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An Exercise in Good Judgment


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The year is 1918, the officer is a Lieutenant Colonel described as being the Assistant Chief of the Balloon Section of the AEF.

 

More precisely, this high ranking officer also served as Commanding Officer of all balloon units with the First Army Corps which included six French balloon companies. Following the Armistice, he served as Chief of Air Service with the Army of Occupation at Coblenz, Germany and returned to the United States in July 1919.

 

While stationed in France this officer would have the chance to acquire and wear several beautiful variations of French made wire embroidered Junior Military Aeronaut badges.

 

The first insignia pictured below in black and white is described as being one of this officer’s French made Reserve Military Aeronaut wing badges; however, in an attempt to be fair with those who might wish to deceive us, a second French made RMA insignia is pictured below it also in black and white; therefore, if given a choice which would a high ranking officer stationed in France during 1918 really choose?

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Im no wing expert, but the 1st wing design looks more contemporary to the 1930's ( the birds wings themselves).

 

Kurt

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Hanging myself out on two counts here...I'm not sure what Col. Lahm ( whistling.gif ) would have chosen, but as a WWI novice, I like the second wing, if for nothing else that it appears to me to be a more intricate design.

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I can add this picture of a wing that I recently purchased. I like to think that mine is a good wing, and it closely matches the lower wing.

 

A couple of points. According to the person whom I purchased this wing, he thought it was traceable back to a man who was from Arcadia, California. Arcadia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcadia,_California ) was the site of the Ross Field Balloon School. Since this particular pattern of balloon wing seems to be rather common (relatively speaking), I have always wondered if this was actually a French made wing, or rather an American made wing. Sometimes the "lore" of French or English-made wings is just that, "lore" and not fact. Not that I am looking to argue, just a point of discussion.

 

Second, my wing seems to be a bit smaller than the typical WWI bullion pilot wing. I dont have the exact measurements (and sometimes it depends on whether you measure the whole thing or just the bullion spread), but this is a touch smaller at closer to 3 inches in width (most of the other WWI pilot wings seem to be closer to 3.5 inches or larger).

 

Also, my wing seems to have used some brown thread to highlight aspects of the balloon. It also has a kind of rich, almost golden hue to the bullion. Someone recently said on one of the other threads that they thought that exposure to tobacco smoke would sometimes give bullion a gold patina versus the dark, black patina.

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The top ones don't look much like the wings Pagelow wore in any of the photos I've seen. I don't care much for 'em. The bottom pair are closer to what I believe collectors refer to as French made. Tough to tell from B&W photos though.

 

Mark

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therefore, if given a choice which would a high ranking officer stationed in France during 1918 really choose?

 

The operative question should be when was the uniform actually made/worn?

 

The upper wing generally exhibits post January 25, 1919 features (shouldered wings connected to the balloon), while the lower wing would be more correct if purchased/worn between Dec 29, 1917 and December 21, 1918.

 

While some soldiers prefer to wear older insignia (to show they are "old salts"), others prefer the "latest and greatest" (to show they are "high speed"). Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we imagine what collectors might prefer today, but we don't know what Lt Col Pagelow thought of the earlier style badge.

 

In the case of Pagelow, as assistant Chief of the Balloon Section, he certainly would have had access to the most recent regulations. If the uniform were purchased in June 1919 for his trip home (this makes the--possibly erroneous--assumption that the wing and uniform have been together since initial purchase), Lt Col Pagelow could easily have chosen a wing of the then "current" style. Unlike the vast majority of WW1 aviation personnel, Pagelow remained in service for many more years. It is equally likely he replaced an earlier wing with one of later design (especially if his original had become un-serviceable) and continued to wear the uniform in question until the regulations changed to the lapel coat in 1925. Six years is a long time for a garment, it could have been updated multiple times.

 

Since we don't have the uniform in question to examine (is the uniform itself French made?) it is problematic to say if the wings are French made or not. Bullion wings are difficult to photograph as it takes a near oblique angle to be able to discern and convey the depth of the bullion work. To my non-expert eye, they appear more "American" in style, but again, I am operating from a grainy, straight on, black and white photograph in a book.

 

Chris

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A couple of things that strikes me about the top wing is that it looks like only one type of bullion was used, little apparent artistic or craftsmanship was expended to make this wing, and the "balloon" actually looks like a misshapen light bulb.

 

For example, the gas bag is asymmetrical (the person who made this doesn't seem to be able to make a circle), the gondola and suspension wires are not rendered in the design, and the "US" is neither centered nor balanced in the middle (the S is larger and off line from the U). If you look at the balloon, almost no effort was made to represent this part of the wing by altering the bullion or even the sewing of the bullion. They simply used horizontal strips of the same bullion thread to go back and forth to make the gas bag and gondola. They used thread to delineate the wings, but it doesn't even look to me like they even tried to highlight the balloon, gondola or suspension wires. It all seems very pedestrian. IRCC bullion insignia was actually more expensive than metal insignia.

 

Patrick

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.

A couple of things that strikes me about the top wing is that it looks like only one type of bullion was used, little apparent artistic or craftsmanship was expended to make this wing, and the "balloon" actually looks like a misshapen light bulb.

 

Patrick

 

:lol: No argument there.

 

Now let’s compare the badge on top to an authentic one from the collection of J. Duncan Campbell. This badge is also pictured in Duncan's book, see number 53, page 22. In his book the badge is a bit grainer looking than the actual photograph you see here and I've always suspected that the faker used the picture from Duncan's book as the model for the badge you see on top.

 

Cliff

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:lol: No argument there.

