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PATTERN 1851 COLONEL’S FROCK COAT = COMPLETE WITH BOTH ORIGINAL SHOULDER STRAPS – AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE:    The classic uniform coat for all officers, this frock coat was the style introduced in 1851, worn through the Civil War, and then on to the post-Civil War frontier until being replaced in 1872.  As described in the Regulations for the Uniform and Dress of the Army of the United States, of 1857 “All officers shall wear a frock-coat of dark blue cloth, the skirt to extend two-thirds to three-fourths of the distance from the top of the hip to the bend of the knee; single-breasted for Captains and Lieutenants, - double-breasted for all other grades.”

This specimen is a prime example of the realities of officers’ uniforming, particularly as these surviving uniforms present in the form in which they were actually worn.  When viewing officer’s uniforms and equipment in the context of the 19TH Century, it is necessary to keep several points in mind.  First, the officers received no issue of uniforms from the government; rather they were expected to provide their own uniforms and equipment at their own expense.  Secondly, while the army uniform regulations were quite specific, a certain amount of latitude was not only tolerated, but in some cases was encouraged in practice.  An officer was only limited by the depth of his pocket book when it came to selecting a uniform provider and purchasing his uniforms.  An officer from a wealthy family, or who enjoyed the generosity of a benefactor, could afford a much higher quality wardrobe than could an officer from humble origins or without any outside source of income.  This financial burden continued to be a concern throughout the officer’s career as service in the field took its toll on his clothing or, a promotion required the purchase of different uniform components such as hats, coats, and insignia.  In a dynamic environment such as the Civil War or service on the frontier, it is conceivable that an officer could be repeatedly promoted as vacancies in the ranks of senior officers occurred as the result of casualties.   To an officer of modest means who depended solely on his army pay such rapid and unplanned advancement could threaten him with imminent bankruptcy.  And finally, while most collectors are familiar with a modern era when soldiers have a variety of uniforms ranging from dress blues to camouflaged fatigues, its worth pausing to remember that these frock coats were not a dress uniform, but instead were the uniform and it was worn on the field of battle as well as on duty in garrison, and in the parlor during social functions.   

While the regulations called for field grade officers to wear a double breasted frock coat, the colonel who chose to continue wearing this single breasted coat after his promotion out of the company grade officer ranks likely did so because the coat was still presentable, and in far too serviceable condition to be discarded simply because he had advanced in rank – in all likelihood, he was a man of the same frugal New England Yankee stock I knew in my childhood.  It is also possible it was a question of personal preference if the colonel found a single breasted coat more comfortable than a double breasted coat – and he was of sufficient rank to exercise such a preference.   

While this coat has survived in very good condition, as it was not strictly regulation in accordance with his rank, it stands to reason that he wore it for his day to day duty assignments whether in garrison or in the field, and he reserved his double breasted coat for more formal dress occasions.  An excellent example from the wardrobe of an officer who was “there”, this colonel’s frock coat illustrates the reality of the officer’s daily wear.     

As it presents, the entire coat exhibits a high level of expertise in tailoring, and the special features and appointments suggest that this coat was definitely one of the higher grades of uniforms available at the time.  The body of the coat is fully lined with green polished cotton cloth which is intricately quilted on the front panels of the torso area, and the sleeves are fully lined with pin striped cotton cloth.  There is an inside breast slash pocket on left side of the coat, and a horizontal breast pocket on the interior of the right side.  The split tail of the coat is very nicely detailed and includes two deep slash pockets – one in each of the two rear tail pieces – that are accessed by finished vents in the edges of the tails.  The coat is decorated with matching regulation US Army Staff Officer buttons – seven down the front, four on the coat tails, and three smaller buttons on the cuff of each sleeve. All the buttons are present and all of them are full form with no depressions or other damage.    The coat measures 38 ˝” long from the top of the standing collar to the bottom hem. 

Sewn to the shoulders are the matching colonel’s rank straps, measuring 4 ˝” long and 1 ˝” wide, which have survived in truly excellent condition.  Each strap bears the fully embroidered silver bullion eagles signifying the rank, on a dark blue wool field indicating the colonel served in a staff assignment.  The wool fields are fully intact without any wear or mothing.  Surrounding the field is a very pronounced border of 3/8” wide embroidered high quality gold bullion.  The bullion eagles and borders are tarnished, but they all still retain some of the original gilt and sparkle, with no tears or wear points, and the embroidery is still firmly attached to the base.  Along the inside and outside edges of the embroidered bullion borders is a fine border of fully intact jaceron, the thin bullion bead characteristic to well made shoulder straps from the 19TH Century.   

While a staff officer's shoulder straps might not create the same exciting mental images as those worn by a cavalry or infantry officer, these staff officers preformed critically important functions such as the General Staff, Ordnance and Engineers, and many of the staff departments were commanded by a colonel, such as at one time, the Chief of Ordnance. 

This frock coat is in very good condition with the dark blue wool material retaining its strength and integrity.  All of the seams are intact and the wool is very clean with no damage or mothing except the points noted as follows:  there are two holes (shown in the photos below) less than 1/32” in diameter on the left breast which are on a horizontal line and appear to be where the officer had some badge or insignia pinned.  There are three other similarly sized holes, perhaps smaller, which honestly look to be holes caused by hot embers dropped from his cigar or pipe.  None of these holes stand out, nor do they detract from the appearance of the uniform.  Finally, there is some very minor fraying to the bottom edge of the skirt, concentrated at the rear of the coat where the colonel would have sat on the coattail when seated in a chair or when mounted on a saddled horse.  The bottom edges of these coats were not finished with a hem, rather they were cut from the bolt of cloth in such a way to take advantage of the bias of the weave for the bottom raw edge of the skirt.  The exterior of the coat is otherwise in very good to excellent condition, and it presents very well.   

The pin striped lining of the sleeves is intact and shows only the expected minimal wear and soling towards the cuffs.  Both of the inner arm holes are solid and show none of the common tearing or material weakness in the armpit area.   The lining of the body is complete except as noted as follows:  There is an angled tear, approximately 1” on a side, just inboard of the left arm hole which appears to have been caused by the wear from a metal hanger.  The tear is not large or particularly noticeable being up in the shoulder area, and there is no loss of material.  There is some fraying of the lining in a horizontal line along the left rear of the coat which would have been directly where the officer’s sabre and pistol belt would have been fastened over the exterior of the coat, and the wear to the lining would have been caused by the weight and friction of the belt against the material.  This wear spot is concentrated to the one area and the cloth is not further weakened nor is the fraying continuing to open. 

None of these points of wear are significant issues, however in spite of the risk of discouraging a perspective buyer, I want to provide you with a fair and complete description.  

This is a very attractive Pattern 1851 Officer’s Frock Coat, and one which includes the significant added value of retaining the original colonel’s shoulder straps.  Presenting as it was worn by a senior officer in the course of his daily assignments, this coat is one of those which was “there”, yet survived in very nice condition, and it is one which would display well with a grouping of officer field and garrison equipment.  (0450)  $4,250

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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