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Military Miniatures - Source Material

( Originally Published Mid 1950's )



There is an old, old adage that often the journey is more exciting than the arrival. This certainly holds true many times in the search for uniform information and other military knowledge, to complete a miniature or diorama. The exploration for uniform and weapon information is one of the most interesting facets of the hobby. It is often as impractical to accept one source as it is to abide by many popular beliefs that have been retold for generations with the customary additions here and deletions there. Accurate information about uniforms of the armies of Europe and the Old World is naturally abundant, because a military heritage existed there long before the forces of the United States were conceived. However, the last few decades have produced a thirst for knowledge about American uniforms and military history, which has been due in no small part to the increasing growth of making and collecting military miniatures as a hobby. Advertising men, always alert to the trends and interests of the public, have in many cases turned to the colorful military uniform as an attention-getter to sell their clients' products. The entertainment world, just as alert to the public's tastes, molds motion pictures and television shows around wars and the men who fought them. The novelist, too, has found the historical novel with dashing military heroes and exciting military incidents much to the public's liking. And military students have produced a host of volumes extolling the exploits of both heroes and rogues, from low recruit to high brass.

The entertainment world as well as the historic novelist enjoys poetic license which permits deviation from fact in order to add sparkle, and therefore inaccuracy and whimsy is to be expected. Although the student and historical writer do not enjoy poetic license, inaccuracies have a way of creeping into his works. This unfortunate situation occurs for a variety of reasons. A student will often accept the error put down by an accepted authority without seeking other opinions or checking recent information. For this reason it behooves the collector not to accept one source alone, but to delve deeply into every possible library, museum and private collection to compare and determine the worth of each student's opinion.

Although there have been distinguishable features in the clothing of soldiers since ancient times, military uniforms, as thought of today, have a history of only a few hundred years. Hannibal raised the white and crimson Spanish regiments, the Crusaders wore clothing emblazoned with crosses of distinctive colors, men of the feudal barons went into battle wearing the liveries of their masters, and mercenaries depended on scarves of distinctive colors to distinguish their allies. Men have banded together in groups to fight their enemies ever since there were men, and it is only logical that they should develop a variety of clothing or insignia to distinguish each other in the excitement of battle. The search of old manuscripts and accounts reveals many interesting examples beside the few mentioned above. It is interesting to note that what is considered to be one of the first military uniforms as we know them today is still worn in much the same pattern as originally designed. The Yeomen of the Guard, known popularly as Beefeaters, formed by Henry VII during the latter part of the fifteenth century, was uniformed in the reign of Henry VIII with a costume of typical Tudor pattern with puffed and slashed sleeves and breeches with tight hose and a narrow-brimmed low-crowned hat. Through the centuries this uniform has changed very little in basic pattern and the Guard is still clothed in a red Tudor patterned uniform armed with sword and halberd.

In the latter part of the seventeenth century, several regiments were formed and with them came distinctive uniforms. From then to the present century, uniform designers have had a field day trying to outdo each other with embellishments and color. During some periods, horsemen were weighted down with silver lace and bound in tight clothing until it became an effort to swing a saber, while foot troops were poured so neatly into their uniforms that the free movements required in battle were greatly encumbered. All this makes one wonder if the idea was to scare the enemy with gaudy fantastic clothing, just as the savage paints his face, or if the array of finery was a method of encouraging the enlistment of recruits who could then strut like peacocks, flouting their plumage for the fair sex and satisfying their egos.

Research on development of most old world uniforms is greatly simplified because of records kept by monarchs and nobles through the years enumerating how many bolts of this type cloth and how much for this and that to outfit troops. These records, coupled with the paintings and prints produced to satisfy the peoples' love for the military, and the publication of strict rules and regulations for the armed forces, gives the researcher a fertile field in which to work. The uniforms of the United States, however, present a tougher row to plow for the student, not only because the United States has always been a peace-loving nation but also because in earlier years money and materials were not as plentiful to supply troops with standardized clothing and equipment as it is today. This does not mean that there were no colorful uniforms in America's history. Nothing could be further from the truth; as the country grew in wealth and power uniforms blossomed out in color and style to equal the clothing and equipment of the older nations. Unfortunately much early information has become lost, and many records are not as clear as they could be and depend a great deal on the scholars' interpretation, which naturally can lead to a variety of views. But this very lack of early information adds zeal to the quest and makes this part of the hobby even more enticing. Where shall he turn for this information is the natural question of the hobbyist, and the following leads will open many avenues of military knowledge.

