Friday, December 2, 2011

Applied Modern Technology in the Reproduction of Cap Badges

The following discussion provides detailed insight regarding the use of modern technology applied to the reproduction of  British and Commonwealth cap badges. As has been discussed on previous pages of this blog the current collector of these badges requires a level of knowledge, and in most cases a reference data base, which provides the equivalent of a forensic analytical capability. This is the only way an individual can have reasonable confidence in discerning a genuine badge from a restrike or modern reproduction. Unfortunately it no longer suffices to merely compare a given badge to one pictured in the two volumes of Kipling & King, or an acknowledged equivalent reference.

In a recent thread of the British and Commonwealth Badge Forum we are all very much indebted to ’Neibelungen’, a member of the forum, for the following information. It puts a detailed perspective on the existing and growing ‘cottage’ industry of reproducing cap badges.

‘Neibelungen’ states;

"As one of those who makes reproductions for re-enactors and occasional TV work it's extremely easy these days to produce near identical copies and die strike them.

With the advent of EDM machining and CNC control there's no requirements for hand or machine cutting and post hardening tool steel any more to produce them. Plus with the decline of manufacturing since the late 90's availability of this once expensive equipment is reasonably cheap secondhand.

Die wise, a block of hardened steel is roughed out to shape, either milled or EDM, and then a copper electroform or pressed graphite 'master' is used to produce a final EDM cut into the roughed shape. Sometimes it might take 2-3 runs to get a precise final form, but often if the initial 'rough' is close one pass is enough. A reverse die can be punched (hobbed) onto the hard front plate and either heat treated to give it 'shrink clearance' or left soft and polished to give clearance.

Total costing for die block work £200 - £300 EDM dies £100.

Secondhand EDM machines can be picked up from £2-£8000

Second hand Hydraulic press £500-£1,000

Often the reason you find the rear of modern fakes have less details than the front, as it relies on the softer back work-hardening and compressing under the pressure to give clearance and why cracking and splits seem more common.

The second part is harder, which is piercing out the voids. Historically a whole separate die set was made to blank out and piece voids to go with each badge. One set piercing the voids and a second (or combined with the first) to blank the outsides.
It can be simplified with a fabricated pancake die (a single plate die with controlled edge angle to act as a blanking die) but the smaller voids are harder to deal with and take more work. Alternatively, given most badges are brass, bronze and occasional nickel, they can be set up to be laser cut and again it's become relatively cheap for these tools secondhand.

There are other ways to make dies. Composite resins developed in the car industry will make short run dies. Nickel electroforms will also work to and even bronze castings can be used. In fact, you can fire a badge into a steel block from a shotgun and get a workable resulting die.

Finally you can outsource the whole process to Asia too for a fraction of the cost, but that has the risk that the outsource will begin supplying the same items to every other dodgy dealer or ebay outlet too.

A commercial die for an original was probably designed to run 4-5,000 badges in a life span and 'hobbed' off a master.

A faker's die costing £200-£400 would probably last a 200-1000 perhaps, at an average £15 badge would net something like £2,000 -£5,000 in it's lifespan

Not a bad return of about 5-10 time cost and clearing 200 badges in a year probably isn't that difficult.

The equipment would cost you about £10K to set up , but 10 badges would probably return that in a year and you could easily produce 50 plus badges a year.

From my own experience, about 75% of 'fakes' are brought in from abroad these days with eastern Europe becoming more popular. Asian quality control shows on a lot of the early stuff, but has caught up a lot once the Chinese showed them how to do it properly. A lot of the really 'good' ones are still with original dies and often 'hobbed' off a rear die instead once the face die wears or begins cracking. Mind you, you can laser weld the cracks today where you couldn't before and silicon RTV gives you infinite life spans for replication.

Re-enactment makers are almost never involved in the 'fake' market, being small scale and still really 'hobby' industries. The WWII stuff is different with TV work making this commercially viable, though 90% is outsourced overseas these days.

From my own part I've always marked my work with my symbol and year stamps from day one, but can guarantee that if I know a dealer has bought something it will reappear on ebay about 3 months later with any markings removed.

A £30 reproduction shako plate going for £300+ on ebay... I'm in the wrong game. Fakes are all about money and selling to the naive-unknowing. Greed.

A lot depends on the film or TV, the timescale and the budget. Often they just want something the designer thinks looks 'right' to the general public and will go with whatever is to hand. Sharpe and Hornblower are classic cases of that, plus neither had the budget for anything correct.

Ebay badge dealers and dodgy dealers are a different game. They are looking at quick quantity sales before the bottom drops out and the sales tail off once people catch on. Not that they seem too from the sales they make. Because they have a background in badges they know what makes a convincing one so will use an original in preference as the master. Besides, sacrificing a £50 badge is peanuts if you can pull a couple of grand off it.

The difficulties are doing high value items where originals are scarce. Too bad and it's easily seen as a fake... too good and it costs a lot more to make. Too high a value and people think and inspect very hard unless you catch somebody being greedy for a 'niave' seller bargain.

I posted up on here when somebody told me about a fake SBP centre, probably copied off a copy I made years ago. Plus I'm sick of seeing bits of my work sold as originals on ebay. I get tarnished as making a fake when it's somebody else exploiting items I've made as clear reproductions for a fraction of the price they sold for. I must have seen at least 6 gorget plates in the last 4 years asking in the £700+ mark when I sold them for around £70

I gave up occasional collecting in the 90's when I saw the s amount of fakes being produced and it's only got worse since then. 90%+ of ebay now is crap/fake and really has created the market more than anything. That said.. 90% of stuff on ebay is crap !!!.

Not exactly, but usually will follow the methodology of an original, ie, pins, footed shanks, bolts. Usually with a modern material or a metric thread. Sometimes a wire loop is required for something early.

The big difference is I will make it as new and not put 200 years or wear and partition into it. Bowl of ammonia or live yogurt and pot of peat is all it takes though. That's the deliberate fraud of a fake. Incised or raised maker and date marks can all still be erased with a little effort and a dremel. !!!"




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