Reproduction decals first appeared
in the 1950's as water-slide transfers for use on play helmets
sold in toy stores. The first decals to hit the market were
made in Japan and they were designed to be applied just like the
decals found in plastic model kits. Some were also designed as
"peel and stick" transfers that were quick and easy to apply.
Gradually the quality of the decals improved as did their
application technique. Veterans and collectors looking to
repair a helmet that was worn and damaged would often purchase a
replacement decal for 50 cents or less and apply it to their
original helmets. As demand increased more and more toy and
model companies began to manufacture decals that depicted those
used during World War II. In some cases these companies also
fabricated "fantasy" decals that were never used by the Third
In the 1950's and
1960's an original German helmet was worth less than $50. As
the interest and demand for artifacts increased over the years,
companies began to produce decals that were more historically
accurate in their design. Better quality decals began to emerge
and their application technique could be enhanced by the
addition of a coat of clear lacquer for increased durability.
In the 1970's and 1980's it became obvious to many people that
the number of original helmets in excellent condition were few
in number. To fill the gap in collector demand, both surplus
and original German helmets were given a set of "new decals" and
sold openly in the market as both "original" and "reproduction"
helmets. During the 1990's, high quality replacement decals
designed to fool the average collector appeared in the
marketplace. Unlike the decals produced in the 1960's, these
high-end reproduction decals were designed to purposely fool
collectors into thinking that they were "original." Sellers of
these helmets had the full intent of gaining fraudulent profit
from the sale of their postwar altered helmets.
Today the trend
continues as an ever increasing number of "near perfect"
reproduction decals can be seen on original wartime helmets.
The very high quality nature of these decals combined with their
ability to fool a majority of collectors into thinking that they
are original has lead to an "underground" market where decals
and helmets are manufactured, altered, and modified into $1500
to $4000 forgeries.
Despite what appears
to be a gloomy future for German helmet collecting, the good
news is that most reproduction decals fall substantially short
of the originals in both design, color, and material. The
majority of fake decals can be spotted if a person knows what to
look for. Once applied to an original helmet, many forgery
artists will attempt to "pre-age" their new decals to give the
illusion of being authentic. Others will let the decal stay
"near mint" in the hopes of attracting a buyer who wants to own
an expensive and rare relic.
Keep in mind that there are a wide
variety of reproduction decals on the market. Some of these
decals are near impossible to distinguish from originals, while
others are quite easy. Just because a helmet seems old does not
mean that it is original. Many older helmets that appear
to be authentic have 1950's or 1960's reproduction decals on
them. These decals seem "authentic" only because they
exhibit more than 30 years of natural aging.
Identifying original decals and
exposing the reproductions that are being passed off as
"authentic" is much like playing the part of a detective.
In fact, the challenge is often one of the most rewarding
aspects of helmet collecting and can be quite challenging to
even the most sophisticated collector.