10 Questions with Joe Weingarten

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Talking about wings, insignia, reproductions, and the hobby

 This is Joe’s workshop. Ask his wife and she will tell you, “Joe knows where everything is!”

This is Joe’s workshop. Ask his wife and she will tell you, “Joe knows where everything is!”

We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Joe Weingarten. Most will recognize his name as one of the leading dealers in reproduction and newly produced aviation wings. As such, he has emerged as an authority on US aviation wings. We are pleased to talk with him and share his answers to this month’s “10 Questions.”

Military Trader: Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with us. The Weingarten Gallery didn’t start out to reproduce aviation wings when it was founded in 1967. Tell us how you became involved in this aspect of the military hobby.

Joe Weingarten: Back in 1967, I was offered a direct commission in the Air Force since I was an engineer, and the Air Force badly needed them. I was assigned to Research and Development (R&D) in the Aerial Delivery and Air Cargo Branch at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. My wife had a degree in art, and we started a Gallery and making sterling silver jewelry.

Being in R&D, I had a lot of free time in the evenings, and thus this gallery and sterling silver jewelry production grew. A few years later, the head of the Air Force Museum, whom I knew from the military side, contacted me to tell me the museum gift shop had lost their supplier of aircraft charms and tie tacks. He asked if I could I make these items to supply the shop.

After receiving the permission from the Air Force, I started to supply them and have done so for the past 45 years. So, if you have ever purchased a sterling charm or tie tack from the museum, the odds are you have one of mine. When I retired from the Air Force after 30 years, I enlarged the business to make insignia.

Military Trader: While many seem to think there is no place for reproduction wings, you had several tables at the most recent Show of Shows, and it appeared you had no shortage of customers. So tell us, with what types of hobbyists are your products popular? Do you have a customer base outside of the military collector hobby?

Joe Weingarten: I only do one show a year — the Show of Shows (SOS). The rest of the time, I sell via the internet, eBay, www.1903.com, and directly to other museums and dealers. I actually have a much larger customer base than most would expect. A number of museum have purchased my wings for display — and not just in the USA. Many of them can no longer afford the real items.

The trend in museums is to change displays on a regular basis. This has caused many to search for ways to cut costs. Reproductions fill the void when they cannot obtain the original items for display.

Re-enactors do not want to wear real insignia just as do not want to wear real uniforms. They make up a small part of the customer base.

Another surprising customer base is made up of current military members and parents of military personnel. I make many examples of currently worn insignia. If a person wants that insignia in sterling silver, I am the only one left in the USA making them.

My biggest seller is pin-on Colonel’s rank insignia. The second best seller is my Basic USAF Pilot Wings. I get calls all the time from parents who want to have their son or daughter pin on sterling wings.

I also sell to new collectors who can’t afford some of the original versions of these wings, such as the WWI Dallas wings. But how do you start a hobby with a $2,000 wing? They can start collecting with one of mine. In time, they will upgrade and replace it with a real one. I do get some of these new collectors coming back later to trade a wing back for another one they haven’t found yet. It’s a great way to fill a hole until a real one comes along.

 All of the reproductions that Joe make are cast (almost all originals were die-stamped). This photo shows the steps from original (top) to wax model for casting (center), and finally, the cast reproduction wings.

All of the reproductions that Joe make are cast (almost all originals were die-stamped). This photo shows the steps from original (top) to wax model for casting (center), and finally, the cast reproduction wings.

Military Trader: Within our hobby, some regard you as a bit of a pariah, presumably, because you make high-quality reproductions of rare insignia. Why do you think your wings have become a point of contention?

Joe Weingarten: Fear of the unknown. Some people do not know how to tell a reproduction from a real item.

Also, I believe I have become a target within the hobby because I am visible with my web site and do not hide that my wings are reproductions.

I am not the only one making reproductions. While some are poor quality, othersare rather well-made, and most people have no clue.

What I find interesting are the number of people who collect “reproductions” of various insignia — not just wings. For example, Patch King-made patches. People collect these reproduction patches. Today, I searched “Patch King” on eBay and found 47 listings — most marked as originals!

