While some collectors consider them a recent phenomenon, fake and reproduction US military patches have been around since at least World War II. Fakes and reproductions are not just limited to US military patches – foreign military patches, police patches, fire patches and even Boy Scout patches have also been faked and/or reproduced. If you go through back issues of the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC) publication, The Trading Post, you will discover concerns about reproductions stretching back many decades.

With the advent of the Internet, there has been increased attention on fakes and reproductions. The Internet has proven a boon to collectors providing instant access to new sources of patches and research information on a worldwide scale. However, that same access has provided a venue for some people to knowingly peddle fake, reproduction, and error patches to unsuspecting collectors. eBay® is one specific venue that is often highlighted a major source for fakes and reproductions.

52d Airlift Squadron REPRODUCTION (Front)
52d Airlift Squadron REPRODUCTION (Back)

Fake and reproduction patches remain one of the most contention subjects in patch collecting circles; there is probably not another subject that elicits a stronger vitriolic reaction from a collector. Collectors fall within several different camps regarding fakes and reproductions. On one end of the spectrum as those who consider any patch after the first one as “reproductions”. On the other end are those who consider a patch not obtained directly from an organization as a “fake”. Some collectors are vehemently against fakes and reproductions while and others are commissioning fakes or reproductions to fill holes in their collections.

This section serves to educate collectors on fake and reproduction patches. While the primary focus here is on USAF and USSF patches, the concepts presented are applicable to patch collecting in general. Over the years collectors have put forth various methods to determine the authenticity of a patch. While these methods may apply in some situations there is no single foolproof way to determine authenticity for all patches. In the end, the best defense is education and applying that knowledge to determine the authenticity of a patch.

While there is disagreement among collectors whether fakes and reproductions have a place in collecting, there is widespread agreement that the larger issue is when fakes and reproductions are deliberately misrepresented as authentic patches. Misrepresentation has real life ramifications. For example, if a collector paid $200 for a hard to find, authentic period patch only to find out it’s a worthless reproduction, that’s a lot of hard-earned money that literally was given away.


Reproduction. A reproduction is unauthorized copy or close imitation of an authentic patch. that was never ordered, used, and/or authorized by the individual or organization that commissioned the original patch. Many vendors produce overruns above and beyond the customer’s original order in anticipation of a re-order or to sell to collectors. These are considered authentic patches if they originated from the original manufacturer and are 100% identical (and thus indistinguishable) from the customer’s original order. Reunion patches and heritage patches are not considered reproductions. Some collectors view any patch beyond the first one produced as a reproduction, but this generally represents a minority opinion since most patches are intended to be produced in some quantity.

Fakes. Fakes (also sometimes referred to as “Eye-Candy”, “Fantasy Patches” and “Novelty Patches”) are patches that were never issued or used by an organization it appears to represent. Unlike a reproduction, in which a copy of an existing patch is produce, a fake is based off an original design or artwork/decals that were never made into patches by the organization, hence the alternate term “fantasy patch”.

Why Fakes and Reproductions Exist

The are many reasons why fakes and reproductions exist among them:

Money, Money, Money. Selling patches can be a profitable way to make money. In general patches are relatively cheap to produce especially if ordered in large quantities. If someone can pass off a fake or reproduction as an authentic older or rare patch, a single reproduction can net the seller hundreds of dollars in profit. Reproduction or fake patches can be order for as little as $1 each in quantity and then sold at 100%+ markup to unwitting individuals.

Souvenir Items. Businesses sometimes commission fake or reproduction patches to sell to customers. For example, after “Top Gun: Maverick” came out there was a proliferation of fake and reproduction patches for sale based off the movie. Museums and other non-profit organizations will also commission reproductions or fakes as mementos and sell them in gift shops or other venues.

“Hole Filler” for a Collector. Many patches are extremely hard to find or simply don’t exist. As such, some collectors, driven by a need to have a “complete” collection, have resorted to commissioning a reproduction to fill the void. Since ordering in bulk reduces the cost per patch, it is often more cost effective to commission reproductions in quantity. This which accounts for large numbers appearing on the resale market. especially if they specialize in a specific type or genre of patches.

Reunion Patches and Heritage Patches. See the following section “Are There Legitimate Reproduction and Fakes?”

“Legitimate” Fake and Reproduction Patches

There are a couple of subsets that are sometimes referred to as reproductions but are not considered as such by most collectors. While not exactly accurate, some collectors call these “legitimate” fake or reproduction patches.

Reunion Patches. Veterans routinely seek patches from the organizations that they were previously assigned. Having a patch made is often the only way to obtain a patch since authentic patches are costly, were never made or are extremely difficult to find, particularly for short-lived units. Unit alumni associations and reunion groups will also have patches made or sometime create new designs for their members. To a veteran, the sentimental value of having a memento, even if it’s a reproduction, representing their time in a unit and their contributions and sacrifices is far more important. In general, collectors treat this subset of patches differently since these individuals served in in these organizations and have a rightful “claim” to have their organization’s patch made. As such collectors, refer to these as “reunion patches” or “reunion pieces” versus reproductions.

