With a great upsurge in the production of fake Militaria, many collectors have become extremely discouraged in the pursuit of their field. The wonder how it would be possible to find a foolproof method to detect fakes without having to rely on the lies of crooked dealers or the errors of ill-educated collectors.
Suddenly,like the star of Bethlehem arising in the East,the answer appeared in the hands of a number of wise men. It was called the 'black light test" & was first brought to light by Thomas L.Shutt III of Overland Park Kansas.
The collectors were informed that merely by flashing an ultra-violet light on a suspected cloth items,a fake could easily be detected; the fake piece would light up like a Christmas tree! It was said that original, pre-1945 cloth never lit up so that if the piping,for example,on your Waffen-SS officer's visor hate started to glow,it was without doubt a fake.
With this news,collectors rushed out to buy their black lights from the friendly & very helpful dealers who first launched this story of a miraculous solution. Collections were feverishly checked the dreaded telltale phosphorescence & guilty pieces banished to gun shows & other auctions with sighs of relief or groans of anguish.
The purveyors of truth...& black lights...were venerated by the collector & demi-gods, helping to restore the market to an honest condition. Of course a large number of caps,insignia,tunics and the like were dumped on the market but a true collector can never have fakes items in his/hers collection.
Unfortunately for those who believed the story,there was not a word of truth in it & the individuals who started the myth of the black light test & merely shrewd businessman who,on one hand,made a considerable money selling well marked up black lights (which are easily available from any stamp dealers supply shop) & on the other hand, have made a killing buying up original pieces as fakes.
In fact, the black light is absolutely worthless as a detector of fake items in the cloth militaria. If an item lights up,it does not mean that the item is fake but merely that the dyes used in its manufacture react with the light.It is absolutely impossible to to detect the age pf an item by using a black light. Anyone wishing to prove this, can easily do so by the simple expedient of buying a few fake pieces at a gun show or online & testing them against original in their collection. In some cases,fakes will not glow & in other,they will. The same applies to the original items; many will not react & others will.
Prior to & during the early parts of the war, metallic piping on German visored hats had a cord liner made of white cloth which will light up when tested with a black light as will the white cardboard pattern used behind the collar patches & breast eagles. Actual metallic wire piping was discontinued during the war & artificial cellelon replaced it.The former has not been made since the war & the latter has rendering metallic piped items original & the latter in a area of question. Black light does detect blood & human seman traces & fake marks on stamps but cannot be a determiner of cloth authenticity or composition thereof.
As a result of this deliberate misinformation, a number of collectors have been denuded of rare & absolutely original pieces at knock-down & no doubt a collector who has parted with treasured pieces will read this & begin to screech with rage,not at the black light high priests but at the author of this work for ruining their self-confidence.
There are test which can be conducted on materials to determine either age of their composition but these tests are extremely expansive & are not always conclusive.
For example, various synthetic threads & fabrics were not only invented by the Germans but used extensively by them, especially during the course of the war. Rayon's were used in threads, cloths for uniform,parachutes risers & so on. Setting a match to a suspect thread, for instance, will show if the thread is cotton or composition but will not prove when the item in question was made.
Germans were at the forefront of the dye industry & all manner of coal-tar derived dies were manufactured & used during the course of the war...and before.
During the war it was found that human sweat quickly rotted through the cotton threads holding the sweatband in military visored hats so the pre-war cotton thread was often replaced in the hat factories by a synthetic thread that would not decay when impregnated with sweat. Discovery by collectors of caps threaded in wartime caps that "bubble" when ignited should in no war alarm them that the piece might be a reproduction or, as some dealers are wont to say 'reconstructed " or "restored'.
U.S.Army Military Intelligence publications from the period of the war indicate that their analysis of wartime German cloth found large mixtures of synthetic threads with the wool,sometimes up to 50% adulteration!
Some of this wartime cloth will show up under black light & some will not, depending on the nature & the dye lots of the fabric involved.
Unfortunately for those who seek absolute answers to the question of what is or not fake, there is nothing to tell them at all.
Black light only shows dye colors:burning threads only shows that the thread is cotton or some other substance which could well have been in legitimate use during the course of the Third Reich.
Unfortunately, the only true method of detecting fakes is that of experience & having the opportunity to closely examine known original pieces &,in examining these pieces,to know what to look for.Many uniforms were legitimately upgraded during the course of the war & elegant,pre-war pieces were fitted out for field use by their owner or were upgraded in rank as the war progressed.
Collectors should be extremely wary of individuals who claim to posses absolute knowledge & expertise in any field. Novice collectors somehow believe that a silver Panzer Badge belonging to a local "expert" is the only type ever struck ( there are 37 known official variants of this badge) & if a proffered does not meet the criteria of this piece, has to be fake.
"the eagle's eye,' they will say with scorn, "just is not like the one on Jimmy's badge.You know his grandfather took it off a General's uniform in 1944 so it has to be original. Jimmy actually let me touch it last week."
These are the type of collectors who always buy by committee. A desired piece must first be shown to at lease 20 other collectors for verification of authenticity. If even one of them raises a eyebrow, the piece is immediately rejected. Should all 20 collectors pass on it, it is then subjected to further inspection until two years later, the collector attempts to return it on the grounds that "a expert" said it was fake.
Usually, the same "expert" has his own piece for sale which his cronies all loudly support & the collector ends up with yet another fake to stuff into the suitcase under their bed. He can't display anything in his residence because his wife, or mother, does not approve of such things on public display.
In the main, a 40 year old collector who lives with his mother is not a person whose judgment can be relied upon
United Militaria Collectors Club
with thanks to