were brand new. These reproductions suffer in quality and authenticity from the start.

The seller of these claimed to of had the time to have traveled all over Vietnam and gathering patches from units all over the country. This claim is belied by the fact that his patches all look to have been manufactured by the same hand, using the same machine or machines and using the same materials.

 

With that said, there is some variation in his work. I will try to sort through that.

 

In this example of a MACV patch, we see some of his identifying traits.

 

Notice the overall shape has a slight deviation along the viewer's left of the patch where the border bows inward.

 

The patch is embroidered by hand guided sewing machine. The blade of the sword is accomplished to a zig zag pattern, as if the border of the patch. If you had this patch in hand and could measure it you would find the width of the stitching is typically in increments of inches, which indicates a US sewing machine. If you compare this to the finer embroidery of Asian machines, they typically tend to measure out in metric increments.

 

Notice how the walls of the castle have been embroidered. The interlocking stitches give the appearance of a woven basket, or basket weave.

 

The cut edge is rough, with a lot of loose threads.

 

The use of a light poplin OD backing material is common to many of his patches. I suppose this is to suggest scrap GI uniform material used by a Vietnamese seamstress.

 

But one of the biggest tells of this series shows in the border stitch. Notice how the top thread is offset to one side from the reverse thread. This is a matter of how the sewing machine was slightly out of adjustment. This tell or clue is seen on countless examples of his work.

 

 

 

 

MACV.jpg

MACV b.jpg

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Here is one of my favorite examples of his work.

 

The purveyor of the Southwest Series patches had a number of 5 inch circular patches on different subjects. Apparently this must have been a pattern that his seamstress was able to work with on their machine.

 

This one is fairly symmetrical, but not all of them are.

 

On this example we see the use of applicque as opposed to trying to fully embroider the design. Note the zigzag stitch clearly visible around the "Big Red 1" patch in the center.

 

While the patch is symmetrical, note that the writing around the top is off center with the patch. The applique patch is also not in the center of the circle as well. Although solidly made, this is the work of an amateur.

 

The lettering style on these patches is distinctive, especially for some of the minor details. Note the extensions on the letter D in soldiers, the thin horizontal portions on the letter E as well as the top of the T, and the elongated cross section on the G. The more you look at these patches, the more you learn to recognize the writing style.

 

The base material appears to be cotton. One thing that this series generally avoided was the use of tell tale synthetic materials.

 

On the back side, we again see the poplin weight OD material as a backing. Also note again the offset reverse bobbin thread.

Against 1 ID 2.jpg

Against 1 ID.jpg

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Never to let a good pattern go to waste, the repro artist had additional versions made, this one with a MACV applicque, similar to the legitimate organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. (There is also a variation out there with a 1st Aviation Bde patch in the center.)

 

You have to keep in mind when these came out there was no internet or Google that you could check on your I Phone in the middle of a show to find out there was no such organization as "Soldiers Against the War".

 

This one appeared on eBay.

MACV SOLDIERS AGAINST 2 best.jpg

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Here is an example that continues to show the same techniques, but also the games played to heighten the sale.

 

One thing this repro artist understood was that patch collectors wanted the exotic. He tended to have a lot of patches with

attached tabs, and the more outlandish, the better.

 

Note the distinctive zig zag stitch around the border. Also the lettering for the "23" with the thin edges.

 

While the attached tab is not rendered too badly for shape, look at the unevenness of the 23rd ID portion of the patch.

 

Another offering on eBay.

 

23rd ID Baby Killer Best.jpg

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When not attaching tabs or scrolls to patches, our maker was cranking out stand alone pieces.

 

Note the similarities in lettering and the border stitching. Notice too how the lettering tends to be

crowded and askew. This is just downright sloppy work compared to period examples.

 

The 2/506 Recon scroll suffers from a lot of excess threads due to the tye of material that was used.

 

Notice that none of these is symmetrical.

Scrolls 1.jpg

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Everyone love SF and PRU patches, right?

 

The Vendor of the Southwest Series caught on that even early collectors were willing to pay above market prices for these kind of things.

 

The "RECON" on the RT New Mexico is classic for this lettering style. The central design is a complete mess. The edges of the playing cards weave all over the place.

 

I especially wanted to show the Gia Dinh PRU patch because of the very evident zig zag pattern used on the red stripes of the Vietnamese flag as well as the border. Note the offset bobbin on the reverse side again on this one, as well as the stylized lettering used for the G.

 

This is probably a good example of a patch made before color references were available. The inside of the bat wings on the PRU patch should be red. This is a detail that would have been missed working from black and white reference material.

SF 1.jpg

SF 1b.jpg

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While we are on the topic of Special Forces, consider these two flashes.

 

At first they look unrelated, but as you look closer, similarities come forth.

 

The border stitches are very close, including the way they are finished at the top.

 

The backside again shows that telltale offset bobbin.

 

There are differences of course. One uses a wider cross band and wider red stripes. The smaller version uses a narrower stitch. The base materials are similar but not the same, and the backing material is also similar but not the same.

 

What these two patches demonstrate is that the maker was smart enough to use different fabrics and design to create some variations in his wares.

Flash 1.jpg

Flash 1b.jpg

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An infamous reproduction of the USARV Training Group.

 

In contrast to period made patches, there is nothing centered or symmetrical about this patch.

Even the blade of the sword is bent.

 

Notice yet again the use of a zig zag stitch for the central design and border stitch.

 

Unfortunately, these keep popping up as originals for some reason. I believe this one was on eBay.

USARTG x.jpg

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If you ain't CAV, you ain't XXXX....

