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MODEL 1887 US ARMY SUMMER HELMET – SOLDIER WHITENED AND TRIMMED WITH ARTILLERY INSIGNIA - VERY NICE SOLID SPECIMEN:  One of the classic pieces of Indian War headgear, this Model 1889 US Army Summer Helmet has survived in very nice solid condition.  Probably best known for their issue to the soldiers in the Southwest during the Apache Wars, in fact these helmets eventually saw wide distribution throughout the army’s installations as a standard issue relieving the soldiers of their heavy and hot woolen headwear.   

Despite the army’s specific directives proscribing the use of any of the brass insignia featured on the dark blue wool Model 1881 Dress Helmets on these Summer Helmets, the troops – presumably with their officers’ blessing – decorated their Summer Helmets with the brass insignia as is seen on this helmet.  As evidenced by surviving period photographs and surviving examples, the soldiers recognized the relief from summer or tropical heat afforded by these helmets, and simply transferred the insignia from their dress helmets to the summer helmets for parade or social functions at the frontier or overseas posts.   

The Model 1880 US Army Summer Helmet was manufactured in white, but was specifically criticized by officers for the way in which the white color stood out when worn in the field.  When the helmet was redesigned and issued as the Model 1887 Summer Helmet, the army responded to the complaints by manufacturing it khaki drab, foolishly believing it is possible to make everyone happy.  Viewed in the context of the times, it worth noting that these helmets were issued and worn by US soldiers during the waning years of the Victorian Age, a period when British soldiers were wearing bright white pith helmets in tropical climates – accenting their uniforms in a way familiar to all of us who have viewed the movie “ZULU”.   

No doubt, US Army officers wanted their troops to reflect the same level of style as that exhibited by the British, and our officers had the ability, if not the permission, to make it so.  A simple application of a white clay based coloring – probably similar to the white dressing which was used years ago by the dragoons to color their straps and accoutrements – rendered the drab khaki helmets a bright white.  Worn with the dark blue blouse and the white cotton trousers already a standard issue to the US soldiers, these whitened helmets were a natural addition to complete a full head to toe summer uniform at the frontier posts across the southern United States and in tropical posts around the world.   

The body of this helmet still retains its full shape with no damage or crushing to the crown or the brim.  As described above, the outer cotton khaki covering has been whitened, and is intact with no wear spots or tears, all of the seams are intact and the material is overall clean with minimal signs of age and storage.  The inner lining of crown is fully intact with no heavy stains or wear.  The green linen lining on the underside of the brim is intact with only minor fading and signs of aging and wear, but no substantial separation of the weave as is so often seen.  The leather sweat band is in very good condition and all of the cork mounting discs are present, as are the two brass chin strap hooks and the round paper size tag.   

The helmet is trimmed with the brass dress helmet insignia – the spike and its oak leaf base, and the enlisted man’s artillery eagle front plate.  The insignia has made plain imprints in the surface of the cotton covering and the cork body of the helmet, indicating the brass trimming has been on the helmet for a very long time and is not some recent affectation or addition. 

One of the highlights of this helmet is that it still retains the full length, original white patent leather chin strap, complete with the brass adjustment buckle.  These white leather chin straps were not particularly robust and they did not survive well in storage, often simply disintegrating to dust in such places as Bannerman’s Island.  In spite of its age, the chin strap retains the white enameled finish to the leather.  There is some evidence of age as is common with enameled leather in that there are some light age cracks across the surface, however the leather is very strong and the strap displays very well.  The rarity of these white chin straps cannot be overstated and they are simply not found on the loose anymore.  Finding one still mounted on the helmet as in this case is a very nice added value.    

The inside of the crown is ink stamped with a patent banner, indicating the style of the helmet was patented on May 8 (or 3), 1883(or 8), the date suggesting this helmet was in one of the first batches produced prior to the contracts being let in 1889 to such civilian contractors such as the Horstmann Company.   The underside of the rear brim bears a handwritten soldier applied identification, “Sgt. P.M.”.  That the helmet is identified to  an NCO supports that these helmets were decorated with the brass insignia, and that the insignia present on this specimen is not some later addition.    

This is a very nice example of one of the more unusual pieces of US Army headwear from the Indian War and Spanish American War periods, trimmed as it might have been worn on the parade field of such posts as Ft. Sam Houston, Texas; Ft. Apache, Arizona Territory; the Presidio of Monterey, California, or Santiago, Cuba.   (0202)  $495

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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