I do have some collectors who are collecting my insignia and want to know when I issue a new item. Duncan Campbell once told me, “100 years from now, people will be collecting your wings and having debates whether examples were from your first or second molds.”

While talking about high-quality reproductions, we need to consider today’s new technologies such as 3-D printing. A person canreproduce anything and with extreme quality. If I wanted to do so, I could make any insignia, and no one could tell it from an original period piece.

Military Trader: If someone approached you with an original set of WWI-era Dallas wings and a Weingarten Gallery reproduction of the same set, how would you be able to tell the original from the reproduction?

Joe Weingarten: Actually, it is very easy, but the best defense is knowledge. Before I fill you on how to tell an original wing from a reproduction, let me explain a few things.

Regarding Dallas wings, I am not the only one who has made them. You will see them advertised in 1930s magazines. A gentleman in St. Louis who had worked for Eisenstadt before they folded, took the WWI dies and was making them. Another company — in Florida — made them for years, as well. Currently, one other overseas concern is making very poor quality copies.

Now, to answer your question about how to distinguish one of my wings from an original set. First, mine are rather easy to recognize. All you need is a 10-power loop. My items are cast, so when you examine the surface, it looks like sand. An original,die-struck wing will have a very smooth surface. This is the easiest way to distinguish an original from one of my reproductions. This works on all of my items.

Another method of discerning an original from a reproduction Dallas wingis to look at the fabric backing. If it is a real WWI example, the cloth will have a slight reddish color. During WWI, black chemical dyes for cloth were not available, as these came from Germany. So, the fabric makers used dyes made from black raspberries. In time, these turn reddish to a red raspberry color.

I also tell people that the back of wing is very important. Look at the clasp. During WWI, you did not have the side-opening, roll-over clasp. Study the back and how the pin back of clasp is attached. Also learn to recognize an original clasp.

Knowledge in any hobby is king. Study. Oh, by the way, on the first day at the Show of Shows, many dealers bring me wings or insignia to check over for them, which I gladly do. I try to teach them to spot any reproductions — not just mine.

Military Trader: Why don’t you simply mark the reverse with a deeply impressed marking that indicates it is a reproduction?

Joe Weingarten: I get asked this a lot. Two answers: First, why just me? Why not all the other dealers? Why not the furniture makers who make Queen Ann chairs?

Second, make this a level playing field with changes in Federal law. Make everyone do this — not just a few. Why not requiring the US Governmentto mark the replacement medals it makes for families today? Is a WWII medal made today under contract for the US Government a reproduction or an original? Right now, the only items that need the word “copy” on it are reproductions of coins and stamps. It is time to change the law to cover all reproductions

Now to the heart of your question: Marking the reverse of my insignia. Assume I did this. How many of the dishonest people would remove the word “copy,” and then say, “See this is not one of Joe’s. His copy mark is missing.”

It is very easy to fill in a impressed marking. It iseven easier to removed a raised mark. Does anyone think, for one minute, that a person would not remove the word “copy” from my badges?

I see current paratrooper badges where the clutch posts were removed and a pin back soldered in their place, just so the seller can call them WWII issue. I have also seen Korean War and early Vietnam Sterling Senior Paratrooper badges where the star hallmark was removed to make it appear to be a WWII badge.

Military Trader: You have actually created “fantasy” wings—new wings that never existed historically— but that have actually been adopted by some groups today.Can you tell us about that?

Joe Weingarten: Actually, the number of “fantasy wings” I have created is so small you can count them on your fingers. In all cases, they were at the request of a customer.

My favorite example is a wing I made years ago for a pilot who flew the aerial tankers to fight forest fires. Just recently, the Forest Service ordered 21 of them.

But on the other side of the coin, I have made actual insignia where the order was too small for the big insignia makers to work on the items, such as 10 medal devices for the Public Health Service. I have also designed a few official items for the Air Force. These were insignia to show the rank of civilian employees to be worn as lapel pins. In 2003, the Department of Defense issued us the hallmark, “W-32,” to use on contract items. In addition, “Luxenberg” is a Registered Trademark owned by Weingarten Gallery.

One thing that bothers me is when people claim a wing I am making is a “fantasy,” when I actually have the period original.

