Collecting American wings. The Orber Company of WWII.
By Andrew H. Lipps
The collector of WWII American
insignia is aware of the variety of manufacturer’s that abounded during the
1930's and 1940's. Producing wings, crests, rank pins,
sweetheart & homefront insignia, and more was a booming business with
several hundred thousand American men and women under arms. From the
viewpoint of the collector and the historian such insignia is prized for it's
both its aesthetic or 'eye' appeal as well as for it's rarity. The
collector soon realizes that certain makers and hallmarks command a premium and
that others are very scarce. In the category of the former are English
made insignia as well as the insignia of sought after firms such as Luxenburg
and Blackinton. In the category of the latter the insignia of Orber
Manufacturing Company of Pawtucket, Rhode Island is a standout.
According to the Orber webpage; yes the company is still in business, they have manufactured insignia and jewelry since 1923. The Orber hallmark can be found in several variations on military rings, insignia, crests, and Army Air Corps wings. It is the latter that is the focus of this article. The early Orber hallmark features a curved ORBER and is found on various insignia from the 1930's to include Pilot wings of the era. That rare hallmark soon was transformed into the raised circle pattern more familiar to collectors of Army Air Corps aviator's badges. The first pattern included the companies’ town of origin with later examples omitting this in favor of the simplified STERLING BY ORBER disc. The US Army forbade the presence of hallmarks on those insignia purchased by the Government to be issued to her troops in order to quell questions of favoritism among manufacturers. Excepts exist of course, notably presentation wings such as those given to the WASPS. As a consequence Orber, as with most manufactures of insignia sold directly to the United States, manufactured a line without the hallmark. However where companies such as Blackinton preferred to remove the hallmark from their dies, Orber retained the marking but obliterated the company name. The unusual circular pattern is nonetheless instantly recognizable to collectors.
Throughout this period the Orber company continued to produce Police and Fire badges and the straight line hallmark of "Orber Mfg Co.Pawtucket RI." can be found on these pieces. With the end of WWII and the advent of the Department of Heraldry use of a numeric designations assigned to manufactures of insignia for the U.S. military, the Orber mark became "1-0".
Collecting Army Air Corps wings is of course an important sub field within collecting militaria and it has become a minefield of fakes and fantasy pieces. Study the patterns found in these images and study Orber wings you encounter at shows. These wings are not to my knowledge faked and pity the crook who is caught faking the copyrighted hallmark of a currently thriving company!
This pre-war pattern Orber Army Air Corps Pilot wing has the S factory
applied to the shield to convert it to a Service Pilot wing. The pinback
wing features the early curved Orber hallmark. This pattern can also be
found in the G Glider wing.
The early curved ORBER hallmark from pre-WWII.
The reverse of this rare one piece Orber Bombardier shows the rarely seen early WWII full address ORBER MFG. CO. PAWT. R.I. hallmark.
These Orber pattern wings show the same design of the Orber Observe wing with
the winged bullet for Air Gunner and a bomb for Bombardier separately applied.
From the reverse the Air Gunner and Bombardier wings show the same pattern and are marked with the raised circle STERLING BY ORBER disc.
Contrary to some collectors beliefs, clutchback wings were common during
WWII. This rare Orber Flight Engineer wing is the same applied construction
pattern with the FS radial engine on the Observer base. However the wing
is now a clutchback.
As a tell-tale for a WWII wing by any manufacturer, look for the silver
solder pool at the base of the clutch post. Post War clutchbacks will be
electroplated with no solder residue present and often have a small head at the
base of the clutch.
When the U.S. Government purchased wings to be given out as issue wings, they
were barred from giving wings with a hallmark. Many times Orber wings are
encountered with the makers name obliterated from the mark. Though still
obvious to those familiar with the companies distinctive disc hallmark, these
wings were manufactured to be sold to the Government so as not to violate the
ethics of that law.
Orber did not limit themselves to Aviation badges. Their hallmark can be
seen on crests, police and fire insignia, and as seen in this image, wartime