 

1st CAV motto patches have been popular with collectors going all the way back to the wartime period itself. Our vendor here did a lot to meet that demand with numerous designs ranging from the super cool to the weird.

 

There are a lot of 1st CAV motto repros on the market, so it has taken some sorting to figure out which ones can be associated with this vendor. However, the task was made easier when one of our fellow collectors found a stash of these, all dutifully stapled to a signed attestation of authenticity signed by the repro artist himself!

 

Here is one of my all time favorites... a Medevac crew patch. The lettering, off center aspects, and the use of applicque all are indicative of this vendor.

1st CAV Medevac 15.jpg

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In contrast, note the different, washed out looking base cloth on this example.

 

Also note the stylized "R" with the extended sections, as well as the small upswing you

see on the "E". This shows up in other patches, as well as the very narrow "C" and "O"

(which looks more like a "0").

1st CAV Recon b.jpg

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This one, with the logo "Pathfinders" shows a direct embroidered horse's profile. Some of these were so

poorly rendered they looked more like a German Shepherd.

 

Stylized lettering is very evident on this one, such as the cross bar on the "T" and embellishments to the

"F" and "E". The "I" almost looks like an after thought.

 

Notice the single narrow zig zag stitch holding the cross ban on.

1st CAV Pathfinders.jpg

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Some of these got rather wordy.

 

Note the cross bar on the G and the narrow horizontal parts on the "E" and "T".

 

Once you have seen enough of these, it is almost like a signature.

1st CAV 9th Cav Rgt Air Recon.jpg

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This is another favorite of mine, ever since I saw it in a bag under a table at a flea market in San Antonio. It took me years to track down an example.

 

This shows that even support units were copied by this prolific faker.

 

The first clue on this patch is that typical broad zig zag stitch used for the 1st Log patch in the center.

 

Once again, very little of this patch lines up. The lettering is typical of this series, although admittedly neater than many.

 

The back is once again green material, with an offset reverse bobbin.

Delta Support.jpg

Delta Support b.jpg

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A nice 11th ACR patch showing the "basket weave" pattern used to fully embroider the central design.

 

This patch is made of a red base piece overlaid on a white one, with a single stitch up the center securing the two.

 

The border stitch and overall shape are as we would expect from this series.

11th ACR.jpg

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Getting back to the topic of patches with added tabs or scrolls, here are a couple of examples from the 25th ID.

 

The basket weave embroidery is clearer in the 27th Infantry version, as is the whispy lettering.

 

Again this goes back to the vendor understanding that collectors would pay more for the exotic and otherwise "never seen" variations.

 

This led to an endless variety of tabbed patches.

25th ID.jpg

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These have fooled a lot of very eager Airborne collectors.

 

I have doubts as to whether patches were ever made this way to begin with.

 

Oddly, the same powder blue tab color is also used for the center part of the AA design.

 

There are dozens of similar designs done by this vendor.

 

(The stickers are my inventory markings.)

82nd set 1.jpg

82nd set 1b.jpg

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A couple more 82nd examples, sowing variations in construction and lettering.

 

Just imagine what these would go for if they were real.

 

As it was they were often offered up in 1990 for the bargain price of $45 to $65. Eager buyers would grab them up at shows thinking they were getting a steal. There was theft involved alright, but not on their side of the transaction.

82nd set 2.jpg

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The inevitable 82nd Airborne Vietnam souvenir patch.

 

The lettering matches that seen in other patches in the series. Note the flat top to the "T"

that is typical of these patches, as well as the crowding on the right side of the tab.

 

Note the funky rendering of the AA.

 

Given the time period that this was made, it probably was a design copied from an example

in Jim McDuff's Selected US Army Insignia of the Vietnam War.

82nd Vietnam.jpg

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Why buy a plain old "local made" 5th ID patch when you can have one with the "LRRP" tab emblazoned across it?

 

Note the styling of the lettering with the upswing at the end of the "L". The round portions of the "R" and "P" are

also distinctive to this series.

5th ID LRRP.jpg

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A couple of other Southwest Series patches that were made more appealing by adding an additional tab.

 

These examples came off of eBay. Both of these show a basket weave technique for embroidering the central design, as opposed to a fully overlapping stitch.

11TH-1 Best.jpg

11th ACR Airborne Best.jpg

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The following is somewhat of a sad story, demonstrating how these patches can infiltrate the collection of a well intentioned and dedicated collector.

 

A couple of years ago I noticed a number of Southwest Series 1st CAV motto patches showing up in eBay. It was clear that a collection was being broken up, and I put in my bids and won a couple of them.

 

Out of curiosity, I contacted the Seller and asked him how he came by so many of them.

 

He replied that he was an antique dealer in Canada, and he was assisting with the estate sale of a collector. Apparently I had missed the boat on a number of items, and this was the tail end of it.

 

While that was a disappointment, I asked if he had any paper work that had come along with the collection. Sure enough, he had photocopies of the entire collection, along with invoices and payment documents. He was kind enough to send it to me, 2lbs of paper by international mail.

 

The story these photocopies told was heart breaking. At least 70% of the collection was bogus, and a good number of them appeared to be Southwest Series patches. The collector had mounted them to pages in a book, had typed out the unit history associated with each unit! It really looks like he thought he had the real thing.

 

And he paid full prices for each of them.

 

I don't know if he found out the true nature of his collection before he passed, and it would almost be more merciful if he hadn't.

 

What follows are some of the photocopies I could salvage from the paperwork. I am sure these are all lovingly preserved in yet another unsuspecting collection.

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