More fake shoulder straps are appearing at artifact shows and in on-line auctions. The earlier generations of fakes are rather transparent. It is likely that their embroiderer had never seen an original and was working from the illustrations, such as those appearing in the Schuyler, Hartley and Graham catalog. Many of these were manufactured overseas in Great Britain or Pakistan. However, the quality of these fakes have been steadily improving. Modern fakers study original material and try to recreate it. The terms fake and reproduction are more a function of the intent of the seller than any difference in the basic material itself. Often straps that begin as high quality reproductions are aged to become fakes.
There is no simple means to distinguish between original material and fakes. It is necessary to maintain a high index of suspicion when approaching any piece. Fakes are not uncommonly sold in pairs, but it is still possible to find pairs of original straps as well. The presence of mothing and a good patina is not a guarantee of originality. I am amazed by the efforts of fakers in creating the appearance of age. This can be carried to the degree of harming the supposed "value" of the fake. It almost seems to be an end in itself or perhaps a chemical process of faking age that carried further than the faker intended and the item is sold anyhow.
The most easily faked strap is that of a company grade officer since the embroidery of bars is straightforward. Recreating the exact appearance of original majors' and lieutenant colonels' leaves is more difficult, but the more recent generation of fakes are very well done. Fakers as a group still do not do a good job with colonels' eagles. Fake eagles still tend to be rather crude and one-dimensional as compared to originals.
The appearance of the backs of straps is very important. Fakers are often more careful with the appearance of the front. I will not detail here exactly what I am speaking of for the benefit of those interesting in improving the appearance of fakes.
So, what can a collector do to avoid acquiring a fake? First, is a good education about the particular type of material to be collected. Study the appearance of original material and acquire reference books. Second is study the items coming up for sale at shows and on on-line auctions. Talk to more veteran collectors. Develop an eye for both originals and fakes. There will be items about which you will be uncertain. A wise person assumes the worst. If you spot one fake among the items a dealer is selling assume there will be others. Notice the items that the market seems to undervalue at auction. I have seen egregious fakes bring large sums of money at auction, but in general a lack of bids suggest veteran collectors are avoiding bidding on an item they consider is a fake, questionable or otherwise misrepresented (not period or not military). Large auction houses are occasionally the dumping ground for bad material and allow the prior owner to sell the fake with anonymity. Finally, secure a firm return privilege and deal with sellers that have a good reputation.
Fakers often favor uncommon straps hoping that a collector will jump at the opportunity to add a rare strap to his collection. A number of fakes were produced in Great Britain with leather backs bearing the names of well-known period firms. P. Tait appears on the above. Another popular marking on fakes of similar manufacture is "Bodley & Etty 31 Lombard St. London." Interestingly, Thomas Wilson bought out the firm of Bodley and Etty in 1857. It should be emphasized that no original period straps have these kinds of markings and all of similar manufacture and marking are fakes. Markings of any kind are uncommon on Civil War period straps and when they do appear they tend to be on patented straps, such as the Smith patent strap. The names of military outfitters, such has William Horstmann and Jacob Reed, become common in the later 19th Century on the back of shoulder straps. Despite the fact that these straps have been exposed as fakes (see North South Trader's Civil War, Volume 29 Number 2), I still see these being offered for sale via on-line auctions and at shows for many hundreds of dollars. Fake Confederate Navy straps also came from the same source. The above is not the only type of fake, but is included here as an example.