Golden Wings Enterprises

Tips For Collectors

Did you know that some of the earliest examples of the Naval Aviator’s wings were made of sterling silver plated in 18K gold by the renowned jewelers Bailey, Banks & Biddle of Philadelphia and Tiffany & Co. of New York? These are among those most sought after by collectors.
Naval aviation insignia offers a vast array of objects ripe for addition to your collection, and collectors and their collections cover a wide span of interest. Some collectors specialize in a particular unit type, such as Marine helicopter squadrons during the Vietnam War of 1963 – 1973 or navy patrol squadrons during the Battle of the Atlantic 1942 – 1945. Others, myself included, consider almost anything to do with the subject of Naval Aviation to be fair game. Admittedly, it is a stretch to say there are as many different subjects for collecting as there are collectors, but it may not be all that much of one. With that in mind, collect the items that appeal to you. After all, it is your money that will be invested in the collection.

On the subject of money invested, the prices for original examples of insignia from times past are on the rise, in some cases, significantly so. We are aware of a well-known member of the entertainment industry who is an avid collector of Navy and Marine squadron insignia from the World War II era. He recently acquired an original Australian-made example of the insignia of Marine Fighting Squadron 223. It was made during the squadron’s R & R period in Australia following its withdrawal from Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942. The collector paid in excess of $1,500.00 for his prize. That price represents a ten-fold price increase compared to the one in my collection that was made at the same time in the same place.

Whether or not such a price increase is justified may be open for debate, but the reason behind it is simply the law of supply and demand – there are not that many examples available in the first place. To explain, Navy and Marine squadron and command insignia are not and never have been part of the military supply system, as opposed to Army divisional insignia, so the Navy and Marine insignia are made in small lots in what would be considered by many to be a cottage industry. Using the example of the VMF-223 cited above, probably no more than 100 of these were made over 70 years ago during an R & R period in Australia after the squadron’s withdrawal from the Solomons, and were mainly for the aviators themselves. Conversely, Army divisional insignia are required by uniform regulations and made literally by the thousands.

Also, tragically from a historical point of view, thousands of these artifacts were lost because many returning veterans, who wanted nothing more than to immediately put the experience of military service behind them, simply consigned uniform items with these insignia on them to the nearest trash bin. Today, as these veterans pass from us, their families who in many cases know little about these heroes’ service have no idea what the items are or their value to historians and collectors dispose of them. In fact, my collection contains a hand-painted leather insignia of VMF-111 from the 1943 – 44 period that was rescued from a trash pile. While it may sound a bit ghoulish to some, estate sales are often a good source for original period items, but if you like to sleep well at night, never try to cheat or low-ball the families of those veterans. For example, if you know a particular item is worth $100.00, make a fair offer even if it is above the price asked.

Also, many of these early insignia were embroidered on wool felt, and unless protected, they fell victim to moths over the years. My collection contains an example of the World War II insignia of the Black Cats of Fighting 13 that was machine embroidered with cotton thread on a khaki wool felt background. Almost half of the wool felt has been eaten away, but the cotton thread in the actual design is in perfect condition.

Gun shows and militaria exhibitions can sometimes yield bargains. To illustrate this point, while I was attending a show I noticed a box marked “old insignia” on a table of edged weapons, and in the contents of the box was an insignia that caught my eye. I asked the dealer what the item was, and he said it was just an old insignia, and the price he quoted was far below the item’s actual value, so I repeated by inquiry about the price two or three times. One would think that repeated inquiries as to price would serve as a hint that the item was worth more than the asking price. If the dealer had asked me what it was, I would have felt honor bound to tell him but he did not, so I paid $10.00 for an original example of the insignia of VF(N)-90 that served aboard U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) in 1945.

Did you know more than one unit can adopt a given insignia? For example, what is perhaps the best know Navy squadron the black pirate’s flag with the skull and crossbones, the Jolly Roger, has been worn by six different squadrons: VF-17; VF-5B; VF-61; VF-84; VF-103 and VFA-103. Only the first three were historically the same unit.
Fortunately, at least at the present time, it appears that outright attempts at fraudulent business conduct in this area of collectables is, while not unheard of, is relatively rare. The circle of dealers is relatively small and word of attempted dishonesty gets around rapidly. So, unless someone is an outright thief, dealers know that a good reputation, once lost, is virtually impossible to regain.

I could go on at length about the subject of collecting insignia, but everything could basically be summed up by telling a would-be collector to learn something about the subject, to do business with a dealer he knows and trusts and to use his common sense.
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