Military Trader: The reverse of the wings and badges you make are nearly as important as the obverse.How close to the originals are the clasps, pins, and hinges that you use?Have you used new old stock (NOS) fittings on reproductions?

Joe Weingarten: Most of the time, I have used modern clasps or pin backs — the same one. So, almost all my wings etc. have the same Ballou clasp on them. I have used the same one since I started, so if you look at one, you will find it on almost all the others.

I do have a stock of old findings that I use mainly for repairs. Many of the readers would be surprised how many companies still make the same clasps they made in WWI and WWII.Since I know how to make these wings, I also know how to repair them. I get a lot of repair work, even from overseas customers.

Military Trader: You have done a lot to advance the understanding of military metal insignia. Tell us about your efforts to publish a directory of badge and insignia markings.

Joe Weingarten: As I said, before knowledge is king. In any line of work or hobby, the more you know the better.

As an R&D engineer I used to go into the history vaults to look up what had been done many years ago to avoid doing the same work or mistakes that had been made. My quest for this type of knowledge — and some extra time — resulted in my doing research for some books.

What I foundis that a lot of good books in this hobby were mainly based on someone’s collection. In the past, it was hard to get beyond that. To research a book would require a lot of travel, a lot of libraries, etc. The electronic age, however, has changed all of that.

Many museums have posted items on line. Pictures of insignia are everywhere. Histories of manufacturers or even obits of old employees would each provide a little information on the manufacturing companies.It was a matter of collection, more than anything else.

For example, when my first book on hallmarks came out, I received two kinds of calls: One, accusing me that I copied a hallmark from someone. I am sorry to say, they did not own the hallmark — only the company that issued the hallmark owns it. (By the way,the same goes for insignia — the country that issued the insignia is the only entity that can copyright the design. Similarly, a commercial wing can only be copyrighted by the airline that created it.)

The other calls I received were from people who said, “You missed a few hallmarks — how can I help?” In fact, the collector yelled,“No button marks? PUT THEM IN!” Thus, the second edition almost doubled in size and now covers 1,000+ hallmarks,thanks to a number of collectors.

I have also published a 180-page book on Paratrooper badges and one on commercial airline wings that contains 4,000 color photos of wings. There are more to come as these are fun to research.

Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Can you tell us about what you consider one of your favorite militaria finds?

Joe Weingarten: This is the hardest question you have asked. I am not sure. It might be the first WWI wing I purchased which was named and made by Link. Or, it could be the Luxenberg wings that I love.

Another might be the dies for a Dallas-style WWI wing that was made in the United Kingdom that I had purchased. I used the dies to stamp one of each of the three part. From those, I then made cast molds to make reproductions. The resulting wing is not the usual design but different with a rope- looking border instead of the dots.

But actually, my favorite find is not an insignia. I have two real favorites. The first is a piece of fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer given to me by the Wright Family.

The second is a car I found on eBay.

 Joe with his other favorite find: A piece of fabric from the plane that started all of aviation, the 1903 Wright Flyer. He obtained it from the Wright family.

Joe with his other favorite find: A piece of fabric from the plane that started all of aviation, the 1903 Wright Flyer. He obtained it from the Wright family.

Military Trader: And finally, the question we all want to ask the experienced veteran collectors, such as you, “How will militaria collecting change over the next ten years?”

Joe Weingarten: This hobby is facing the same problem that all collectibles are facing: A massive, declining interest. The number of people who collect anything keeps going down. I am not sure when it will become fashionable to collect again. People no longer visit to “look over your collection.”

One of the other dealers at this year’s Show of Shows asked me to look around the hall and then asked, “How many of these dealers will be here in 10 years, and what will be the size of this show?” My guess is half the size. There was just too much gray hair in the hall. It may not be the answer you are looking for, but it may very well be what will happen.

It is not just collectibles, but also the VFW and American Legion are having the same problems with large declining membership. People now become members of internet communities and no longer of real groups. J

We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. To learn more about Joe Weingarten’s business, or more importantly, to view his current offerings, log onto www.1903.com or contact by writing, Joe Weingarten, Weingarten Gallery, 14066 Deer Stone Ln., Fortville, IN 46040;phone 317-598-1026, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST; email: mrmac@aol.com

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