Fakes, reproductions, replicas,
an investigative report, by Harry Ridgeway 

Fakes, reproductions, replicas,
Virginia sword plate number "29"

Disclaimer:  by clicking onto this page you are expressly accepting the terms of the disclaimer explained fully on the fakes main page.

Virginia sword plate "29" was originally owned by Shannon Pritchard.  Pritchard sold it to Gary Williams.  GW then used it as a pattern for his repros, then attempted to sell back to Pritchard.  Key details of the buckle had apparently changed in appearance considerably in the process and Pritchard questioned the plate because of this.  GW eventually admitted that the tongue had been replaced, claiming that the original tongue had "fallen off "of the buckle and that he had "lost" it.  More likely, he  removed the tongue, a necessity to get a good pattern to copy, and then affixed a different tongue, presumably a repro made by him.   Pritchard didn't buy any of this and ultimately rejected it.   Eventually the buckle was given to Mike O'Donnell and then to Howard Crouch.  Crouch then sold the buckle on ebay.  Is this the same buckle (with a new tongue) or is this buckle a repro?  It is presented here for analysis.

F1329    Virginia #29 as originally owned by Pritchard and before sold to Hanover Brass: 
Picture submitted by Shannon Pritchard

Editor note:  This is the picture Shannon Pritchard made of the original buckle before selling to Gary Williams.  The buckle was very yellow in appearance.  Shannon believes it may have been gilded.  It is not certain that it was gilded but it was certainly yellow.  Pritchard says he measured the buckle and that the measurements agreed with the measurements in the Mullinax book, although the actual measurements were not retained.  This picture also appears on page 54, "Collecting the Confederacy, Artifacts and Antiques from the War Between the States" by Shannon Pritchard.

F1329       Virginia "29" as returned from Hanover Brass: 
Picture submitted by Shannon Pritchard

Editor note:  This is the picture of the buckle that Gary Williams offered to sell back to Shannon Pritchard.  Williams admitted to replacing the tongue.  Pritchard says that GW told him that the tongue had fallen off and that he had lost the tongue.  That seems rather improbable, for whatever reason GW apparently did not want to tell Pritchard that the tongue had been replaced.  However Pritchard had retained pictures, it was patently obvious that there was something very wrong with the hook .  A more plausible explanation is that in order to make good copies of a buckle with tongue on the back, either the tongue must be removed, or the back of the buckle must be substantially reworked.  Williams owned the buckle so could legitimately remove the tongue if he wanted to.  Apparently this is an entirely different tongue.  Because of the drastic change of appearance and the replaced tongue, Pritchard questioned the authenticity of the entire buckle and returned it to Williams.  The tongue clearly has been replaced, but the patina and sharpness of the detail is also considerably different from the original plate.

The buckle eventually landed in Howard Crouch's hands, and I had occasion to examine the buckle at the Chantilly show April 2007.  The buckle height varied from 50.9mm to 51.0mm (this is minor variation from one end to the other).  Other examples believed to be authentic measure around 51.2 to 51.3mm, this difference is small and can be explained as milling differences in the finishing process, the measurement is therefore close enough to be accepted.  The buckle had a definite red look to it, the same red that is apparent in these pictures.  Gaylord plates are not supposed to be red with copper, this one appeared to have a higher copper content than expected.   I did not take new pictures of the buckle.  The details except the tongue do seem to approximately match the details in the picture above of the original, however the absence of the yellow patina is hard to explain.  The marks and scratches seem to more or less match although there are some new ones on this buckle not on the original and the crispness or definition of the scratches, flaws, etc seems to vary.  These flaws would carry from an original to a copy and would presumably vary in crispness.  Clearly the patina, oxidation, had been removed in the process, that removal could account for the difference in definition or crispness of the detail.  However I could not conclude definitively from this examination whether the buckle is a repro or not, beyond the tongue and the patina difference.

F1329   Virginia "29" as offered on ebay by Howard Crouch
Beautiful Virginia Sword Belt Plate  This is an authentic non excavated example of one beautiful buckle. It is being sold for Howard Crouch, famed Civil War relic hunter, author, historian and collector. A letter of authenticity, signed by Howard, will be sent to the winner. You can bid with confidence. Please email me if you should have any questions about this auction.   Civil War Reference Books can also be purchased from Howard's site, scspublications.com."

