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Weekly World War One Wing #1

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Fellow Wing Nuts,


Last year, a number of collectors left our community for the great militaria show in the sky. To a certain extent, this happens every year, but this last year among others the losses to our community included people like Garth and Marvin who both took leadership roles promoting the hobby. Over the years, both gentlemen had gently encouraged me to take a more active role.


Somehow, I could never find the time...


This is our hobby. To a certain extent, each of us needs the next generation of wing collectors--lest our wings end up melted down for scrap... So as 2019 wound to a close, I spent a little bit of time thinking about how could I be a little bit better ambassador for the hobby and maybe also help generate interest.


Among a few other things, I have decided to post a weekly WW1 wing here. This forum dominates google searches and while the forum has great reference threads, those rarely get updated. These new threads will be intended to be discussion threads. They may not break any new ground. Ideally, I'll post, and some of you will post wings or comments that either illuminate or contrast some aspect of the wing I post.


In that spirit: Lets get started!




Here is an interesting WW1 wing. For years I thought this pattern was questionable. To be honest, over the years I passed on many great examples I could have added to collection. I even once wrote here on the forum that I thought an example in the USAF Museum in Dayton might have been modern... Live and learn. Finally, I was shown a photo of one of these in wear immediately after the war and subsequently learned that a number of half wings in this exact pattern were found in the Frank Brothers cache that surfaced in San Antonio.


As WW1 wings go, these are honestly a bit un-lovely. No border bullion on the wings. Not as highly padded as most. Some of the reasons I used to question this pattern of wing. The way the wings are executed with black thread, including the shoulder area, is somewhat unique. Additionally, the number of "stars" on the shield this pattern exhibits seems to be somewhat inconsistent; ranging from five all the way to 13. This one appears to have had no more than seven stars:



This particular wing is pin-back.


I would love to see some more examples of this wing and certainly appreciate any thoughts you might have!


Happy new year!









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Chris, thanks for finding the time and putting some more knowledge back into the group. The contribution is appreciated. We all need to keep it up.




Tod Rathbone
Rathbone Museum of WWII Aviation Uniforms and Insignia

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Chris, thanks for finding the time and putting some more knowledge back into the group. The contribution is appreciated. We all need to keep it up.





Thank you!


Looking forward to the coming year.




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I have been asked about bullion wings by a number of other collectors. I think the first universal best thing to do is study as many examples that you can find (in person is best but on the forum, Bob's site, in books, andon eBay is a good idea). Know your stuff and lots of fakes will be avoided. Look at fakes as much as you look at "good ones"


The second bit of universal advice is to buy the bullion wings that you find attractive. I suspect if someone really wants to make a fake WWI bullion wing that will fool the "experts", they can do so. Thus it is best to at least buy what you like and at a price you can live with. But once you see a few good ones, you should have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.


Next, I look at the patina and type/quality of bullion. Some people will take an old USN bullion badge or rating and harvest the bullion thread from that and use it to make a "new" WWI wing. Those wings usually have individual bullion threads that have different patina (some bright, some dull), rather than a general overall uniform patina. Once you see these fakes, you can get a pretty good idea when you encounter one in the wild. Also look for "chemical patinas" which also are pretty easy to spot once you are familiar with bullion wings.


Normally a vintage bullion wing with have a warm grey patina (like the one in this thread). There may be some gradations depending on the exposure to air, but if the patina is really dingy/blueish/greenish, then you can expect it was a "patina in a can" treated wing.


The higher quality bullion wings are frequently padded, especially around the shield. But this is not a hard and fast rule, some of them are flat. It seems that he higher quality wings were padded rather than flat.


The fabric that the wings that support the bullion is usually black or dark blue. In some cases (especially if the wings were worn on a uniform) there is fading on the front due to the dyes fading (but this should be only on the side facing the sun). Fake aging/bleaching of the fabric is pretty clear to see when BOTH sides are faded out. In some cases, wings are sewn to pieces of US Army blankets. Avoid those.


The backing is usually on some stiff material or burlap type fabric. Look at a few good wings and you will see what I am talking about. The bullion is rarely (if ever) sewn directly on the backing fabric. Think of a sandwich with different layers. The linen thread used to sew the bullion to the fabric is usually rather heavy and can be white or yellow in color (generally). Sometimes it is black. But it shouldn't glow under black light.


I try to match patterns when ever I can, but there may be subtle (and not so subtle) variations between similar bullion wing patterns.


When I get a wing, I usually smell it. Old fabric and old bullion can have a distinct odor. Sometimes you can smell cigarette/cigar smoke on a wing (if the pilot was a smoker). On many fakes, you can actually smell the chemicals used to age them. Not always, but sometimes. I will not confirm or deny that I lick my wings....


The bullion should generally be tight but over time there may be some damage, missing threads, breaks and gaps in the bullion, and mothing and tears in the fabric. You have to decide your level of perfection in wings, but sometimes they show normal wear and tear of a 100 year old piece of insignia.


In many wings the individual feathers are outlined in bullion thread. Usually (but not always) this gives the feathering of the wing, however sometimes the bullion feathers are picked out by fine and plain black threads. Many fakes have this sort of "cheat", but you do see this on the periodic vintage ones as well.


With bullion wings there are as many exceptions as there are rules.


Just my 2 cents




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