The World War One Victory Medal Navy Clasps: "F" = "Fake"
Two major sources of information on the WWI Victory medal are Alexander Laslo's book, The Interallied Victory Medals of WWI and Col. Albert F. Gleim's The Gleim Medal Letters (Thomas Nier and Allen Menke).
[Note: both books are reviewed in the Resources and Links >> Books section.]
Gleim's work is the source of the designations "FI," FII" and "FIII" for three types of U.S. Navy Victory medal clasps.
Here are some notes on the works of Gleim and Laslo on Navy clasps, and on the FII clasp in particular. I believe that a straightforward reading of the texts confirms that the "F" type clasps are fakes, non-authentic pieces, clasps that were never issued by the U.S. Navy. Some sellers prefer to draw a different conclusion, but there it is: Read the texts for yourself, and if you can come up with a cogent argument that either Laslo or Gleim regarded these clasps as authentic, I would be delighted to listen.
Gleim and Laslo list a number of types of Navy clasps, including three manufacturers that they regard as authentic: Art Metalworks, Fulford Manufacturing, and a limited run by U.S. Mint; and then the types designated FI, FII and so on.
Here are couple of examples. (Note that these images are substantially enlarged; and that to compare the color of a medal to the color of a clasp you need to look at the actual items and not at photos.)
This is a type FII Subchaser clasp:
Salient features are:
- The rope border contains uneven-sized segments. This is especially notable along the top.
- The color is not the same as color of the Victory medal. These clasps evidently were lighter than the medal when struck, but as you can see, they tarnish to a notably darker color.
- The segment count, moving clockwise from the left side, is: 3.5, 24.5, 3.5, 25.5
For comparison, here is an Art Metalworks Subchaser clasp:
Salient features are:
- The rope border segments are uniform in size.
- The color is the same as the medal.
- The segment count, moving clockwise from the left side is: 5, 29, 4, 29
Another obvious difference is that "Subchaser" is one word in the FII clasp, and two words in the Art Metalworks version; but this on its own is not an indication of authenticity, since in the Fulford version it is one word.
When Gleim set out to study the WWI Victory medal, in addition to looking at the official Navy documentation of the medal issue, he collected examples of the various clasps, and studied them closely. Over time he developed the set of classifications which Laslo expanded upon. If you are interested in the details, The Gleim Medal Letters is available for purchase online at the OMSA web site. Laslo's book is out of print, but shows up on eBay periodically. Here is a digest of their statements regarding the "F II" clasps:
Gleim writes: "Type FII. Light colored finish, very wide back strap, believed to be unofficial recent strikes, possibly outright fakes." (He then lists the segment count as above.) In a subsequent letter he posts a chart of the types, and referring to FII and FIIa (which is identical to FII except that the rope border is upside-down compared to FII, indicating the the die for the border was reversed) he states, "The last two varieties were of course never authorized and there must be several more." In a summary of the Navy clasp manufacturers, he states, regarding FI, FII and FIIa, "There is very good evidence to suggest that these were made after WWII for direct sales, primarily to the collector market. There is no evidence that these were ever officially issued."
Laslo adopts Gleim's naming convention, and adds a few more types of unauthorized clasps to the end of the list. More usefully, he presents a list of four things to look for in an authentic clasp: background texture, rope border, color, and tampering. Specifically: The background should be smooth, not pebbled. The rope border should be evenly segmented. The color should be the same as the medal. The medal itself shouldn't show signs of tampering, such as having the stitching removed or the wire loop pried off.
Laslo offers the list summarized here (with much more detail than I have provided) in the context of bemoaning the fact that "it seems there are more copies in the market than official clasps," and warning that "A few dealers who know better sell clasps without making any comment as to the authenticity of their offering."
I have found this to be an understatement. Lately what I am seeing is dealers who seem to be deliberately misguiding potential buyers, either stating flatly that fake clasps are genuine, or describing them as "authentic Laslo Type FII" or the like, as if that were a mark of authenticity.
1. Caveat emptor. Most of the clasps you will see for sale are fakes.
2. Read Gleim and Laslo before you buy, if you want to buy genuine medals.
3. Challenge sellers to provide support for claims of authenticity.