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Fake Soviet Uniforms

Let me briefly describe my own bona fides before you read the article. I have been collecting Soviet uniforms since 1988. My own collection is now rather small – a few dozen – because I now only collect Soviet generals’ and officers’ uniforms from 1922 to 1945. I specialize in state security uniforms and currently have 8 state security generals’ uniforms (and general-equivalents since there were no Soviet generals until 1940!) from this era.

I have also sold dozens of uniforms over the years including pre-war uniforms and uniforms up to Marshal in rank. In addition, I have seen hundreds more uniforms held by dealers, collectors and in Museums in Russia. I own dozens of books on Soviet uniforms in English, Russian, French and Polish including several official Soviet Defence Ministry publications.

The following is my opinion only but is based on extensive experience and dealings with several other experienced collectors.

UPDATE ON FAKE UNIFORMS!!

(02/2001)

A few years ago the idea of fake Soviet uniforms was almost unheard of. Today, they are unfortunately quite common. Fake uniforms fall into several categories:

1) Mislabeled:

Many uniforms are sold as things that they are not. Descriptions of rank, branch of service, and very often age can all be wrong. Unfortunately, some dealers appear to be doing this on purpose. This is always done in their favour – modern things become WWII, army items become KGB, etc. Most dealers who make errors, however, act solely out of ignorance. The solution is to consult as many good reference books as possible in order to verify what you are buying. As usual, always buy from a reputable dealer and get a money back guarantee.

2) Adapted:

A related category are uniforms which have been erroneously modified. Sometimes this is done as deliberate fraud. This includes trying to upgrade items but putting on incorrect, but apparently more valuable, shoulder boards, cap badge, etc.

3) Reproduction – continued production:

Late era (M69) Soviet era uniforms are still being made. The following is a direct quote from a dealer offering these items:

“These new production Soviet uniforms are made in Russia and Ukraine and are indistinguishable from the originals as they are made from original materials and by the same people in the same workshops where they have been making uniforms for the Soviet and now Russian and Ukrainian Armies for the last 40 to 50 years.”

At least this dealer admits to this fact. Unfortunately I strongly suspect that THE VAST MAJORITY of Soviet M69 era uniform being sold these days are these reproductions. In my opinion these are not the real thing. How collectible would a WWII German uniforms made post-war from the same materials be? Not very!! You can still find original Soviet uniforms for roughly the same prices.

While many of these post-Soviet manufactured uniforms do not have any dates marked inside SOME have fraudulent Soviet era dates! Beware of any uniforms, particularly peaked hats, without dates inside. The only way to be sure that you have a Soviet-era uniform is to look for signs of use and wear – not just a few badge holes added but minor wear from actual usage. This can commonly be found in the lining armpits, collar edge, sleeve cuffs, button holes, hat inside, etc.

I am very concerned by the fact that sources offering these uniforms only offer officer and enlisted uniforms (and incidentally officer uniforms are much more common – therefore there is a higher chance that an enlisted uniform is original). No one, to my knowledge admits to selling repro M69 era generals, admirals and marshals uniforms yet these are clearly being made! Unlike repro officer and enlisted uniforms, not all repro flag-rank uniforms are exactly the same as the originals. Many (but not all!!) have much poorer quality gold embroidery and the gold shoulder board material is cheap-looking and tinselly. Again, I recommend getting a used uniform to be sure it is original.

4) Reproduction – from scratch:

Many older, and high ranking, Soviet uniforms are being offered. These items are made from scratch in Ukraine. Common examples offered so far are:

  • M40 Marshal SU service, Air Force general service
  • M43 Marshal SU and general parade
  • M43 service for Marshal SU, Chief Air and Artillery
  • Marshals, NKVD Border Guard general

But other types may exist.

Since these items are made from scratch there are many minor errors. However, no WWII uniform seen to date would fool an experienced collector. Things to look for include:

  • modern (1980s) era, 15 ribbon, general’s buttons used instead of original, worn, multi-piece, heavy-brass, 10 ribbon general’s buttons.
  • stand up collars on M43 are wrong – either way too tall, or too flimsy and with extra seam line down middle like in late-model naval officer kitels.
  • gold background on boards is cheap, thin and tinselly, real gold background is either wire or gold silk. In either case it is high quality.
  • embroidery, on collar tabs (M40), boards or sleeves is cheap and too shiny – the real stuff is either heavy (and often tarnished) wire or thick gold silk.

If you are considering buying such a uniform deal with a reputable dealer who has a return policy. Find books or websites or other collectors with good colour photos. Best yet, look close-up at the real thing. Once you have seen the genuine item you won’t be taken by a fake. I own many old and rare items from 1922 to 1945, including many general’s uniforms and have seen and touched many more. While I have even seen many items that break the standard “rules” for this sort of item (i.e. non-regulation material ranging from fine silk to extra-heavy wool), I have never seen a Soviet general’s or marshal’s item from prior to 1960 that was not of extremely high quality. The quality of even original general’s items declined greatly post-1960 but never the early stuff.

Shawn Caza.

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