National museums not only house extensive displays of uniforms but also maintain large libraries of information which is available to the public. State museums also abound in knowledge that is yours for the asking. The same applies to city and private museums which have been founded and maintained for the sole purpose of gathering and passing historic information on to the public. Many museums publish bulletins and from time to time books and pamphlets dealing with armor, uniforms and other military subjects. Public libraries are also at your service and many have set up sections de-voted to prints and books on costume which naturally include military uniforms. The various historical societies throughout the nation are also a good source of information; many have museums where actual uniforms are displayed, and they all maintain collections of books, newspapers and historic records which will yield much about various regiments and their activities. Old newspapers carried not only descriptions of parades and gatherings of military units, but also advertisements for the apprehension of deserters which described their uniforms. Paintings and prints of the various museums are also valuable in your search for information. The primitive type paintings are exceptionally interesting to the scholar because what the amateur painter lacked in perspective and technique, he made up for in exacting detail, which is often eliminated by the professional.

A page from the Uniform of the Army of the United States, 1882 which was prepared under instructions of the Quartermaster General. A number of such books of various periods were published and many may be found in the libraries of historical societies as well as public and private libraries. Books of the same type were published on flags also. Volumes of this type go into great detail with both colored plates and line drawings of equipment and insignia. In foreign countries there have also been published books such as these; the Confederate States of America also issued one.

Residents of state capitals and the larger cities through-out the nation need go no further than the telephone directory to find the addresses of museums and historic groups, since many are located in the larger cities and seats of state government. If none are listed, a letter to your state or federal representative will most certainly be channeled to the proper agency to supply you with addresses. However, a far simpler method is to purchase a World Almanac from your local book store or news dealer. The World Almanac is inexpensive and contains names and addresses of the various museums and historic societies. You will find the directors and curators of museums as a general rule very enthusiastic and eager to help you with your study.

The United States Government Printing office publishes a number of full color prints which may be purchased at a very nominal price. Catalogs listing the various publications may be obtained by directing a letter to the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C. Be sure to specify in your letter that you are interested in Army or Navy, because catalogs are issued on a great number of subjects.

There always have been and always will be men who enjoy soldiering. Needless to say, this enjoyment is found more in fancy uniforms and parades than battle and bloodshed. America saw the banding together of such men as early as 1638 when the Honorable Artillery Company was formed in Boston. By the middle of the following century, a variety of such groups of volunteers were formed, such as Smallwood's Maryland, The Jersey Blues, and Haslet's Delaware. In fact, it was such units that accounted for the early success of the Continental Army and it is no wonder that Washington recommended that the United States depend on such militia for defense in the new government. Volunteer companies continued to increase in numbers and colorful splendor, each trying to outdo the other in spectacular uniforms until, by the middle of the nineteenth century, almost every town boasted at least one company and some cities had hundreds. They would fall out for a parade at the drop of a hat, and rivalry between companies, encouraged by political and ancestral ties in some cities, ran high.

These volunteer soldiers who were the predecessors of today's National Guard financed themselves with little help or interest from the Federal Government, but when the nation went to war the volunteers marched off to do their duty for their government. When the Civil War broke out, the volunteer companies of both the North and the South made up a large portion of the fighting forces.

Early months saw many brilliant uniforms in the field, but as the war wore on the finery gave way to more service-able and inconspicuous clothing, although some groups continued to cling to distinctive uniforms of modified form.

Just as with the regulars of any country, the uniforms of the United States Army, Navy and Marines also changed many times in cut and color over the years, and examples of these along with pictures and text may be found in the various museums and libraries. A number of illustrated books in full color on United States uniforms have been published under the direction of the Quartermaster General, no doubt the best known being the set of H. A. Ogden, which was published during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Containing a great number of colored plates along with regulations from the Continental Army up to the time of publication, this is indeed a valuable source of information, although some students say that earlier uniforms shown are not correct. Other Quartermaster books are naturally smaller but the colored illustrations show the uniforms of the particular period from a variety of angles, with regulations and line drawings of insignia and other uniform details. Army Regulations which have been issued by the authority of the War Department lack the colorful pictures, but the text covers uniforms of the period of issue in detail, along with much other information of interest to the military student. Naturally, there are regulations for the other branches as well as for the Army. Needless to say, books of this type are not easy to come by. A stroke of luck may turn up copies in antique shops or second-hand book stores, but don't build your hopes too high. How-ever, you would do well to seek out your local museums and public libraries, because most of them have copies of some.

Probably the first set of prints on contemporary soldiers was produced from wood cuts made by a group of artists in the service of Emperor Maximilian during the early part of the sixteenth century. The first prints of American soldiers were produced in Europe near the end of the American Revolution. People who love beauty and history have always collected pictures, but it has only been since the advent of efficient reproductive processes that picture collecting could spread beyond the few who could afford the costly originals. The nineteenth century saw the woodcut develop into fine engraving and the lithograph, which brought colored illustrations within the budget of picture hungry people. Early lithographers turned out hundreds of thousands of inexpensive prints on a wide variety of subjects which were bought up as fast as they could be produced. Books rolled off the presses illustrated in brilliant color, but now inexpensive enough for almost everyone to afford. The covers of sheet music now boasted inspiring colored illustrations instead of merely type, and not the least among these works of art were uniformed soldiers on the covers of music written and dedicated to the various volunteer companies. As may be expected, sometimes the printers were a little careless in selection of colors and maybe the draftsmen were a little loose with some details, but study of these pictures, when possible, should not be overlooked in your search for uniform information.

