If you are a collector of Civil War militaria, then you are aware of the proliferation of fake and fantasy items that pollute the market. A reproduction item is an accurately depicted recreation of a Civil War piece for use in displays, or by reenactors. Reproduction Civil War items have their own category among Civil War auctions. A fake item is a reproduction item that has been altered to appear Civil War period, and is being sold as such. A Fantasy item is one that never existed during the Civil War. This small guide is designed to help the beginning collector navigate the Civil War buckle auctions on e-bay.
There are several makers of reproduction buckles in the United States. Most will put their initials, or some defining stamp, in the back of the buckles they make. This is an example. Look at the small GW stamped in the top and bottom of the buckle.
There is no way to remove that mark unless you file it, or use a dremel tool. Either way, you leave an obvious indention. The only way to hide the new flaw you created is to Age the buckle, or make it look Dug. This is done in a variety of ways, and it can make a buckle look as if it just came out of the ground from a 150 year hiatus. A friend and fellow dealer said, Dirt hides a lot. So watch for fake patinas on buckles you see.
This is a simple patina-in-a-bottle you can get from any craft store. Note the too blue look, and the inconsistancy of the patina. Real patinas are not spotty like this. If you are thinking of bidding on a dug buckle, or any buckle for that matter, go online and do some basic research. There are dozens of legitimate dealers, and websites that can assist you in learning the good from the bad. If you are willing to spend the cash, then be willing to do the reading first. Something to remember is that Confederate buckles START at around $2,000. The only ones less than that are the frame buckles which go from $400 to $1000 depending on rarity. If you see 2-piece or rectangular Confederate buckles on e-bay going for way less than market value, or going at $500, there is a better than average chance that they are bad. There are very few deals on Confederate buckles.
When a seller wants to auction off a fake buckle, there are several tricks used to throw the unwary bidder's off. There is first, the blur shot:
This is the back of a fake Confederate egg-style buckle. See how the picture is way out of focus? This is done to help obscure telltale flaws in a fake buckle. If a seller can't get clear photos, they don't need your money.
This is a distraction shot. The fake relic is photographed in the company of a few legit relics in order to make it look more authentic. If you are selling a nice, legit relic, you don't need props. The relic is the focus.
These are both fantasy buckles. The Confederacy never had a buckle that looked like either. The one on the left is a common 1960's centennial buckle, the CSA is just the product of a maker's imagination. Note that both have patinas. Both were sold as real. Confederate Belt Buckles And Plates, by Steve Mullinax is a great reference book on Southern buckles, and Repro Buckles of the Civil War by Howard Crouch is a must-read as well, as well as American Military Belt Plates, by J.Duncan Campbell & Michael J. O Donnell.