Welcome back to ww2homefront.com's Home Front Digest. This last month while prowling the auction bushlands, a rare bird was spotted. On closer examination, this rare bird was actually a mimic; an imposter. So cunning was this chameleonesque forest dweller we thought it was essential to bring the appraisal to you in all its detail. This occurrence is a textbook study in appraising collectibles and especially home front collectibles.
First the disclaimer. What appears in this column is my opinion. It is not necessarily fact. You are burdened with deciding whether my appraisal is accurate and deciding whether or not you will allow it to affect your auction bidding habits and/or from whom you will bid. I cannot attest to whether the seller intentionally listed this bootleg and had knowledge of its recent forgery. That is and will remain an unknown quantity. However this seller and their family members do have a reputation in the militaria community on the East Coast that in my opinion sheds light on possible motive. Again its purely speculation and an opinion on my part. And for the record, I am not yet a certified appraiser.
About 2 months ago I was trolling ebay and was searching the anti-axis forest when I stumbled on a very interesting and one-off anti-axis item. It was buried in the ebay sellers store of ebay ID 9504Jeff. It was a "Buy It Now" for 350.00. The item was a hand-painted civil defense helmet with an anti-axis cartoon on the front. The cartoon depicted togo, hirohito, and suzuki apparently arguing. hito is wearing a crown and pointing his finger at suzuki while togo stands by. Around the brim of the olive drab painted helmet it reads, "August 15th, 1945. Pacific War Ends. We Are Convinced Japanese Unconditional Surrender". Overhead is a bomb parachuting down on the three anti-axis figures that is labelled, "Truman's Atomizer". On the back it reads, "VJ".
To say I was thrilled with this find was an understatement. Anyone who bids anti-axis stuff knows that a BUY IT NOW of a desireable item is hotly contested and you either bid now or lose it. Fortunately for me this seller offered a seven day inspection period with a money back guarantee. I thought this then was a no lose situation and on the off-chance that this jewel was real and a period paint job, I'd bid it. So I slammed the gavel down, paypaled the seller and waited for this item with great expectation. It arrived just a few days later UPS.
Now a word about appraising collectibles. Appraising is the art and science of developing an informed opinion about a particular item. It does not mean it is correct. Of course we strive to be correct but sometimes crucial pieces of the puzzle are missing and should they be uncovered, an appraisal is subject to change. Thus it is fair to say that an appraisal seeks to incorporate all available information to help render an opinion. Often times the available information can be used to make inferences about an item. This is a very important aspect of appraising.
Using all available information is essential in a correct appraisal. It is possible to appraise an item based on only a portion of the data and get lucky and be dead on with regard to accuracy. But appraising and relying on luck is not part of rendering an informed opinion.
These are the important aspects of appraising that must be considered. First is the physical inspection of the item. The "gestalt" of the item from a distance is a very valuable tool. Dont underestimate your gut feeling about authenticity. Next is to use all of your available senses to inspect the item: sight, smell, sound, touch and even taste. This is followed by the supratentorial evaluation of the item. Does it make sense? Is it historically accurate? Would it pay to forge this item? This is where we use our brains to evaluate an item. Then we look at provenance of the item. What do we know about the item? Where did it come from? What series of persons hands did this item pass through? Can that be substantiated? What do we know about the seller and his history? How does he do business? Any unusual practices noted or other red flags? Finally, we turn to the literature and our experiences in collecting. Have any other items like this one been known to exist or have been known to be produced? In any photographs? In Books? In collectors' circles? Then we take all of this information together and synthesize it and make our informed opinion based on the this data that was available and assess the value of any inferences that can be made about that item. Then we commit to our appraisal. If we knowingly omit vital data that biases or skews our appraisal one way or the other that is considered unethical conduct and can render all future appraisals as suspect.
So, the box arrives UPS. I am home to receive it. It arrives signature required, return receipt requested, and the box appears to be full of legal rubber stamping, and taping. I make a mental note of this. Not that it isnt wise to be cautious, but this stood out as excessive. It was as if this seller was a guy who knew every racquet there was to trap a buyer. And he knew every way to make sure he didnt get stiffed. Crafty, like a fox.....
I open up the box, and pull out the helmet and take my first gestalt impression. "God I hope this is period. Its adorable but tooooo adorable". I set the helmet down on the chair and start to give it the going over. Im not sure why I did it but first thing I did was crouched down and gave it a good sniff. FRESH PAINT was the first thing that jumped in my mind. It smelled like KRYLON. I ran into my archive and pulled out several other one-off helmets with period paint and NONE OF THEM had a detectable smell. I made a mental note of this.
I moved onto a visual examination of the paint and the cartoon features. I flipped the helmet over and the period white CD helmet paint with its impressive rusty patina was abundantly evident.
From the side it can be seen where the rusty white patina abruptly ends and the nice new olive drab begins, ie. where it was masked off at the rim.
Then I took a look at the scuffs and scratches on the helmet to see if there was any discernible pattern. And finally the piece of the puzzle I had been looking for. I have uniquely coined the term "Artists Pride Markings" to describe a situation where a bootlegged item has been painted by someone and then scuffed up to be made to look period. The hallmark of "Artists Pride Markings" are that the marks, scratches and scuffing are made close to the artwork but do not impinge upon the artwork so as to damage it. Its as if the artist is so proud of his bootleg he doesnt now have the heart to scratch up the art. Look very carefully at all the enclosed pictures and Im sure you'll agree that almost no where do any of the scuffs damage the art. The bootlegger was so intoxicated with his fake he didnt have the heart to ding it !!!!! For me this is the kiss of death of the appraisal. I looked again at my other period one-offs. All the wear on those is random and inevitably impacts the artwork.
