Real or Replica
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- Last updated: 23/03/2018
When it comes to putting on a static display or battle re-enactment, re-enactors have very high standards when it comes to quality. Whatever period, there is no doubting that these displays of weapons, equipment and artefacts attract the attention of visitors to events, which, in turn, leads to them asking questions and seeking more information about the exhibition. Obviously, not everything can be the real thing, because budgets and availability do not always make that possible. In some cases, the displays are a mixture of real and replica or, for the older periods, with items more difficult to obtain, they must settle for replicas. The result, however, is always a high standard and seamless in approach.
Static displays are like outdoor museums and visitors enjoy looking at the items and having a chat about the display. Through choice, re-enactors prefer to exhibit as much authentic equipment as possible on the static displays at their encampments. This can be achieved with periods such as both world wars. With the Victorian period, things become slightly difficult and with Napoleonic, a group might be fortunate to have a few items, such as musket balls.
With earlier periods, such as Medieval, it is almost impossible to exhibit original items, except perhaps the occasional sword or some arrowheads, but beyond these, not much because of the cost. If a group is fortunate, it may have a few original items from the English Civil War, such as swords, armour or one or two weapons, such as pistols or muskets. The displays of even older periods, such as Roman, comprise almost entirely of high-quality reproduction items.
The items displayed may come from the collections belonging to several members of a group, who have built up the collection over many years. Even the basic equipment and uniforms from the period of both world wars is very valuable and would have taken years to put together. They would have been obtained from militaria fairs, car boot fairs and anywhere else such as ‘flea markets’, where militaria is likely to be found. Bargains can still be found and even the odd rarity turns up now and again, which expands collections.
Weapons for specific periods are best obtained from reputable dealers, such as Chelmsford Militaria (www. chelmsfordmilitaria.com) or D&B Militaria (www.dandbmilitaria.com) both of which deal in original weapons, which have been legally deactivated. Other periods are provided for, such as the American Civil War and the English Civil War, but because of the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Act, it is best to purchase weapons, even replicas, through a reputable dealer, even if there should be the slightest doubt concerning legal implications.
One of the companies providing weapons for 19th Century American history, including ‘Wild West’ and Civil War’ is Battle Orders (www.battleorders.co.uk), based in East Sussex, it can also supply replica items for earlier periods, including 18th Century and Napoleonic War. The company has supplied weapons and other items to re-enactors, films and museums. Derbyshire Arms (www.derbyshirearms.com), based in, unsurprisingly, Derbyshire, was established by a re-enactor and today supplies weapons to re-enactors, including swords, pistols, muskets and artillery. This company has also supplied films, museums and, of course, re-enactors.
Making a first impression is very important and for re-enactors that means wearing the right uniform, with all the correct badges. If portraying civilians, then it is just as important to wear the correct clothing for the period. Re-enactors like to wear original uniforms, which is only possible from the First World War to present day, but when taking part in a battle re-enactment display, they wear reproduction uniforms to avoid damaging the very valuable original items. That is where replica replaces real and the reproduction items they choose must be of very high standard. It requires skill to form a display which balances real with replica.
One company providing a range of quality items is Kent-based Warhorse (www. warhorseandreproductionsofhistory.com) which specialises in reproduction clothing for re-enactors who participate in battle re-enactment. Warhorse can supply uniforms for the America Civil War and female and male uniforms for British and American to depict WWII.
The Aberystwyth-based company of Epic Militaria (www.epicmilitaria.com) in Wales specialises in providing reproduction equipment for 20th Century historical depictions, including Allied and Axis forces of WWII, as well as surplus equipment for more modern presentations. Quality of the items in all ranges is very good and the authenticity rating is also very high. Such a selection means that they can take part in a battle re-enactment presentation without having to worry about ruining an expensive item of original clothing. Epic Militaria also offers insignia and reproduction medals to complete the image, from an ordinary private all the way up to a general.
Based in Corwen, also in Wales, is the company of Soldier of Fortune (www. sofmilitary.co.uk) which offers a comprehensive range of reproduction items of kit, along with replica maps covering both world wars, Vietnam and modern conflicts. Uniforms and equipment of several countries, including Britain, Japan, America and Germany are all represented. Weapons include swords and either blank firing or replica pistols. As one would expect, the quality is very high and when worn in battle re-enactment displays gives a true authentic look overall. Badges of rank and trade badges can be purchased to portray various ranks and roles within a regiment being depicted by a re-enactment group.
All items can be viewed on the respective company websites and purchased online, with delivery to your door. Epic and Soldier of Fortune have large retail outlets, which are open for visitors with opening times on their websites. Purchasing equipment for re-enacting could not be easier. However, for those who like the ‘old-fashioned’ approach and like to see what they are buying, there are always the various re-enactors’ markets, such as the bi-annual ‘The Original Re-enactors’ Market’ (TORM) held at the Sports Connexion, Leamington Road, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, CV8 3FL.
TORM is a ‘one-stop shop’, where all the necessaries any re-enactor could possibly need are available at this unique venue. The traders are often the people making the items themselves, such as bows, armour and footwear. For further details, visit the website at: www.reenactorsmarket.co.uk. There are other re-enactors markets or fairs and it is worth keeping a check on the diary dates section for their location. The items at these venues usually cover the earlier periods of history, including Roman and Viking, and the standard of quality is very high. This gives groups the chance to present a static display at their campsite using authentic-looking items.
Such is the standard of reproduction equipment, that sometimes it is hard to tell the difference from the real thing. There is no way that the real thing can ever be replaced, because original history has all the character. However, such original items are very fragile and extremely valuable, to the point where some things are irreplaceable. Reproduction items take away some of that worry and if groups wish to use a mixture of real and replica, then the visiting public attending events are certainly satisfied with displays. Already many WWII groups use reproduction kit in battle re-enactment displays and, if they have original wartime kit, they can wear it around the camp. As I see it, if such a move works, and it does, then continue to do so, as long as those replica items are explained as being so. For the Romans, Vikings and others, reproduction remains the only solution and it works very well, by allowing these very early periods to be recreated authentically.
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