In addition to the rapid evolution of the US enlisted uniform there was also a revolution in the type and design of decorations authorized to be worn on the uniform. The most dramatic changes came during WWI, influenced by the proliferation of decorations allowed on European uniforms (particularly the British). By 1918 the AEF began to authorize an unprecedented variety of decorations on the enlisted Army uniform. The excuse was that it provided for "Esperit de corps", but most likely it was so that the returning veteran looked snappy for the folks back home.
EnlistedBeginning the adoption of the new cotton tropical uniforms during in the Spanish American War era, collar insignia would be the first to under go a break from the traditional Army style. Although there had been additional badges and other devices allowed on US uniforms during the American Civil War they had been phased out in the post war period as the Army returned its "Regular" status. However besides it obvious decorative appeal the adoption of the various unit designations to the neutral Army blue was rooted in the necessity of commanders being able to identify a body of troops in the distance, determine its nature and quickly identify the organization. One must remember communication between commands was primarily limited to runners or dispatch riders carrying orders directly between commands. During the chaos of battle it was imperative that commanders rapidly identify a body of troops viewed in the distance.
Note: In 1863 Joseph Hooker initiated a series of identifying Corps symbols to be worn on caps of soldiers to help identify organizations. This would complement the type of troops (cavalry, infantry, artillery etc.) symbols as well as regimental numbers placed on the individual soldiers caps. This became instrumental for commanders to identify who was where in the heat of battle. The Union corps badges adopted during the Civil War took the form of a symbol place on the soldiers cap (clover, diamond, crescent, circle etc) which was in turn was color coded to represent sub commands down to the Division level. It also became a source of unit pride and one finds all sorts of embellishments to corps badges worn on both campaign caps and on the uniform it self.
By out break of the Spanish American War, unit designations for the most part had migrated to the collar. This was for a variety of reasons but most likely since the campaign hat no longer provided the contrast required to view devices at a distance the bright brass ornaments contrasted better against the dark blue of the service uniform. Again this became a source of unit pride as a variety of state identifying symbols were adopted for the collar.
As the century turned and the revolution of the US uniform got under way the bright brass was replaced with a darkened or subdued variety. Style still followed the traditions used during the Spanish War which included the service branch, regiment, and even company. But size, pattern and method of attachment underwent several distinct changes through WWI. Albert Scipio's Book on us collar disks is the definitive reference for patterns, changes and known varieties of enlisted collar brass.
The type and pattern changed quickly during the years prior to WWI along with the method of attachment. However by 1917 the Enlisted collar device was a pair of quarter size darkened bronze disks attached one on each side of the standing collar. A lack of contrast had nullified the identification factor unless the soldier was within a few feet of the observer. In may cases the collar devices were not worn into action to deny the enemy organizational information.
There were a variety of methods of attaching authorized collar insignia. They included staple back, screw post, clamped and pin back.. The officer's brass was primarily a pin back although screw back officers brass is encountered occasionally. The clutch post type of attachment found on today's insignia and decorations was introduced in late WW2 and NEVER found on a WWI uniform.
Staple Back: Typically used prior to 1916 the staple back has long thin wires or legs to go through the collar material and then bent to keep it in place.
Screw Post Disk: Typical method of fixing enlisted collar devices. Single post with a threaded flat nut.
Pin Back: Disk or cutout device with a pin on the back
Clamp Back: Disk with three legs which are bent to grasp material. This type was usually found attached to equipment but also used on uniforms from time to time.
AEF Service. The first division shoulder patches came into being in the summer of 1918 when members of the 81st (Wild Cat) Division began to wear their adopted Division symbol on their uniforms. Members of the 81st wore their distinctive patches (in the form of cloth patches sewed to the left shoulder of their uniforms) as they passed through the port of embarkation at Hoboken NJ on their way to France.
The port commander sent a query to the War Department questioning its authorization. By the time the War Department responded that it was NOT authorized the entire Division had already embarked. Upon arrival in France the unauthorized unit designation had been reported to the AEF General Headquarters. GHQ directed the Division commander to have it removed.. Against direct orders, the Division commander (feeling it contributed to the esprit de corps of his men) authorized its continued use.
Afterwards, GHQ recanted its orders and officially ordered that all COMBAT units who desired to wear such a emblem could do so. This breakthrough soon led to an amendment where all organizations within the AEF could do so due largely to the positive effect of the shoulder sleeve insignia upon moral. It was quick to catch on and soon afterwards a multitude of cloth insignia began to appear on coat and overcoat sleeves. The AEF GHQ was still suppose to approve the chosen emblem but as evidenced by the wide range of period non official patches found on surviving uniforms this authorization met with limited success. However, most authorizations for shoulder patch design did not come into play until after the Armistice.
