by Harry von Johnston, PhD
Now that I am retired from the CIA, I have some free time on my hands so when Mr. Royster asked me to write an article on publications and organizations created for the sole purpose of selling fake daggers and other edged weapons, I accepted it with pleasure. Thanks to my gallery of advanced collectors, I have been able to secure access to new sources of information which are generally unavailable for the majority of collectors. This knowledge and my experience of collecting the German militaria for about 40 years provide an opportunity for judging and advising newcomers to the collecting community. I have witnessed the emergence of new pseudo-experts and the slow but sure collapse of yesterday`s icons of the German dagger and edged weapons business. So, let’s get started.
Always remember these points before you reach for your checkbook or credit card:
- Nobody can be trusted. The best advice for any collector is his own knowledge.
- To get this knowledge will cost you.
- A dealer is only interested in making a sale. Do not believe his stories and creations but do believe your own eyes and your own knowledge.
- It`s important to understand that if something seems to you doubtful or at all questionable believe it that if and when you decide to resell a questionable item someone might well know more than you do and will quickly inform you of your mistake in purchasing a fake or mis-attributed item
- And probably the most important thing to realize that the price of knowledge is error. You will make mistakes based on the lies of crooked authors and even more crooked dealers. The price of knowledge can be painful.
Now, let us begin our educational program:
The first fakes under discussion are going to be the “golden” series by Major James .P. Atwood. Major Atwood is most truly the evil genius of German edged weapons collectors. This person did his best to evoke interest to these items, but his intentions were far from altruistic; he was motivated by the desire for money.
Atwood, a CIA operator, was stationed in Berlin and used his residence in Germany to further his business ventures.
In those early days he realized that marketing was crucially important for his business. It doesn’t really matter what you sell, what matters is he way you do it.
He was the first who created a purported authoritative work on edged weapons of superior quality. His work on German edged weapons was a high-quality work with excellent illustrations that established a large number of daggers ranging from doubtful ones to explicit fakes. Books certainly have existed prior to Atwood and after him, but he alone had filled the gap of a dealer’s presentation album for nearly 30 years.
Later, in 2000, LTC (Ret) Thomas Johnson did the same thing, using the latest technologies. Let us return to the activities of Atwood. Being adventure natured, as an advanced CIA contract worker, Atwood enjoyed access to official German records and institutions such as dagger and edged weapons manufacturers in Germany.
His commercial acumen and artistic taste gave him the background on how to convert hardware into a tangible dollar. Taking advantage of his contacts as well as contacts among former Third Reich personnel, first of all, he bought up the German manufacturers’ stock surplus and a number of Damascus blades of post-war production manufactured by a certain Herr Müller. Using the production facilities of this workshop, he had items created that he displayed in his book.
Through his contacts in the CIA he moved his products to American dealers, and he did not limit his protected shipments to fake daggers and swords. Atwood also was involved in shipping surplus German automatic weapons to militant American groups. His business rival, John Angolia, another CIA asset, informed the authorities about Atwood’s activities and caused a Federal investigation to commence
Because of his connections with CIA clandestine activities, it was deemed inopportune to publically prosecute Atwood and charges of tax fraud, illegal weapons dealings and other charges were duly dismissed by Federal courts.
Following his clearance of criminal activity, Atwood published the book that along with legitimate daggers and swords also contained his fakes, fakes that could only be obtained by dealers from him. He made considerable profits not only from the sale of his book but also from selling the fakes depicted in it to gullible collectors.
Atwood was clever enough not sell these fakes himself. He sold his fakes through various crooked American, and British, dealers and these fakes were sold at militaria shows and supported by fabricated stories about veteran’s families who had brought these recently fabricated rarities to dealers and sold to them for very low prices. The crooked dealer then displayed the Atwood book showing a picture of the fake and was able to reap a significant profit from the believing buyers.
What was it that dealers did business with Atwood? Dealers made huge profits from the sale of Atwood fakes and at the same time, as his customers, Atwood could be of considerable assistance to his dealer customers because of his government position. (Atwood was also the ex-FBI agent who was involved in smuggling of weapons to Cuba, knew personally Barbie, Skorzeny and other less prominent Third Reich personalities).
Now let’s move on to some of the items created by Atwood and his eager followers.
- Almost all gold-plated daggers: the so-called Generals’ dagger of the Army, LW, and the Customs and HJ are merely upgraded and gold-plated from standard ones from the Army, LW, Custom, HJ etc.
- A number of Damascus items: Himmler’s letter openers with his signature in gilt letters Epoxied on, plus the SS M-33 and M-36 daggers with recently-made Damascus blades signed, spuriously, by Müller.
- Absolutely fantasy pieces like the so-called SS prototype with Müller’s recently fake Damascus blade.
- And the most famous of his fakes was a copy of the so-called Herman Goring’s Wedding Sword. This he had created by the Solingen firm of Eichhorn from their original drawings of the authentic Wedding Sword, then in a private German collection. This sword, allegedly found in a tavern in the South, was eventually sold for over a million dollars!
So the question now to be asked is: why did a person who was involved in such profitable political and economic games as collaboration with ex-Nazis, dealing, through his controlled Merex company, with illegal weapons, drug smuggling, and the sale of former Soviet nuclear artillery shells to the Pakistanis, bother to make, authenticate and sell fake Nazi edged weapons?
Today, the so-called “advanced dagger” collecting world is filled with Atwood’s creations and his “Adolf Hitler personal PP Walther,” and his “Adolf Hitler assassination rifle” along with his fake “Goering Wedding Sword” are the jewels in many “truly significant” collections.
P.T. Barnum was right: A sucker is born every minute.
And here are photographs of both Atwood’s fakes and fantasy pieces, taken from his book, and additional illustrations of more recent fakes and fantasy pieces taken from various purportedly authoritative sites but which are really nothing more than advertisement for fakes by crooked dealers and collectors.
First we show pictures of fake and fantasy pieces from the Atwood book and then more recent fakes and fantasy pieces.