Posted 7 years ago
I’d like to start this post by saying there are still many things I need to learn about the 1881 helmet, and I invite all comments and corrections.
Everyone likes a winner, and after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871, countries seemed to drift away from French inspired uniform fashions. In terms of dress headgear, America turned toward the leading global power of the time. In a radical departure from previous choices, a new helmet for mounted troops came out in 1872, and "the model was that of the English Horse Guards" as one of the officers on the uniform board put it. Then in 1881 a new helmet was introduced for all branches that looks very similar to the British Home Service Helmet which they adopted in 1878. Although it was similar to pre-existing colonial sun helmets, when the British topped their new helmet with a spike, it had a distinctly Prussian flavor.
I believe this U.S. Model 1881 helmet is an officer’s version. It’s made of cork with a sewn dark blue fabric cover and pinwheel vents at the sides. I believe the enlisted versions had stiffened felt instead of sewn fabric. The cork has begun to deteriorate and crumble under the weight of the spike, and I’ve padded the Styrofoam head beneath to support the weight and preserve what’s left.
The eagle plate with infantry crossed rifles appears to be a one-piece enlisted version, and it lacks the regimental number that would have been affixed to the shield. I think this was a replacement at some time. The spike base is officer style gilt with vent holes, and the spike itself is brass. The infantry crossed rifle side buttons have hooks for an officer’s chin scales. The gold braid, although old, is completely non-regulation. I’ve frequently thought of just removing the braid, but with my luck I’ll find some information right afterwards that will make me wish I hadn’t.
Every time I remove the helmet from the Styrofoam head, little bits of cork fall out, so I have always been reluctant to handle the helmet much. I’ve owned this helmet for at least twenty years – before so many research tools on the internet were available. Yesterday when removing the helmet for these pictures, I rediscovered a forgotten marking on the inside “C H Davies/Co H, 23 Regt.” Yippie! I have some research to do!