State Side. Wide variety, many not authorized or from units not fully organized or trained for France. Some of these are quite rare but one must be aware that lack of uniformity leaves an opening for fakery.
Common Types of AEF Patches
Applied Patch .
Constructed of pieces of material stitched together to form a design. Felt and wool commonly used but some AEF patterns use velvet and folded ribbons. Patch may be machine or hand stitched into place.. This patch is for a member of the First Army Aviation group, most likely signal corps.
Uses both applied pieces as well as embroidery. Usually main areas are pieces of felt or wool, Numbers, designs or highlighting are of embroidery.
This patch is for a member of the First Army Anti Aircraft Artillery group, The Bullion number "1" is placed within the top area of the "A".
Consists of embroidering some sort of design or lettering on a background. The back is usually felt or wool. Embroidery may be of silk or cotton thread, machine or hand stitched. A number of embroidery styles were used including loose weave, chain stitched, French cord and so on.
This patch is found on a 36th Division Infantry uniforms attached to the Machine Gun batt. . It incorporates the "T" in white silk which represents the Texas National Guard and the Arrowhead in blue silk representing the Oklahoma National Guard. It is embroidered to a OD felt background.
Bullion patches incorporate metallic thread (gold or silver) for designs or to highlight or outline designs formed by other construction methods. Due to difficulty of manufacture they were usually done overseas in tailors or craft shops.
This patch is found on returning 332nd Infantry uniforms. the 332 is the only American unit to serve in Italy and is a highly desirable and valuable patch.
Fully Embroidered Patch
Consists of embroidering some sort of design or lettering on a background. The design is formed entirely through embroidery. No background material visible except perhaps on the edge of the patch. The back is usually felt or wool. Embroidery may be of silk or cotton thread, machine or hand stitched. A number of embroidery styles were used including loose weave, chain stitched, French cord and so on.
This patch is found on returning 29th Division 116th Infantry uniforms. It is also known as a bevo weave. It consists of silk threads on a OD wool background.
Liberty: Entirely machine made patches using a technology developed a the turn of the century. First a strip of base material is fed into a loom then colored thread worked into it completing the design. Usually constructed of thin cotton, silk or artificial silk. As I said, these are very thin patches. They are called Liberty Loan patches because they were made available as part of a final war loan promotion. Liberty Loan patches were made available for sale at stateside px's and overseas embarkation points at the end of the war.
Service Stripes, Overseas, State Side, Others
The service stripe is fixed on the lower left forearm. It consists of a "V" and is constructed of gold (France) silver(US) or powder blue (Less than 6 months) Each of the metallic over seas chevrons stands for 6 months.
For example, a full term 1st Division veteran would have 4 over seas chevrons. A veteran would be entitled to two gold service chevrons if he had been shipped to France in the spring of 1918 and remained until the spring or summer of 1919 (Army of Occupation). A 29th Division survivor typically has two chevrons and a replacement to the 29th may have one. (Got there after the Armistice).
Many of the uniforms have no chevrons displayed at all. Scenarios I have run into include: The soldier got there late and turned right around for home. He may have been shipped over seas but was almost immediately wounded and returned home. The soldier got there and returned never bothering to put the stripe on his uniform.
The powder blue chevron is made from blue felt sewed directly to the cuff and I have found it to be quite rare. I have occasionally seen it worn in conjunction with a wound stripe indicating the soldier was wounded with less than six months in France.
The material service chevrons are made of also varies. They are usually constructed of a bit of metallic type ribbon sewed to a OD wool background and that applied to the sleeve. They evidently came in a batch of 4, the soldier clipping off what he needed and then sewing to uniform.
However some of the chevrons construction seem unique to the unit that wore them. The service chevrons worn by the 2nd Division, and some 3rd Division veterans are constructed of a heavy gold bullion wire embroidered to the felt background which is applied to the sleeve. These are most likely custom made for our service men while they were on occupation duty after the Armistice. They are attributed to German sources.
A pilot that served for two years in the US training other aviators would be entitled to have 4 silver service chevrons. As time has gone on these are now quite tarnished and can be mistaken as tarnished gold chevrons. The difference between a two year AEF Pilot and a two year State Side pilot is substantial.
Constructed of the same material and configurations as the service stripes except always in gold. Each stripe represents a wounding event. If several wounds received at once the incident only entitles soldier to one wound stripe. However if returned to duty and hit again another wound stripe is authorized. Soldier could receive wound stripe for being gassed if treated by medical staff.
This designation is the same as a Purple Heart is today. Wound badges entitled the WWI veteran to apply for a Purple Heart medal after the war when the medals were first authorized.