 

Now let’s compare the badge on top to an authentic one from the collection of J. Duncan Campbell. This badge is also pictured in Duncan's book, see number 53, page 22. In his book the badge is a bit grainer looking than the actual photograph you see here and I've always suspected that the faker used the picture from Duncan's book as the model for the badge you see on top.

 

Cliff

 

Cliff,

 

Thanks for posting that. I have to admit to my non-expert eye, they both look like they could be good, although by different manufacturers. I have to admit, I might have been taken in by it if I found it for sale... :unsure:

 

Could you please tell us specifically what leads you to believe the upper wing is fake? That way you could save us new collectors a lot of money.

 

Best wishes and thanks!

 

Chris

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Cliff,

 

Thanks for posting that. I have to admit to my non-expert eye, they both look like they could be good, although by different manufacturers. I have to admit, I might have been taken in by it if I found it for sale... :unsure:

 

Could you please tell us specifically what leads you to believe the upper wing is fake? That way you could save us new collectors a lot of money.

 

Best wishes and thanks!

 

Chris

Hi Chris,

 

Well I really think your eyes are a lot better than you would have us believe. I've seen some of your material on Bob's website and it is all great. thumbsup.gif

 

I also think Patrick has already done a great job covering all the bases as to why I think the top badge is a fake; therefore, is there really much more that needs to be added to it?

 

(Re: Top badge)

For example, the gas bag is asymmetrical (the person who made this doesn't seem to be able to make a circle), the gondola and suspension wires are not rendered in the design, and the "US" is neither centered nor balanced in the middle (the S is larger and off line from the U). If you look at the balloon, almost no effort was made to represent this part of the wing by altering the bullion or even the sewing of the bullion. They simply used horizontal strips of the same bullion thread to go back and forth to make the gas bag and gondola. They used thread to delineate the wings, but it doesn't even look to me like they even tried to highlight the balloon, gondola or suspension wires. It all seems very pedestrian. IRCC bullion insignia was actually more expensive than metal insignia.

Cheers,

Cliff

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I wanted to add another quick point about the backing material for the wings.

 

A few years ago, after looking through Warren Carrol's nice book on RAF/RFC wings, I start a small project to try to get a good example of RAF and RFC wings.

 

With cloth wings, you really only have 4 things to look at, the thread (usually silk or cotton) the material its sewn on (a "melton" or felt like cloth), the pattern and type of sewing, and any backing material on the wing.

 

This is almost exactly the same 4 criteria that you look for in a bullion wing. Furthermore, since we are talking about potentially theater-made wings (either English or French or very rarely Italy) then it would not be unreasonable to expect that at least to some extent the same skills material used in cloth RFC wings were ALSO used in bullion WWI pilot wings.

 

1) The workmanship and skills have already been covered.

 

2) The thread. Like anything related to cloth or thread, the burn tests and black lighting are important measures. I once ran a known fake bullion wing under a black light and the thread that underlined the bullion glowed--because it was synthetic. An easy tell, in this case. Sometimes, looking at the back of the wing will find glowing threads that are hidden on the front.

 

3) The backing. hard to say with a wing sewn on a uniform. Maybe other people have a better idea, but sometimes I see the wings with a kind of burlap(buckham?)-like material. Usually cotton, but not a cheesecloth. I have also seen wings backed in silk.

 

4) The base of the wing. According to Warren Carrol's book (and I paraphrase), on of the characteristics of vintage wings is that they use melton. I think it is a kind of like a felt material. He says it is usually thinner in vintage wings and that holds up in my experience with my example of RAF wings, as vintage items tends to be significantly thinner than the more common felt material used in the fakes. For example, I can usually take a WWII or pre WWII RAF or RCAF wing and compare the thickness to a later RAF wing and tell the difference just by the thickness of the material it is sewn on. The early stuff is much thinner.

 

In order to get "vintage" wool, I have noticed that many of the fake bullion wings seem to be sewn on what looks like old US Army wool blankets. Sometimes dyed black, but frequently not. This blanket wool is significantly thicker than the period melton. As an aside, on Dallas-style wings, the cloth cover is a fine wool woven material, NOT a piece of felt (typically). So, in general, when I look at a bit of bullion, I ask myself what is it sewn on to? A felt, a woven wool, melton material, or cotton fabric? Is it thin or thick? Has it been dyed or not? I tend to like to see a thin woven wool material that has been dyed.

 

Maybe some people with a larger library of samples can post some of their observations about the base material?

 

Patirck

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....

The first insignia pictured below in black and white is described as being one of this officer’s French made Reserve Military Aeronaut wing badges; however, in an attempt to be fair with those who might wish to deceive us, a second French made RMA insignia is pictured below it also in black and white; therefore, if given a choice which would a high ranking officer stationed in France during 1918 really choose? think.gif

 

 

Happened upon this thread today. It seems Cliff you've made an interesting observation.

 

However, I couldn't help but think of this while reading. We would really like to ask that if you (or any other member) post a thread suggesting something is fake and / or questionable, can you please just go ahead and explain what you feel is wrong with the questionable insignia so as to help the less experienced collector?

 

Obviously people have responded to this thread. But sometimes threads go unnoticed or with little detailed participation. In such instances, it is possible a less experience collector (such as a less experienced wing collector in this case) may not realize you are suggesting that the piece is questionable. By stating upfront your reasoning for questioning a piece, it helps those less experienced begin to learn. Also, it helps to strike up a discussion among the more experienced.

 

This does not mean we are promoting openly bashing owners of questionable pieces. Some people may own such a wing and not know. So, make sure to keep the comments to the piece itself.

 

Again, while my reply was to CliffP, it is also meant to apply to everyone else as well... Always try to foster amicable discussion of items.

 

Carry on!

Chris

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