Make no mistake about it though; these guys are good. Here look how they have scuffed up the high points of the dome of the helmet which is certainly a point of maximum wear. Curious though that the bomb is UNTOUCHED!!!!! See that margin around the bomb where the forger got close but NOT THAT CLOSE!!!! The one stray line through the parachute rope is not enough to convince me otherwise.
A small glitch in the J of VJ was all the nerve the bootlegger could get up... Look at how untouched that brim is. Brims get dinged on these helmets. Strange not this one, wouldnt you say?
Look how close the scuffs come to the cartoon but as if miraculously, they remain unscathed...
Even on this brim lettering it has just a hint of scuffing but the letters are not significantly impacted...
Then I turned my attention to a very symmetrical set of scuffs on the front of the helmet to the left and right of the cartoon. They are roughly equidistant from the cartoon, have roughly the same number of scuffs on both sides and do not impact the cartoon. They are what I would call an extraordinarily suspicious set of markings that I believe were intentionally inflicted to create the impression that this was older period paint. Aside from "Artists Pride Markings", this is the other finding that virtually slam dunks this bootleg. This is the same type of evidence that incriminates serial criminals. We have 2 halves to our brains and one is a dominant hemisphere. Our hardwiring causes us to behave in ways that create recognizable patterns. Its no accident that these marks are symmetric. The forger let their guard down and working as an automaton, accidentally created marks that bare the true nature of the intentions of the bootlegger. Could this be just a physical coincidence where the helmet rolled over something and these two marks were made OR that something might have been set on top of it making these marks? Yes but in light of all other data, the odds are very unlikely.
The helmet was painted with a brush as can be seen here.
Finally, a word about colors. I have long liked to use white as a way to help me determine whether or not there is a patina. After this appraisal I will never allow myself to do this again. The guys who faked this helmet have cultivated a very in depth knowledge on how colors change with age and how to mix colors to give the appearance of aging. Look at this white parachute and you'll see what I mean. Stir in a little black or brown and you can really make something look old.
Having smelled, touched and looked at this helmet, it was time to let my supratentorium take over and evaluate this item. The one thing that haunted me from the beginning was the writing around the brim. It really didnt make sense. VJ day was August 15th and history shows that the final surrender was being negotiated for several days prior revolving around whether or not Japan would be allowed to keep hirohito on the thrown. So here this helmet identifies VJ day correctly but follows with the nonsensical "We are convinced Japanese Unconditional Surrender". That makes no sense. VJ day was the culmination of the negotiations and surrender was conditionally unconditional. To the public, VJ MEANT unconditional surrender. When I spoke with 9504jeff and voiced my concern about this seemingly icongruous inscription there was an audible pause and then he launched into his, "well I have had this helmet a long time and I know where it came from" speech. That just led creedence to my suspicions.
The literature would not be helpful in this case as this was portrayed as a one-off item. I have not seen any other cartoon work by this artist so that is of little use. Regarding sellers history, policies and conduct, I feel this is illuminating. I spoke with a very well known long time collector who lives in the same state as this vendor. I was warned that this family has one of the worst reputations on the East Coast for selling fake militaria. This collector had experience with this family, had been involved intimately with them as a buyer and thus had unique and valuable knowledge regarding this sellers reputation. In fact, he guessed the seller when I told him the item description and city of the vendor. That speaks volumes. His feedback was flawless. He was a POWER SELLER although only had 200 some odd deals logged in. And to his credit offered a full money back guarantee. So there seems to be a few red flags here but it doesnt seem consistent. Or does it??? A malignant vendor would be someone who is actively out to deceive you, get your money, and disappear leaving you with the fake goods and sans cash. But on ebay this is a vendor who wouldnt last long because of the feedback system. The only way to survive on ebay would be to prey on people's ignorance under the cloak of being a good guy and offering a full refund. Then one day when ignoramus wakes up and realizes he's been had, the vendors defense is, "Well, you have a seven day inspection period and a full refund guarantee so its your fault not mine". In my mind it is this type of vendor who is far more dangerous. The only defense is our knowledge and instinct.
So in summary a vendor with a checkered history (red flag) according to a well known local collector, sticks a very hot, very sought after anti-axis collectible in the BUY IT NOW section (red flag) with a money back guarantee (red flag AND olive branch). The box arrives full of legal mumbo jumbo tape and rubber stamps delivery confirmation-signature required (red flag AND olive branch). On opening the box it appears to good to be true (big red flag). The paint smells fresh (red flag). The bottom has patina, the top none (red flag). The masking is evident (red flag). The colors are fabulous, but maybe too fabulous as if trying to appear old (red flag). There are "Artists Pride Markings" (red flag). There are suspicious symmetric scuffs that imply intentional marking to falsify age (red flag). From a forgers sense, 350.00 would be worthwhile to produce this forgery (red flag). Finally, the inscription on the brim makes no sense historically and is coccamammy at best.
So integrating all this information together it is my opinion that this is a forgery. It was deliberately produced by someone (we dont know who) to represent a period one-off hand painted CD helmet. This is in my opinion criminal activity but who is culpable is unclear and will remain unclear.
I hope you have benefitted from this online appraisal. It shows that you must have an orderly way of going about the purchase of home front items. And particulrly with these one-off high dollar items you must exhibit extreme caution. There are vultures out there on the plains of those auction houses ready to pick your carcass clean. Leave you as just a shiny pair of bones drying out in the sun. So study, read, talk, contribute, interact, or fall prey.
Until next time thanks for coming to ww2homefront.com's Home Front Digest. We'll see ya back here next time with another hot topic you dont want to miss.