Rank chevrons were worn on the right arm, mid way up the upper arm. They follow the standard Army rank designation, Cpl, Sgt., 1st Sgt. Etc.
There was NO private stripe authorized during WW1.. A Private First Class could apply a round rating disk in the same area if he wanted designating his specialty. It is relatively common to encounter Infantry (crossed rifles), aviation (winged propeller), musician (harp), cook (bakers cap), artillery (crossed cannon) on surviving uniforms.
Be cautious, there a bundles of these PFC type badges around, most in unused condition. My guess is the bulk of them rarely made it to the AEF until things were over, thus never applied.
At times the standard Army rank chevrons have the PFC badge incorporated as part of chevron. I suppose this was authorized, but not commonly practiced. There are also SGT chevrons with rating specialties embroidered in them as part of the badge. Once again these are not of the normal occurrence.
Be especially cautious of the aviation, tank or Chemical Warfare attachment on these chevrons. I have seen a lot of very new rating chevrons on rather worn uniforms. There are also batches of loose PFC rating badges floating around.
Honorable Discharge Chevron
This chevron indicated the wearer was honorably discharged from service. It is a red chevron worn normally point up in the mid to upper half of the left arm. I have also seen examples inverted like a "V" . These are often confused as a Pvt. Chevron but as I mentioned before there was no Private Chevron during WWI. These were placed on uniforms at the very end or even after completion of military service. Often they are missing or even found in a pocket never having been applied.Fakes
I have been involved with collecting US WWI uniforms for nearly 15 years now and one thing that I am always asked is how to spot a fake. It is a serious subject of concern for all collectors. This has become particularly critical in that the outlay required to purchase WWI material has far exceeded the good old days where you could pick up a veterans complete trunk with all his souvenirs at a flea market for $50.00. Some of the more exotic groups have been bringing prices where an error in identifying a fake can hurt.
Fortunately in the WWI arena they are NOT faking the uniforms (US) yet. Unlike Civil War uniforms that are bringing such high dollars the work required to make a passable fake is just not worth it. However, with the popularity of the hobby it will most likely not be long till fakes begin to hit the market. Already there are reenactor's uniforms, better than 15 years old, have seen more battles than many originals.
Typically the common uniforms are not FAKED as such, they mostly fall to the age old scam of sweetening the deal. For sure some of the more exotic uniforms are now being assembled (faked) by very clever and knowledgeable con artists. Those I have seen prone to faking (because of the prices they bring) are US Air Service, 2nd Division USMC, Balloon Corps, Tankers, Gas and Flame Regiments, Chemical Corps, American Field Service, North Russia and Siberian troops.
There are several scenarios I consider when encountering a uniform or group that seems out of the ordinary.
1st is the uniform and/or group of materials associated with it is an outright forgery, put together by a dishonest scalawag bent on cheating the next owner.
2nd was this the product of a veteran that served but felt that he needed some post war changes to his original kit.
3rd does this uniform or group stand out because of things added to the group (embellishment). Does it consist of a conglomeration of kits put together to increase the desirability of the offering.
4th . Does the documentation and supporting information check out?
5th . Is this a true rarity.
The only way to begin to recognize original vs suspect (and some still slip through and gig even the most experienced collector) is to get your hands on and look at as many authentic uniforms as possible. Particularly focus on those with provenance.
The collector also needs to know their history. Become familiar with known authentic uniforms, types and arrangements of patches and decorations. What would have been authorized for specific units and so on. The story is detail, detail, detail, know what is correct and what wouldn't be logical for a uniform.
However, there are several schemes that are in practice to maximize the dollars from a otherwise ho-hum bunch of surplus WWI items. Usually the fall into one or more of the following arenas.
Faked or Reapplied Insignia
One of the most popular ways to beef up a uniform is to enhance or add the organizational insignia. It is up to the collector to make the decision if the insignia is original and if it is original to the uniform.
Some of the typical insignia scams are as follows
Faking the unit patch. The collector will soon realize that the unit patch or the specialty patch can make or break the desirability of any uniform. Tankers, 2nd Division, Aero Squadrons, 332 Inf., North Russian or Siberian Expedition patches all command major outlays if obtained on the open collector's market. Others do not command so much cash but always make a uniform more desirable if there is one present. The effort required add a patch may run from simply adding an original patch to a blank coat to meticulously manufacturing a fake highly desirable patch and then applying it. Not only are some of the rare patches being faked but patches that never were in existence are being invented.
Faking or Adding Collar Disks. The same is true for the collar disks. A uniform with the correct or rare collar disk is always more desirable than one with a mis-matched set, disks missing or fitted with the more common types. For several years now new made collar disks have been imported with no indicator that they are reproductions. As uniforms were discarded over the years collar disks were pulled off and have over time found their way into junk boxes and flea markets. Certain dealers specialize in supplying loose collar disks. When examining a uniform a collector must make the determination if the collar disks are period and if they are original to the uniform.