The nineteenth century also saw the growth of another great institution advertising. Manufacturers and merchants, seeing the impact of colored pictures on the public, soon put the magic of color to work drawing people's attention to their products through colored posters, fancy labels, beautiful boxes and, that most fascinating of all, trade cards. It is not unusual at all since the world was military conscious that many posters, labels, and cards showed soldiers in their designs. Trade cards were distributed in a variety of ways, sometimes packed in the merchandise and sometimes given by the seller, and the subject matter was on every conceivable subject, including flowers, birds, heroes, medals, daring actresses, pi-rates, wicked bathing beauties and, that most important subject, military uniforms. Pictures and advertising messages were printed and distributed in a great variety of sizes and on many different materials, beside paper and cardboard, including silk, felt, and leather. The ones of most interest to the military miniature collector and, fortunately, the ones that have survived the rigor of time more successfully than many others, are the small cards that were distributed with cigarettes; however even these are not plentiful and some time may be involved in finding the early ones showing uniforms. Probably the most sought after cigarette cards are the military ones issued by Kinney, who made Sweet Caporal cigarettes along with other popular tobacco products. This series shows over five hundred and fifty types of uniforms, be-side military medals, foreign arms, state seals and ancient war ships. They are of particular value to the military collector and historian because, besides uniforms of the regulars, there are a great many showing the volunteer uniforms mentioned earlier.

Cards were made and distributed all over the world, with each country showing not only pictures featuring their own nation but those of other nations as well. Mass distribution of cigarette cards in the United States slowed down after the turn of the century, but there were still a few experimental issues made as late as the 1930's by Herbert Tareyton, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and others. Distribution in other countries continued strongly through-out the first half of the twentieth century and was discontinued only during paper shortages of World Wars I and II. Collecting cigarette cards is a hobby in itself, just as coin and stamp collecting, and this accounts for the variety of asking prices when you buy them; there are rare ones and common ones. Early ones on popular subjects such as sports and uniforms are naturally rare and many times in poor condition when found in the nineteenth century a favorite way to spend the evening was looking at picture cards. Being pasted in albums, fingered, torn out to trade and eventually stored in a damp basement, shed, or sun-baked attic made casualties not only of cards but of other historic papers and journals that are eagerly sought today for research.

Picture cards were so much in demand that album cards were made and sold, and naturally there were many colored postcards which included military subjects. Many postcards are still made that have excellent information on military uniforms. In the United States, museums and art galleries publish the majority, while other countries turn out many for distribution through regular trade channels and through museums.

Almost inevitably at sometime during service, be they enlisted men or officers, soldiers have an inspiration to write a book telling of their adventures, extolling their military knowledge, or exposing the Army. Naturally, in most cases this inspiration passes, but still many have put their views on paper and eventually see them in print. Needless to say, many who wrote should have let the inspiration pass, but by the same token some have produced very creditable manuscripts that add greatly to man's storehouse of knowledge. With the progress of printing in the nineteenth century, the flow of military histories increased. More and more military histories continue at present to come off the presses, and even some of the earlier works that have not survived time physically are being reprinted. These works, combined with those of professional historians and military observers, as well as periodicals and newspapers, can furnish a bonanza of information for the student if he studies and cross-examines the various accounts, paying close attention to all footnotes and references. Just as the Apostles saw and recorded the same events differently, so historians and observers each see the same thing many times from different angles.

The military miniature diorama maker should also keep in mind conditions and circumstances existing at the time of the event he is depicting. It is important, too, to keep in mind the desire of the soldier to be as comfortable as possible on the line and in forward areas. From the time before Caesar's legions, through the wars of history, including the World Wars, soldiers have utilized clothing, weapons and equipment of the enemy and of civilians., sometimes through necessity and sometimes for comfort and efficiency. Therefore, even though the student may have at hand complete dress regulations as set forth by any particular government for its soldiers, he should allow for existing conditions when clothing his miniatures.

One of the first things a collector of military miniatures should do is start a "morgue". This is a term used by professional artists to describe their files of reference pictures and notes. No matter how the morgue is housed, whether in notebooks, boxes, or filing cabinets, it should be separated into period and nationality: include with an index so that material can be found quickly. Beside cards, prints, notes and sketches, magazines published today offer many accurate colored pictures of soldiers and battle scenes in both advertising and in articles; these too should be clipped and added to the morgue.

All of the foregoing is just an idea of the many ways information can be obtained, depending entirely on your own ingenuity and interest in the subject. Once the search is started, one source will lead to another and the time spent will offer just as much entertainment as the final construction of the diorama or figure.



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