Reproductions & Fakes



Hungarian Para Badges

by Les Hughes







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Reproductions & Fakes


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Over a period of 12-18 months beginning in 1999, I and a few friends who collect parachute qualification badges noted several rare Hungarian para badges offered on eBay, where they sold for sums up to $500. Additionally, we learned of examples of these wings surfacing in other venues. The total number that had surfaced – that we knew of – was not large in absolute terms, but relative to the rarity of the badges it was cause for suspicion. One of us has a contact in Hungary, and so we turned to him in an effort to learn more about these badges. It did not take long for our contact to learn that the badges in question are copies that are being made by a group in Budapest. We were able to procure copies of three of the badges, which are illustrated here: the WWII master parachutist badge (771), the Tildi-era (mid-1949) master parachutist badge (947), and the WWII basic parachute badge (770). The three-digit numbers in parentheses are the numbers of these badges in Parachute Badges of the World by R. Bragg and R. Turner, the standard reference for para badges. The individuals making these badges are selling them, as copies, for modest prices (the equivalent of about $20). While that is laudable, their using acid to artificially age the metal portions is less commendable. As legitimate an enterprise as the manufacture of these badges may be, there is little doubt in the minds of we who investigated this that by the time the majority of these badges reach the market place, they are represented as original.

How can one recognize these copies? Some bear the name Ungar & Horvath; some the name Morzsányij; some the name J. Zimbler; and others no name at all. The Hungarian firm of József Morzsányi and the Austrian firm of J. Zimbler are known to have manufactured badges. However, our research indicates that Zimbler was no longer in business at the time these badges would have been made, and the firm identified as having made the original badges is not Morzsányi. (The people responsible for these Hungarian para badges are reported also to be producing reproductions of badges of the Austro-Hungarian forces of WWI, and these reproductions often bear the Zimbler name.)  Twice in offering an example of 771, one auction house had great difficulty reading the name Morzsányij, listing it as Konzsanyij on one occasion and as something similar on the other.  I asked them by email on the first occasion to check the spelling, and they verified they had made a mistake, that it was actually Morzsányi.  That did not prevent a misreading of the name the next time the badge was offered (it may have been the same badge).  I cannot speak for others, but such sloppiness does not inspire in me much confidence in the people screening these things.  

The level of craftsmanship is very high in these badges, and, as stated, the metal is often artificially aged using acid. (Badge 770 here has not been aged, while 771 and 947 have.) An experienced collector I know who bought a copy of 771, thinking it to be authentic, asked a jeweler to examine his after learning of the copies in circulation. After speaking with the jeweler, the collector expressed skepticism that the badge was a fake because the craftsmanship was too high, in the jeweler's view, to allow the badge to be made and sold for as little as I reported it was. After making inquiries on his own in Hungary, however, this collector concluded that his was a copy. The point to be made here is that the quality of the badge was so high that an experienced collector was duped. He is not alone. Granted, the craftsmanship is high; how about fidelity? We are told the people making the badges have borrowed original badges and are using them as guides, so we assume the fidelity, too, is high. However, the number of documented authentic badges in collections is so small that, effectively, we have no means of comparison. In summary, the wisest approach to these badges, especially to 771 and 947, is to recognize how rare they are and thus how slim are your chances of ever seeing an original, and to walk away from any that you are offered. (For example, the Hungarian Army Museum in Budapest estimates the number of badges of type 771 that were awarded at about 20. And Bragg and Turner indicate that type 947 existed for only a few months before being superceded by a new design.)