Source: ebay auction by cw-relics:  Civil War Virginia Sword Belt Plate - NR Item number: 130107728279 

Editor note:  My goodness, what happened to the color on this plate? Is this really the same plate that was on display at the Chantilly show three weeks earlier?  How did it suddenly get yellow again?  The difference in color could be photography editing.  I respect the fact that Howard Crouch wants this buckle to be authentic.  However, I find the buckle to be troubling at best.  It may have been acid washed by GW to clear any oxidation or gilding so as to make a better copy.  The measurements seem to suggest that it could be authentic, but if you saw this plate without knowing any of the background, the buckle has the look and feel of a fresh repro.  The hook certainly is not authentic, and of course the fact that this buckle, in its present form, originated from Gary Williams, one will have to reach their own conclusions about that.  I conclude that the authenticity of this buckle simply cannot be proven to be positive, in any case it certainly carries a lot of questions. 

I would further note that the original of this plate is shown on page 54, "Collecting the Confederacy" by Shannon Pritchard.  It  does not take a rocket scientist to compare this buckle to the buckle published in 2005 and see that they are either two different buckles or that the buckle has undergone major alteration.

F1335      Virginia sword plate offered on ebay by Jeff Girardi

"Virginia sword belt plate bearing the state seal of the great Commonwealth.  1851 pattern.  Looks strikenly similar to one just recently sold last week.  Has beautiful patina.  Bench mark # 869.  Tongue on back is brazed on.  Overall a very nice piece.  Bought in early 2005.  These are supposed to be rare.  Difficult to get full value lately on rare Southern plates due to the fakes on the market.  I will let the buyer decide the value of this belt plate.  Email me with questions.  US buyers pay $5.00 shipping.  Non US buyers pay $12.00 shipping vor USPS Air Parcel Postage.  Thanks"

Source:  ebay auction by :   passo_romano, Virginia Sword Belt Plate Buckle Item number: 330118488866 

Editor note:  This one was the subject of considerable discussion on the NVRHA forum.  Here are excerpts from that discussion:

Date: Monday, 14 May 2007, at 11:49 a.m.

 Here is the reply I got from him on his repro sword belt plate:

What makes you so sure? I have 11 copies of your so called ACW plate. All with the same marks, flaws scratches etc.. The only difference is the numbers can be changed. So just know that if yours is indeed the real one, then the tongue was removed and copies were made before you got it. Perhaps I have the real one and you have an expertly aged copy, eh? If I were to flood the market with the copies, it would make all of them worthless, yes?

 Here is my reply to him. He still hasn't responded....LOL

 Try measuring it. It should be 51 mm X 88 or 89 mm. I would bet that your repro measures around 49 mm X 86.

 Then this post:

Date: Monday, 14 May 2007, at 2:01 p.m.

In Response To: Passo_Romono's response....  (

You just don't get it, do you? It doesn't matter if mine is a copy, or yours measures 51 X 89 mm. You are barking up the wrong tree. There would be no need for this correspondence if there were no copies to begin with, am I right? I once thought mine was the real one, now I am not so sure. So what makes you absolutely sure yours is real, despite the fact that it came from Howard the Great?? A first generation copy will have the same measurements if done correctly. Ciao

 too which I replied:

Wrong. Plates will lose an average of 2 MM when reproduced. That is a known fact. If you still don't believe me, ask Gary Williams of Hanover Brass (hanoverbrass.com). He has been making repros for over 40 years. I bet if you emailed him a photo of yours, he will tell you what company made it if not him. He puts GW on the back of his plates but folks file them off to try and deceive the public. Some take his plates and artificially age them.

I put up his site civilwarfakes.com with him to help folks learn the difference between his and the originals. Maybe you should join since it seems you can't tell the difference!

I have been selling relics since the 70's and think I know a little about repros versus originals. My website is cwrelics.com to show you that I am not trying to hide who I am. I know many of the experts including Howard Crouch, Lewis Leigh, Gary William, Steve Mullinax, etc., etc.

If you think yours is real, list it under "Original Period" with the correct measurements "

Editor note:  This buckle posted by Girardi is clearly a repro derived not from the known and published Hanover Brass pattern but from this Virginia number 29!  Gee I thought GW was telling us what to look for in fakes, I guess he forgot to mention this one on his civilwarfakes.com webpage!  The original "29" seems to be faintly visible underneath of the new set of numbers.  The scratches and flaws do match the original #29, and not his other published pattern, so here you have this new line of Hanover Brass fakes or repros (call it what you wish, you be the judge).    Gary Williams makes the point emphatically that all the crooked dealers had to do to avoid the fakes was to trust GW, and simply study the details and flaws of his patterns.  Well this is certainly a new pattern, it was clearly created after his previous patterns had run their course in the market place and it is certainly not explained or photographed on his fakes webpage.  Is there any doubt that Gary Williams, or his colleagues at Hanover Brass created this pattern given that he clearly was the owner of the original?  Can a believable explanation be given for it other than that it was intended to be used to create a new line of fakes? 