Re Assembling. When examining a uniform, the collector must make an assessment of its originality as an originally assembled unit. This is an important factor to consider, particularly if you are paying a premium for an original specimen of some rarity. In your assessment does the patch seem to be an original application. Does the collar disk look like it has been on the uniform for years. Do wound stripes seem original to the uniform. Are over seas stripes correct for the unit and do they look like they have been on the uniform for many years. The collector must make this determination prior to meeting the required purchase price.
By far the most common practice. A rather generic coat, perhaps with some light mothing is married up with another gas mask, mess kit, helmet, some photos and a letter or two.. Sprinkle on some tales about it being out of the family and some third hand stories of adventures on the Western Front and shazamwe have a highly desirable intact group. The lot will now sell for considerable more than the individual parts due to its desirability as an intact surviving group belonging to one soldier.
This is not a big money maker for the run of the mill AEF soldier but make it an aviator, tanker or a North Russia group and embellishment makes the pot that much sweeter.
Some what common if a supplier has a bundle of mundane material and one or two nice pieces. Usually done with high dollar items. The scam is to take one good piece add a bunch of junk and make it a really nice group.(With a corresponding REALLY nice price). For example, you have an aviator's wing non identified which is authentic. Put it on a uniform, add a nice First Army patch with a aviation rhondel. Sprinkle in a few common period photos (even non military). Add a period footlocker, gloves, souvenir post card album and boy "datsa nice bunch of stuff". It is now also selling for 2 to 3 times what the wing is worth and it is the only thing that has any worth. I have seen a wing worth say $1,000 coupled with $200 worth of other period material for nearly $3,000.
The best defense by all means is to know your stuff. However below are a few questions that every one wanting to invest in a WWI uniform should ask themselves while considering a selection.
Is the insignia/patch authentic, is it original and is it original to the uniform. Stitching is not necessarily an indicator since authentic uniforms bear witness to a wide variety of stitching from crude to near embroidery. More important is the insignia indented in the cloth or sit on top? Is there a different odor? If there is insignia originally on a uniform it should have weathered the same as the rest of the group. Is it appropriate for the uniform.
Is the collar brass authentic. Does the collar brass match, particularly in color and ware. Are they appropriate for the uniform being examined. Does the screw post look like it has been undisturbed? Is the wool under the collar brass indented and match the impression left by the disk? I like to look for a little "Green" around the post and under the disk. If the uniform was worn and the sweat from the soldier's neck got under it may have a nice green corroded color.
Does the overall condition of the uniform and accompanying artifacts match. Even if every thing sat in a closet or was packed away in a trunk it should have had a uniform exposure to its surroundings. A brand new cap gas mask or cap with a worn uniform would lend suspicion to the groups integrity.
Does the dealer have a reputation (good or bad). This is paramount. Do not deal with known crooks, ask fellow collectors about a dealer's reputation. If a dealer that lacks integrity obtains a group it must be considered suspect. Do not sell to crooks, they will break up groups, enhance them and then use YOUR name to lend integrity to the group.
This may effect a return on your investment far into the future. A recent sell off of a known suspicious CW dealer brought the chickens home to roost. John Bracken, a dealer with a dubious reputation auctioned a load of material off at a well known NY auction house. Even though many of his items had was some would consider "Fool Proof" provenance the auction brought only pennies on the dollar because of his reputation. Folks were afraid to touch it and the auction realized tens of thousands less than the auction house predicted.
Blue Light: Does the uniform pass the blue light test. A black light may show up a translucent glow if the material in the uniform or patch is of current production. To be warned, this is not a full proof test and may lead the buyer to a false sense of security.
This sort of information cannot be obtained from collector's books, only by handling a lot of uniforms and noticing the dinky details.
America's Munitions: 1917-1918. Report by Benedict Crowell, Ass.t Sec. Of War, Director of Munitions. Washington GPO, 1919.
Military Collector & Historian, Journal of the Company of Military Historians, Wash. DC. Vol XXXV #3 (Fall 1983). Vol. XXXV #2 (Summer 1983), Vol. XXXIV #4 (Winter 1982).
Insignia of the A.E.F., George O. Morgan, Mark Warren. Hill Printing Co. Keokuk, IA. 1986
World War One Collector's Handbook, Paul Schulz, Hayes Otoupalik, Dennis Gordon. Private Publication by the Authors, Missoula Montana,1979.
Manual for the Quarter Master Corps, U.S. Army Vol. I & II 1916, U.S. Government, Rev, 1917.