Hi fellow conservators/collectors. The other day I was reviewing several threads where myself and others have identified cast wings supposedly from WWI as being fake. I realized that in stating such, this could leave the incorrect impression that EVERY cast wing that we see is bad - this is not correct. I would like to say however that the chances of encountering a legitimate WWI cast wing is slim because of the extreme rarity - but not impossible.
Over the past several days, I have been in contact with two long-time historians/collector friends for which I have the utmost respect for. Major Terry Morris and Cliff Presley are two of the most knowledgeable and kind individuals that I know. In fact, between the two, they probably have forgotten more than I will ever know about WWI aviation. I mention this so that you might keep in mind the sources of the information and photos to be used here as they actually spoke with/obtained many items directly from the aviators or families themselves in years past. Cliff has provided me with several photos of legitimate cast WWI Wings and Major Morris has granted permission for the use of information and photos from his very fine book "United States Air Service Wing Badges-Uniforms And Insignia 1913-1918".
** On a related note of interest/importance, most fake cast wings exhibit an attempt to produce a very clean, smooth reverse to attempt to duplicate a surface which has been die-struck for the deliberate purpose of deception. In discussion with the above gentlemen, I have found that on legitimate examples which have been cast, the backside is often rough, showing hand filing and other irregularities. This makes sense in my mind as the maker of the period could cut cost and save time by leaving the reverse in the "rough". After all, the makers were not counting on the scrutiny of discerning collector eyes 100 years down the road, and the back is never seen, so it really didn't matter. However, this is not ALWAYS the case. Take for example the Dreher wing again. The backside is beautifully finished. In any case, a great amount of knowledge and experience is needed to make such a determination, so always be very careful.
As an added point of assistance in determination of originality, I have yet to see a silver wing of the period that did not use real gold for the "US". I do not believe that any original wings of the period either die struck or cast, featured brass, copper or other material for the letters other than real gold (Please correct me if I am wrong on this point). Gold was very affordable then and we shouldn't apply the prices observed in the present day as a comparison to that period.
I hope that the photos posted below will serve as a visual for the lucky person who may actually stumble across one of these and be able to acquire a rare piece instead of automatically dismissing them as fakes. Please feel free to add any photos of wings that you might have which are original cast examples.
First up is a beautiful cast original wing by E. A. Dreher & Son badge. This wing is much like the one that I posted recently, which sold on eBay for $1800 (Photo courtesy of Cliff P).