F1329     Virginia 29 on ebay the second time
Non Excavated Virginia Civil War Sword Belt Plate

This is an authentic non excavated example of one beautiful buckle. I am selling this for Howard Crouch, famed Civil War relic hunter, author, historian and collector. It is stamped with benchmark number 29 on the back. A letter of authenticity, signed by Howard, will be sent to the winner. You can bid with confidence. Please email me if you should have any questions about this auction. Civil War Reference Books can also be purchased from Howard's site, scspublications.com..

This buckle was up for auction recently. The collector that purchased it showed it to a dealer and called another dealer about it. Both said is was a repro. Knowing they were wrong, I still let the buyer return it for a full refund. After giving the buckle back to Howard Crouch, he showed it first to Steve Sylvia, publisher of North South Trader Civil War. Steve said it was good. He then took it to a renown collector in Loudoun County who compared it to buckles in his collection and also confirmed it to be authentic. Finally, I showed it to Nick Harris, another well known and respected collector and dealer. He again confirmed that it is good and not a reproduction. I am not going to mention dealer names but they know who they are. This buckle is as good as gold!!

Source: ebay auction by cw-relics"Non Excavated Virginia Civil War Sword Belt Plate" Item number: 130126083099

Editor note:  Yes the buyer of the first auction asked me about this plate and I told him what I knew about it.  He returned it.  I got a very nasty letter from Howard Crouch as a consequence.  Why Crouch would want to be caught up in this I do not understand.  Now this auction appears and the sellers still  do not seem to think that it is important to tell anybody about how this buckle has undergone, well lets call it a face lift and amputation.  Minor surgery.  No big deal.  To read this ad you would think this beautiful piece had been in Howard's collection forever, noted author (which he is, and I might add that I highly respect him).  If this buckle is authentic, why does Gary Williams need Howard Crouch to sell his buckles for him?  Maybe somebody can explain that one!  I guess they decided it would be too hard to sell this "authentic buckle from the collection of Gary Williams with a replaced tongue"  or something like that.  I still don't know if the plate is authentic or not, but it has certainly experienced a transformation since it was published in Shannon's book.  The pictures are in the book, take a look, you be the judge.

It is interesting to note that this piece "sold" in the second auction without reserve for about $2,500.  There were also many postings on the ARH forum proclaiming how stupid I am for challenging this piece and lamenting what a tragedy it is that Howard was deprived of his sale, what a wonderful piece this is.  There also was an extensive thread by on poster proclaiming the evils of shill bidding.  Now for some reason, Howard still has this buckle.  And if it is such a great deal , presumably worth $4,000 or more according to the Gary Williams support group, and since GW is the only real expert and he has blessed this piece, one might think that quite a few of these squawkers would find this plate to be a bargain at $2,500!   Hmmmm... I wonder who the shill bidders were, and maybe some of these guys know a little more about this plate than they claim.

And I might point out that the sellers were so sure of this piece that they put a firm 7 day inspection period on the sale, no long term warranty. What a whopping statement of confidence!  That is not much of a guarantee for a piece that is "good as gold".....

Virginia number 29 follow up.  Crouch has taken great offense at this explanation.  I have asked him repeatedly to give a factual rebuttal, some rationale for why this might be authentic.  Apparently he consider sit an assault on his honor to do so, Howard says it is ok, so therefore it is ok, whether it is or not.  The only rebuttal or answer that seems to have been given is in the second edition of the ebay auction, they slammed those horrible dealers (Ridgeway and Pritchard) for questioning this piece, and the gall of them, betraying the code of honor by telling a buyer.  Horrors! Such disclosures should not be public.  Nowhere in any of their comments has an explanation been given to rebut the actual evidence presented.  I might further add that they told me that they took the plate to two independent experts (who are indeed recognized experts),  and that both of these guys blessed the plate.  So I asked one of these experts, and to my disappointment found that he had not been told about or even shown Shannon's pictures.  I gave him the link to this page, and now he has reached a different conclusion. 

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