Smack in the middle of a minefield
Any experienced collector will tell you , collecting camo helmets is like walking into a minefield. The camo market is without exaggeration flooded with fakes. Sometimes we can definitely call out a helmet as fake , a lot of times we can’t and we have to make do with our gut feeling and the opinions on online collector communities .
I want an original camouflaged helmet , how do I get one ?
In the chapters below I will give my personal view on how to diminish your chances on buying a fake camo helmet.
Never buy a camo helmet at face value.
- Forget about certificates of originality
- Reputation of the seller counts for nothing when buying a camo helmet , it may give you better odds but that’s it.
- Experts in camouflage helmets do not exist. Experienced collectors can merely give opinions based on their level of expertise. So the more opinions you harvest the better.
- Helmets featured in books are not by default authentic , remember that well.
- Stories : some helmets come with stories. Found in a cellar , found in a barn in the Ardennes , vet bring back , etc… Too often these are third hand and the current seller also bought the helmet from a collector or dealer. If a helmet has a story make sure you can verify it.
- Authentic snow camouflage helmets and Red Cross helmets are extremely rare. Don’t let the availability of these types of camo’s on today’s market fool you. 6 years ago you could hardly find a single one for sale.
Analyzing a camo helmet
Where do you start when trying to authenticate a camo helmet ? Start with the things you can authenticate :
I. BASIC CHECKS
- Smell the paint , it should be odorless or smell like dirty iron. It should not smell of paint.
- Is the base paint in the interior correct ? In case the inside flange is also repainted check the base paint color under the leather. (a camo helmet should not have been repainted under the leather).
- Is the leather and liner band original and not fiddled with ?
- In case there is a sign of a decal check the lot number and maker of the helmet and cross reference it with a lot numbers list it can tell you if the helmet should have a decal yes or no.
IF THE HELMET ALREADY FAILS ON THESE CHECKS IT IS WISE TO MOVE ON.
II. EXTERIOR CHECKS
- Is a decal present ? If NO proceed to point 2. In case a decal is present it will be key to try and authenticate it as an original decal. This requires experience with original decals and a device called a USB microscope. In some cases a loupe can suffice to authenticate the decal.
NOTE : Unless the helmet is a repainted M35 with decals covered or a 1943 or later helmet you want to see some trace of decal(s). Decals are very often overlooked in many online discussion topics but they are a key part of the authentication process. Decals always leave some sort of trace even if they are completely overpainted.
Often the paint over the decal will be cracked (that is a good sign but these cracks can be re-produced).
The USB microscope helps us to look between the cracks and miniscule damage spots in the hope of finding a small piece that helps us authenticate the decal.
Original decals have certain signatures that help us authenticate them but you need to have a lot of hours under your belt with the USB microscope to know what to look for.
2. Patina , Patina , Patina ! The final element in the quest for an authentic camo !
I will let Wikipedia explain what patina is then I will tell you what patina does to the paint of a helmet.
On metal, patina is a coating of various chemical compounds such as oxides, carbonates, sulfides, or sulfates formed on the surface during exposure to atmospheric elements (oxygen, rain, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur-bearing compounds), a common example of which is rust which forms on iron or steel when exposed to oxygen. Patina also refers to accumulated changes in surface texture and colour that result from normal use of an object such as a coin or a piece of furniture over time.
The final part of authenticating the camo helmet in your hands or from pictures is by going heads on with the camo paint.
How can you spot patina on a helmet ? Basically patina significantly dulls down the colors making them much less vibrant than they would originally be. A good indicator on how patina should have formed on the outside is by comparing the patina of the interior with the exterior. If there is a discrepancy that is unexplainable that would be a red flag.
Note #1 Patina on white paint is the hardest to validate which accounts for winter camo’s and red cross helmets being the hardest to authenticate. They are also the top most faked/re-created helmets.
Note #2 Patina can be re-created and is done so for a wide range of objects , paintings , furniture and so on. Re-created patina will look more like a wash or lacquer.
The best fake camo’s are painted on top of original shells but re-creating the patina of the interior on the outside is very tough.
3. Damage/wear to the paint
There is no rule or definition on how wartime damage should look like. I often see people over analyzing scrapes and scars. We just have to accept that we do not know how and what made a certain scar.
So what do we know ? We know that someone who fakes a camo needs to fake the damage and that someone who knows his trade will use many different objects. Both blunt and sharp. However that damage will be created in a day or a few days and it will show much much less age (again less or no patina) than what you would see on an original helmet. But again there is no rulebook to help us.
In my personal opinion , I never needed to go as far as having doubts on the wear or paint damage when all other boxes were checked.
If after your complete evaluation the wear puts you off or has you puzzled put the helmet back on the table and look for a better example.
Collecting camo helmets is one of the biggest challenges for collectors but don’t be put off by that challenge. There are many nice authentic examples and even today authentic camo helmets surface from old houses , barns and veteran families.
Don’t be too anxious to get one and don’t let yourself be fooled by exotic looking colorful camo’s.
And do not forget , always ask for several second opinions.