Once in a while I'm contacted regarding WWI Victory medals, and the Subchaser clasp in particular. This usually leads to a conversation about the vast collections of reproduction/fake WWI Navy clasps in circulation.
The "short version" is that most of the Victory medal clasps you will see for sale online are post-war reproductions, even when they are sold as "authentic" pieces. The longer version is that it's possible to tell genuine clasps from fake ones, but it's a bit complicated, and requires pretty careful examination. Some key traits of genuine pieces include:
- Rope border segments are evenly sized. Many of the reproduction clasps have a couple of segments that are smaller than the others.
- The count of segments aligns with the count of one of the known mint's clasps. Reproduction clasps tend to have some other count of rope segments, normally fewer.
- The background is smooth, and the size is correct.
- The color of the clasp matches the color of a Victory medal.
This last one might seem counter-intuitive, since bronze tarnishes over time -- but the examples of clasps I've seen that I take to be genuine very nicely match the color of a properly-stored Victory medal. (Properly stored as in, it's not corroded, half green, or otherwise damaged, but instead has a normal patina for a piece that age, and has not been polished.) If you see a clasp that has turned dark brown or black, it's almost certainly not genuine. It's not that it has simply tarnished; that's a sign that the alloy is different. If you don't believe me, look at some examples of Victory medals -- which would not likely be fakes since there are so many genuine ones in circulation that they aren't especially expensive and thus not worth faking -- and you'll see that they tend to have a nice, soft bronze color. They don't turn black unless they have been severely damaged by very poor conditions.
Some years back, when I was looking at some of these -- my great uncle's medals all disappeared sometime in the past, and I was interested in seeing examples of what he would have been awarded -- I found that nearly every example for sale was a post-war, non-authentic piece. Sometimes it seemed as if the sellers just didn't know very much about the piece, and assumed that it was genuine, and put it up for sale as genuine; but when I started commenting about particular examples not, in fact, being actual clasps awarded by the Navy, the sellers started getting creative in the listings.
My favorite example is a seller who pitched a Subchaser clasp as a "Genuine Laslo Type II." The joke is that Type II, in Laslo's book, The Interallied Victory Medals of WWI, is one of the categories of non-authentic clasps. So, this seller was marketing the piece as a genuine fake. Now, there's provenance, for you!
There are some more specific notes about the Subchaser clasp, here. But, in general, if you want to buy one, don't expect to get a genuine one based on the seller's say-so.
--Todd Woofenden, Editor