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MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLES – A RARE OFFERING OF A SELECTION OF VERY NICE EXAMPLES:  One of the scarcest, if not rarest, of the US Army Saddle accessories, the Surcingles from any of the eras of the US Horse Cavalry survive in extremely low numbers, with most of the surviving specimens being found in museum collections.   While on occasion a Model 1904 Surcingle appears on the market, offered here is a small selection of the very few Model 1885 Surcingles I have seen for sale in over the past 40 years.  Possibly one of those items of horse equipment which were put to many other uses by the army after the end of the Horse Cavalry, either these continued alternative uses for the surcingles or poor storage in commercial surplus houses explains their absence in today’s collections.  This is rare opportunity to add a regulation Indian War surcingle to your collection and complete your saddle.   

The surcingle was an important and integral component of the complete issue of horse equipment for each soldier and was considered a necessary safety feature.  It was the last piece of equipment placed over the saddle and around the horse to hold the saddle in place in the event of a girth failure, intended to hold the saddle upright on the horse and in place long enough to allow the soldier to safely dismount.   

This photo shows the surcingle displayed over the seat of a Model 1885 McClellan Saddle:

The specimens offered here dimensionally and characteristically match the general description of the Model 1885 Surcingles as provided in Ordnance Department Horse Equipment Manual, Ordnance Memoranda No. 29 which described the Model 1885 Horse Equipment.  There is variation in the lengths of the webbing and the leather billets as it was common for the soldiers and the company saddlers to size the surcingle to a particular horse.  The leather is definitely black, not oil soaked or aged russet as would be consistent with the Model 1904.  The blue color is present to one degree or another, albeit somewhat faded by age and wear depending on the use to which each specimen was subjected, but the blue color is discernable in the webbing on these surcingles.  Note that the blue surcingles were issued to the cavalry troopers while the light artillery were issued red surcingles.   

I am fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches as I have the following specimens to offer, each described below with accompanying photographs. 

 

NO. 1  MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLE KIT – GROUPING OF ORIGINAL PARTS TO ASSEMBLE A VERY REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLE:  When I bought these, at the bottom of the box was this grouping of salvaged parts, probably as these surcingles were packed by the unit saddler as he cleaned out his shop of obsolete equipment to send back to the arsenal.  These parts are sufficient to assemble a representative example of an original Model 1885 Surcingle, requiring only very minimal stitching skills and a little time sitting in front of an old movie of your choice.   

This grouping includes: 

1 – full length surcingle with an overall length of  79” with the web body measuring 52” long.  The buckle is missing, but an aged buckle of the correct pattern is provided.  The buckle billet would have to be repaired with epoxy to close the leather over the buckle.  During its service life, the linen web was folded back on itself and riveted in order to size the surcingle to a particular horse.  This was a common practice and method as the surcingles were often too long.   The blue linen is faded and has some evidence of wear and staining, but is overall solid.   The buckle chape is full form with various unit inventory stamps.  The leather billet is full length with no evidence of having been shortened and there are no repairs and no weak points.   Both leather keeper straps are intact and present, and all the stitching is intact and strong.  The leather is all live and supple with no breaks and overall retains a very good surface with minimal crazing. 

1 – 45” length of surcingle linen webbing, full width and in very good condition with both leather billet retention straps.  The blue color is more apparent where it was covered by the leather fittings.   

1 – full length leather billet in very good condition.  Supple and in full form with only minor crazing to the surface. 

1 – original surcingle buckle, showing wear and corrosion but it will clean up and is functional. 

Again, this is a surcingle kit, with all original components and enough to make at least one presentable and creditable example of a rare piece of Indian Wars horse equipment at a very reduced expense.  (0208)  $80 for the group   

 

NO. 2  MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLE – VERY GOOD CONDITION:  A very solid specimen with all the components present.  This surcingle has an overall length of 77” with the web body measuring 48” long.   

The buckle chape is full form and intact as is the proper functional iron roller.   

The leather billet is full length with no evidence of having been shortened and there are no repairs and no weak points.  The tip of the billet has a barely legible “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp, as well as the piece worker’s initials on the tip and on the reverse reinforcement piece.  Both leather keeper straps are intact and present, and all the stitching is intact and strong.   

