A recent purchase just arrived in my mailbox and I’ve been researching the details in hopes of identifying something interesting to write about. Well, this photo has a few good details that will hopefully help future collectors with identifying their WWI photographs!
The first details that pop out are the accessories that these doughboys decided to wear into the studio. These small nuances of WWI photos really help researchers, reenactors and collectors understand that uniform and insignia regulations in 1918 were at time blurry, and interesting one-off uniform presentations did exist. In this case we see a handful of elements that are not typically found in photos of the period.
One soldier (far left) is wearing M1910 canvas gaiters, while the other two are sporting wool puttees.
All three doughboys are wearing French lettering on their caps denoting their specific unit affiliation. In this case, they are wearing the number 57 with a letter A. In any other scenario I would assume that this would place them within the 57th Infantry Regiment, Company A, or possibly 57th Pioneer Regiment, Company A. In this case, the next detail down drives the unit ID home. These letters and numbers are often seen on French collars.
Officer’s Field Artillery Insignia
The soldier at the far right is wearing an officer collar insignia for a Field Artillery Regiment. An odd thing on an enlisted man, and especially odd at the center of the chest. Who knows?
All three are wearing watches! The first on the left has a pocket watch with fob and chain clipped to his shirt. The other two are wearing “trench watches” with kitchener straps. Interestingly, they both do not currently have crystal guards AKA “shrapnel guards” on the watch face to protect from wartime damage. These were popular amongst watch-wearing soldiers of WWI.
Field Artillery Ring
One detail that I always look for is the presence of a ring on WWI soldiers. The soldier at the far left is wearing a sterling silver Field Artillery ring – another clue that supports the 57th Field Artillery ID for this photo.
In summary, the tiny details of a photo can actually make an unidentified WWI photo incredibly interesting and fun to dissect. These little nuances of wartime accessory can, at time make the difference between a $5.00 photo and a $50.00 photo to the discerning collector. It also helps expand knowledge into unknown areas of military material culture collecting. Pull out your magnifying glass and look through your collection!