Pacific Voyages is about strange and wonderful things of the Pacific. 

So I thought we’d revisit the world of fake 1911 Colt handguns which have been replicated in great numbers in the town of Danao in the Philippines for nearly a century. A fourth generation of craftsmen is still cutting, pounding and welding car fenders into 45 caliber fully operational automatic handguns. And they really do work and work well because the sort of people who buy them will drop a serious hurt on you if they don’t function as advertised. It takes about two weeks to hand forge one of these pistols and the most skillful gunsmiths earn a decent living making and selling weapons designed to blow peoples’ heads off.

But once I opened the door to the world of counterfeit goods I was stunned at how it has evolved (I was also discomodiated, though, by the second ‘e’ in the word counterfeit). Estimates of the market size range from a low of $400 billion to over 1.7 trillion per year. The illegal drug trade comes in at (a very rough number) 600 billion or about the same as the legal drug trade.

Some of the earliest counterfeited items were coins. Debasing coins has been common since their invention in about 600 BC. But did you know that back in the mists of history olive oil and wine were counterfeited? Olive oil, wine and money are still popularly counterfeited. The oil is cut with cheaper grades or soybean oil. Wine bottles can be faked with aged labels but few people showing off the thickness of their wallets at The French Laundry will yell at the sommelier that, “This 1947 Château Lafleur is a fake.”

But don’t cross Bill Koch with a fake bottle; he claims he’s spent over $35 million to hunt down someone who sold him a bogus $400,000 bottle. For that amount I would have confessed to the crime myself. Though I suppose in good conscience I couldn’t claim a reward. Maybe Bill used counterfeit money. There is more around then the government lets on because some is so good it can’t be detected. The Secret Service says this isn’t so but how would they know? (Here is a terrific podcast about on very clever counterfeiter: Of course Bill K. might have used ‘movie money” which is fake but not counterfeit.  

When I was in Vietnam twenty years ago I came across a vendor of Gucci handbags in a stall right in front of a hotel store selling ‘real’ Gucci’ purses. They all looked the same to me. Then I went to an open air market where there were Levi’s, Adidas and North Face with correct looking paper tags and labels. All fake. In Vietnam they used to make knockoff Honda 55cc motor scooters but Japan turned the thumbscrews on them so the newer ones were labeled Hongas.

There is counterfeit everything. Some is just a baby powder pill painted blue and sold as Viagra. But critical medicines and even pacemakers are faked. In poor countries most of the pharmaceuticals are fake. Faking extends to aircraft parts, appliances and, of course, fashion. The most commonly faked item of all time is the Rolex.

I was in NYC with my family many years ago when son Tyler bought a ‘Rolex’ from a street vendor. He paid full ($20) price and everyone was in on the joke. It functioned when he bought it but we had not gone two blocks when the face jumped into the street with the watch’s guts close behind. He was left with a flimsily shell, a strap and a life lesson. The lesson: Scotch tape the watch together immediately.

Six years ago I was in a multistory shopping center in Shanghai where they claimed that everything was counterfeit. I believed them as it I could not imagine a reason to lie about it. I handled a fake iphone which did light up when switched on but ran on Windows 95.

Up to 90% of the fakes are made in China and much of it comes from the same factories as the genuine article. Some operators just play both sides or sometimes goods are made of the rejected parts after hours.

Fake medicines and are one thing, but who cares if someone knocks off a $400,000 Hermes handbag? Well Hermes does but they can’t stop it or even slow it down. But there is another category and that is artistic homage to an item as this video attests

A few years back I saw pictures of a fake Ferrari made in Bangladesh. Apparently it looked OK from across the street but up close it was a hot mess. Boy oh boy have things changed. These car folks aren’t making branded replicas of cars so much now but rather cars that look very much like the cars they are imitating.

One can imagine a faked Ferrari on a Chevette chassis but how about a fake Rolls Royce limo complete with some pretty nice detailing that actually runs. There are fake Land Rovers and even Mini Coopers and Smart Cars. But they live in the twilight world of copy vs homage.

All this in a country that has built replicas of European cities.

This neighborhood in Turkey is sort of a fake on a gigantic scale but the hundreds of mini castles failed to attract buyers as there just weren’t that many insane customers.

In the USA now there is a great deal of talk about cultural appropriation. If I built a Zimbabwe themed grass hut and mud village and sell the units as vacation homes I would be hoisted and then roasted on my own petard…come to think of it maybe I shouldn’t use that expression either as it comes from Hamlet and I’m not English (or Danish). The phrase’s meaning is that a bomb-maker is lifted off the ground with his own bomb, and indicates an ironic reversal, or poetic justice. 

So, looking at the list of businesses that are not culturally, environmentally or racially problematic I’m left with the blood business which, according this list, is the 13th biggest industry and Ireland is the biggest blood exporter; though to be fair theirs is at least 3% alcohol (I can hear Hennigan screaming from here).

One more word on counterfeiting. Back in the 1990s I was a builder I got a job installing a very nice lobby, offices and conference room in a lithography printing company. It seemed excessive to me especially considering what happened. They turned out to be among the biggest counterfeiters of US currency in history.

I got paid by check. 

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