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US ARMY OFFICER’S SUMMER HELMET ca. 1880 – TRIMMED WITH THE OFFICER’S INSIGNIA - VERY NICE SOLID EXAMPLE OF A SCARCE SPECIMEN:  This is a wonderful example of an Indian Wars Officer’s Summer Helmet, ca. 1880.  Trimmed in the manner described for officer’s summer helmets in the general order published in January of 1881, this helmet features the “top piece, spike, chain chin-strap, and hooks, all gilt.”  Having survived with all the components intact, this officer’s summer helmet presents well as one of the classic pieces of Indian War headgear.  Probably best known for wear in the desert Southwest during the Apache Wars, in fact these white and khaki helmets eventually saw wide and popular use throughout the army as they relieved the officers and soldiers alike of their heavy and hot woolen headwear during the summer months.   

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 1889 Summer Helmet, the army responded to the complaints by manufacturing it in 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.  While the helmets were eventually made and issued at the same time with white and khaki coverings, for those troops and officers with a khaki helmet, 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, and worn by the officers as well, 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.   

This is a private purchase helmet, differing in minor ways from the Models 1880 and 1889 Summer Helmets which were standard issue to the enlisted men.  Officers were responsible for providing their own equipment and uniforms, and while governed to some extent by the regulations, they also enjoyed a certain degree of latitude that was limited only by their finances and their personal tastes.  Such is the case with this helmet.  The officer purchased it from one of the many uniform stores and shops which populated the large eastern cities, but in spite of the source, this helmet still adheres to the regulations.  It is trimmed not only in accordance with the 1881 regulations, but the trimmings are applied as they appear in the period Quartermaster reference photograph which was taken to document the officer’s summer helmet.   

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 at one time, though the majority of the whiting has worn away.  The covering 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.  There is a very small black mark on the front center of the helmet, immediately above the surrounding band, but it is not particularly noticeable.  The inner lining of crown is fully intact though it does show some sign of having been worn with some light sweat staining.  The green linen lining on the underside of the brim is intact and generally clean, shows some sign of wear, but none of the severe separation of the weave as is so often seen.  The leather sweat band is intact, again showing some sweat stains, and a few of the cork mounting discs are missing.  The sweat band is not loose and it is still in place, and the missing discs are not particularly noticeable when the helmet is displayed.  The paper size tag is still present on the rear of the sweat band.  

The helmet is trimmed with the gilt plated helmet insignia as described in the general order cited above – the spike and its oak leaf base, the special officers’ side buttons for attaching the chain chin strap, and the shield hook mounted on the back of the crown for securing the chain chin strap when it is wound around the helmet crown.  As is correct and per the regulations, the helmet was never fitted with a 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 chain chin strap backed with a strip of white patent leather.  Complete officer’s chain chin straps have never been common and finding one with the leather backing – black for the dark blue dress helmets and white for these summer helmets – is a real rarity.  That this chain stayed with the helmet and more significantly, the entire leather backing strip survived with all the stitching intact is nothing short of remarkable and is a definite added value to this helmet.   

This is a very nice example of a scarce Indian Wars officer’s summer helmet and it will display well in your collection.  (0346)  $650



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