The leather is all live and supple with no breaks and overall retains a very stable surface with some crazing and flaking, but it still retains a shiny finish.  The linen webbing is in remarkably good condition with no weakening of the weave.  There is some minor wear to the edges with a narrow band of loss of the weave, but overall the surcingle retains its form.  There are no significant stains and the color is overall consistent where the blue is discernable but faded, and far more vivid under the billet retention straps where it was protected from the direct sunlight.  SOLD

 

NO. 3  MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLE – VERY GOOD FULL FORM EXAMPLE:  A very solid specimen with all the components present.  This surcingle has an overall length of 79” with the web body measuring 48” long.   

The buckle chape is full form and intact as is the proper functional iron roller.   

The leather billet is full length with no evidence of having been shortened and there are no repairs and no weak points.  The base of the billet is stamped “36”, a unit inventory marking.  The tip of the billet has a trace of the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp, and a legible set of piece worker or inspector’s initials. 

Both leather keeper straps are intact and present, and all the stitching is intact and strong.  The leather is all live and supple with no breaks and overall retains a very good surface with minimal crazing and a bright shiny finish.  The linen webbing is in remarkably good condition, full form with no edge wear, no weakening of the weave, and only one small hole under one of the billet retention straps.  The linen has an overall faded blue hue, with stronger blue color under the retention straps where it was protected from the direct sunlight.  SOLD

 

NO. 4  MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLE – VERY GOOD EXAMPLE WITH STRONG EVEN COLOR:  A very solid specimen with all the components present.  This surcingle has an overall length of 80” with the web body measuring 51” long.  The blue color is aged, but is evenly strong throughout the length of the web linen body.   

The buckle chape is full form and intact as is the proper functional iron roller buckle.   

The leather billet is full length with no evidence of having been shortened and there are no repairs and no weak points.  The base of the billet is stamped “61”, a unit inventory marking.   The tip of the billet retains only a trace of the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp, and the same is true of the piece worker’s initials, visible with a little imagination.  

Both leather keeper straps are intact and present, and all the stitching is intact and strong.  The leather is all live and supple with no breaks and overall retains a very good surface with minimal crazing and a bright shiny finish.  The linen webbing is in remarkably good condition and it retains the original blue color evenly along the entire length.  There is one spot of weakened weave in the center of the body, not a hole but where the weave has been disturbed, but only visible on close inspection.  There is some minor wear to the edges with a narrow band of loss of the weave in one short section, but overall the surcingle retains its full form.  This surcingle was definitely used, but the color and the overall full size of this example more than makes up for the wear.  SOLD

 

NO. 5  MODEL 1885 McCLELLAN SADDLE SURCINGLE – VERY GOOD CONDITION - 3RD CAVALRY REGIMENT MARKED:  A very solid specimen with all the components present.  This surcingle has an overall length of 62” with the web body measuring 41” long.  The blue color is more vivid in the section between the two billet retention straps, probably the result of that section being folded under and protected from the sunlight.   

The buckle chape is full form and intact as is the proper functional iron roller buckle and the chape is stamped with the numeral “36”, probably a unit inventory number.   

The leather billet is full length with no evidence of having been shortened and there are no repairs and no weak points.  The base of the billet is stamped “3 CAV” indicating it was issued within the 3RD Regiment of Cavalry, and it is also stamped with several unit inventory numbers.  The billet is stamped “3 CAV” a second time halfway down to the tip.  The tip of the billet has a very legible “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp, as well as the piece worker’s initials, and two more unit inventory numerals.  It is possible that the large numeral “2” is a size indicator as I have seen this exact same sized stamp on several other surcingles, and that consistency of content and location suggests it was a stamp applied at the arsenal to indicate the size.   

Both leather keeper straps are intact and present, and all the stitching is intact and strong.  The leather is all live and supple with no breaks and overall retains a very good surface with no crazing and a bright shiny finish.  The linen webbing is in remarkably good condition with no weakening of the weave, only a minor amount of wear along the edges of the linen and some minor scattered staining commensurate with being issued and used.  The linen still retains much of the original blue color, as can be seen in the photos.  SOLD 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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