Heritage Patches. A “heritage patch” (sometimes referred to as a “throwback patch”) is a type of morale patch, authorized and ordered by a USAF or USSF organization, which features a historical design, official or unofficial, previously used by a predecessor organization. World War II insignia are the most popular heritage patches, although designs from other eras, such as World War I, the Korean War and Vietnam War, have been used. Many squadrons use a heritage patch in place of their normal squadron patches on Fridays or on other days as designated by the unit commander.

Legality of Fake and Reproduction Patches

Use of an official emblem for profit or commercial use is against the law, unless specifically authorized by the unit commander who “owns” the rights to the emblem in accordance with Air Force Instruction 84-105, Organizational History, Honors and Heraldry. Thus, any reproduction or fake based on an official emblem is against the law. Within the law, United States Code Title 18, Section 701; United States Code Title 10, Section 2260; the Code of Federal Regulations Title 32, Part 507; and trademark law specifically address the issue of official emblems.

In the mid-2000s, the Department of the Air Force (DAF) opened the Air Force Trademark and Licensing Office which enforces the service’s trademark rights and licenses USAF marks, logos, and symbols for commercial use. The DAF can and does occasionally go after vendors who use the service’s symbols illegally.

Unofficial or morale patches are not afforded the protections outlined above. In these instances, standard copyright or trademark laws can and do apply and the designer of patch can pursue a copyright or trademark violation against the vendors.

Identifying Fakes and Reproductions

Spotting reproductions, fakes and rejected patches can be an arduous task. Unfortunately, despite many claims to the contrary, there is no single guaranteed way to identify a fake or reproduction patch. Because of the sheer number of patches out there, easily over 100,000 including variations, it is difficult to verify the authenticity of every single patch. This is especially true of patches made in extremely small numbers such as those manufactured by local vendors in Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. Despite these limiting factors, there are still ways for collectors to verify the authenticity of a significant number of the patches in circulation. The key to identifying fakes and reproductions is education and using that education to build a case on the likelihood the patch is authentic.

Patch Manufacturing Methods and Materials. How a patch is manufactured and the materials used to make it often provide a clue to when it was manufactured. Is the manufacturer style consistent with the stated era of the patch? For example, a patch that is purported to be made during the Vietnam War that looks like a known recently made patch is probably a fake or reproduction. Patches produced by computerized embroidery machines are very distinctive and recognizable from those produced by punching designs or paper tape-based looms. Study examples of patches from different eras to gain an understanding of what is representative of that period.

Verify with Photos. The Internet has made this significantly easier; you can look at publicly available photos and videos on official USAF and USSF websites and see what personnel are wearing. Compare the photos with the patch to see if the style matches.

Knowledge of USAF and USSF Organizational Structure, Designations, Organizational Lineage andf History. A good working knowledge of USAF and USSF organizations and their histories can often help determine if a patch is a fake or reproduction.

Compare with Known Examples. Utilize patch websites, such as the Gallery, to compare patches.

Look Out for Misleading Statements from Vendors. Many “knock-off” producers use imprecise language, deliberately leave out information or use clever wordsmithing to hide the fact they are selling fakes and reproductions. For example, on the popular auction site eBay®, one seller of reproduction Vietnam War U.S. Air Force squadron and wings patches noted in his item description, “I guarantee all my articles to be of Vietnam Wartime manufacture.” Most collectors would take this statement to mean the period when the United States was engaged in hostilities in Vietnam (i.e., the 60-70s). But as a collector pointed out, Vietnam has been war during various periods of its existence and the description doesn’t specifically mention the actual dates.

Too Good to Be True. Before you purchase a patch, especially when it appears to be a “too good to be true” situation, do some research. Ask the seller for pictures of the front and back of the back and ask for more information about its origins. Ask the seller if they offer a money back guarantee.

What to Do About Fakes and Reproductions

Again, whether a collector decides to include fakes and reproductions in the collection is a personal choice. Regardless, when selling or trading patches, all collectors have a responsibility to not knowingly misrepresent a fake or reproduction as an authentic patch. Some of the ways a collector can ensure this happens include:

Informing Other Collectors. Let other collectors know about fakes and reproductions by sharing the information on social media sites and patch collecting forums. Be sure to include the evidence or other information that indicates why a patch is a fake or reproduction. Use these forums to also let fellow collectors know about vendors who knowingly sale fake and reproductions.

Mark Fakes and Reproductions. If you don’t want to destroy a fake or reproduction patch, get a black permanent marker and write “FAKE” or “REPRO” on the back of the patch. This will ensure that whoever gets the patch in the future knows that it’s a fake.

Destroy Fakes and Reproductions. If you truly are against fakes and reproductions, cut the fake or reproduction patch in half and throw it in the trash.