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UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS 1ST PATTERN MODEL 1904 McCLELLAN SADDLE – A RARE SPECIMEN IN EXCELLENT CONDITION BEARING “USMC” MARKINGS:  Discovered in an old Connecticut collection, this United States Marine Corps McClellan Saddle bears two sets of definitive identifying stamps on the permanently attached, and from all appearances original, quarterstrap safes, each legibly stamped “USMC”.   

Prior to the discovery of this particular saddle, no McClellan saddle was known that had any stamps or marks on the integral components of the saddle – the seat, quarterstraps or girth safes, all pieces which could not be or didn’t appear to have been, removed or replaced - which would identify the saddle as a “Marine Corps McClellan”. 

As discussed in The American Military Saddle, 1775-1945, it has been generally accepted that the United States Marine Corps procured McClellan Saddles from Rock Island Arsenal.  The only appreciable difference between the saddles issued to the US Army and those used by the US Marine Corps were the use of hooded stirrups bearing “USMC” rather than “US” in the oval embossed on the front center of the leather hood.   

From known examples of these “USMC” embossed stirrups, it appears the Marines either procured the finished stirrups through civilian contractors or procured the components and assembled the stirrups themselves after applying the embossed "USMC". The samples of “USMC” embossed stirrups studied by the authors of the above referenced work revealed two distinct variations in the style of the embossing (pages 305-306), but all of the examples lacked any manufacturer's stamps - either arsenal or civilian contractor.  

In the absence of any known surviving Marine Corps documentation, correspondence, or records regarding their saddles, many of the details which have been readily available for US Army saddles remain unknown about the saddles used by the Marines, as those details continue to be shrouded in the shadows of history.  It is exactly this lack of definitive information that makes this US Marine Corps McClellan Saddle so significant, in that it provides a heretofore unknown example which features hard evidence of use by the Marines.  

Made of russet leather, this saddle features the Godfrey rigging, and in general overall appearance is consistent with the First Pattern Model 1904 US Army McClellan Saddles, with the exception of the unique characteristics described below.  The overall condition of this saddle is excellent, the clear, bright leather featuring a smooth shiny surface and holding a light caramel color, with no sign of abuse or oil soaking.  There is no crazing to the leather, the quarterstraps show evidence of only light use, and all of the seams are secure and intact.  All of the fittings – foot loops, equipment rings, and coat strap mortise plates – are present and in likewise excellent condition.   All of these fittings are made of brass, and appear to originally have had an applied subdued finish, however now many of the pieces, particularly the coat strap mortises, are polished bright.    

Several features set this saddle apart as a very unique specimen.  The Godfrey quarterstraps drop below the lower edge of the sidebar approximately 10” – note that during an early,  pre–1903 trial the quarterstraps were reduced in length to 11” then later increased to 12”.   The quarterstraps in every way – color, condition and attachment points - appear to be original to the seat.   

The quarterstraps depend to round, single layer girth safes, of the pattern found on Second Pattern M1904 McClellan Saddles except that these safes show no evidence of ever having been backed with sheep skin.  The center of both of these permanently attached quarterstrap safes are stamped with 1/4" letters "U.S.M.C.".  The style of the stamping on both safes is identical.  This stamping was certainly applied after the Marine Corps acquired the saddle.  

The pommel shield is shorter and wider than the standard shield found on Model 1904 Saddles, as noted above is made of brass, and is plain, having no embossed or stamped size or maker’s information.   

The wooden frame stirrups are not the standard regulation pattern associated with the US Army or USMC saddles.  These stirrups are shorter and wider, presenting a considerably more "squat" profile - more like a western “cowboy” stirrup - and they are not fitted with hoods nor is there any evidence of ever having had hoods.  However, arguing for the stirrups having been issued within the U.S. Military procurement system and likely original to this saddle, both stirrups retain approximately 98% of a coat of brown lacquer paint, the same color and finish as the brown japanned enamel paint found on the metal fittings on the early 1904 horse equipment such as lariat hardware, picket pins, snaps, and buckles.  These stirrups were with this saddle at the time it was first collected in the Connecticut area, having been found in the attic of one of the area’s old homes.  I know the original buyer personally and given his buying and collecting habits, I have no reason to doubt that this is exactly the way he purchased the saddle. I believe this is the configuration the saddle was in when it left the Marine Corps' inventory.  The stirrups are attached with original M1904 stirrup straps, both full length with no breaks or tears, each having a smooth shiny surface, and showing a minimal amount of wear or aging, commensurate with the condition of the balance of this saddle.    

This McClellan Saddle is the only United States Marine Corps McClellan Saddle known to exist with definitive USMC identification stampings on an integral component of the saddle which positively identify the saddle as having been issued within the Corps.  This saddle would be the penultimate addition to a display or collection of early 20th Century USMC equipment, highlighting the deployment of the Horse Marines to such far shores and exotic stations such as China, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the Philippines.  (0125)  $1550



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