Here are some categories:
REPRODUCTION/REPLICA: Made to look close to, but not exactly like the original. Sometimes these are purchased by Veterans as replacements if originals are un-available. Panasiuk and Olszewski are two of the most prolific makers of Replicas.
COPY: Made to look exactly like and
original, sometimes made by casting in a mould made from an original.
Of variable quality, often showing flaws. Sometimes these are purchased
by Veterans as replacements if originals are un-available. When supplies
of originals ran out, many Veterans had to resort to getting cast copies
made of certain decorations, such as the Australian Tobruk Cross.
This qualifies some copies as legitimate items.
FAKE: A more deliberate effort
to produce an item that appears original. Often replicas or copies
are modified in some way: Artificially aged, serial numbers added,
simulated wear, fake nuts on badges replaced with real nuts, ribbons faded
or replaced etc. In some cases, entirely fictional items are created
that are passed off as "rare" or "unlisted" varieties.
Virtuti Militari: Good Replicas made by several makers
with Panasiuk being one of the most common. Official replacements
produced for the Government in Exile until the late 1980's by firms like
Spink. The replacements that were being sold by Spink for around
15 pounds as late as 1998 are now being sold as WW II originals for well
over $100. Some are adding numbers to the replica/fakes, especially
Panasiuk's. Often the metal is heated to soften it so the numbers
are easier to stamp into the cross. The metal will discolour from
the heat. Recent stamping also can look recent. Look closely
at the number. Recent stamping can show shiny metal showing through
inside the numbers, along the edges. It is not easy to clean inside
the stamped numbers. Old dirt, oxidation etc. should be there on
High Decorations: Replica Orders like the White Eagle, Polonia Restituta and Virtuti Militari are still made today and sell for very little in the Polish militaria flea markets. Many come complete with the Star of the Order, sash or neck ribbon. Chances are the one you saw for sale was a replica.
Rare Decorations: Many decorations are so rare that you may never see one in your lifetime. Replicas are made of these decorations but are sometimes passed off as originals. Many awards of Upper Silesia, Lwow and other places are commonly reproduced. Also many WW I and WW II medals for units that fought in France are commonly reproduced, among countless others.
Cross of Valour: Still being officially made today, current issues (with 1920 on them) are being passed off as old originals, often with freshly applied numbers. The 1939, 1940 and 1943 crosses found today are likely fakes or replicas. The 1939 Cross is widely considered a fantasy item.
Cross of Merit: Still awarded today, these crosses come in a bewildering number of variations. Current production or fakes are sold as old originals. Crosses with swords are being produced now and are sold as WW II era items.
Monte Cassino Cross: Replicas and fakes are being made. Be especially careful of those without serial numbers. This item and many others are often faked by casting and then they are bronzed. Look for signs of casting. Bronze (silver and gold as well) plated items can be found by scratching the item (a small scratch in an inconspicuous place, like the edge) with a sharp pin or scriber. If it is plated, the other metal can be seen in the scratch.
Surplus Decorations: The Government in Exile sold off many decorations that were made, but never awarded. Although technically originals, some are not worth that much as they were produced as late as the 1980's in fair quantities. These late production items are often sold as WW II originals.
Un-Awarded Decorations: Some decorations were never authorized or even awarded. Although they can be historically interesting, many are not rare. Included are the Cross and Medal for War Volunteers proposed by the Polish Government in 1939. WW II prevented ANY from being awarded. All examples are either extremely rare prototypes or very common replicas, neither of which were awarded to anybody.
Cinderellas: Fairy tale and fictional awards were and still are being made by illegitimate organizations not recognized by any government or Veterans Group. These are not considered Polish.
Regimental Badges: Almost all Polish Regimental badges have been reproduced. Anything marked Panasiuk or Olszewski are replicas. The vast majority of badges seen for sale today are replicas or fakes.
Medal Groups: Often made up of a combination of original, surplus or replica decorations. Relatively common original British medals (such as the Italy Star and others) are often used to make groups with non-original Polish decorations of various types.
Ribbons: Ribbons are often of modern manufacture, even
as replacements on original decorations.
Modern materials such as viscose imitate the original silk ribbons. Originals are often faded and damaged. If a ribbon looks new, it probably is.
Helmets: Often a cheap French WW I or British WW II helmet is made into a Polish one by applying various items such as painted on eagles or in some cases, badges.
Uniforms: Just as with medals groups, original and replica components are used to make a fake uniform. This includes using an original WW II British uniform with a combination of original, replica or fake Polish badges and insignias.
Documents: Often documents are rarer than the medals. Many people destroyed their documents to avoid reprisals from the Germans, Soviets and the PRL. Because of increasing demand, forgeries of supporting documents for Polish medals are starting to show up. Advances with laser printers make possible some very convincing fakes. By adding writing with a fountain pen, fakes can look fairly real.
An Article on the difference between fake and
real Polish badges
Dr. Zdzislaw P. Wesolowski, the author of several
books and articles on Polish
militaria, will be pleased to assist in the identification of your collection.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site http://www.wwdir.com/polishbk.html
Dr. Wesolowski has kindly provided this article on the problem of fakes:
Polish Fake Militaria