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TS Allen

Early Napoleonic "Reproductions"

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Hi folks,

 

For more than a century after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the wars which Napoleon caused during his long reign were known as "the Great War." No other European campaign ever captured the imagination of the professions of arms in the same way the Napoleonic Wars did, and if they were tragic, they were also colorful and glorious.

 

I have always been fascinated by this memory. My favorite painting is Édouard Detaille's Le Rêve, portraying a sleeping French Army's dreams of Napoleonic glory, and Alfred de Vigny's Servitude et grandeur militaries is one of my favorite books. In the past year I have also had the opportunity to acquire several early Napoleonic "reproductions" associated with the rampant memorialization of the original Great War. I will be showcasing them in follow-on posts.

 

Does anyone else have any early Napoleonic reproductions they'd like to share? The most common pieces seem to be headgear, and Bertrand Malvaux and other French dealers regularly offer nineteenth-century reproductions of Napoleonic shakos and helmets for sale. I have also seen a handful of other uniforms for sale. I am terribly jealous of whoever won a the German reproduction of a Napoleonic French infantry uniform, likely made for the 1913 centenary of the Battle of Nations, that was on eBay last year!

 

Best,

T.S.

 

*The modern memory of the nineteenth century as the time of the "Wars of Empire" is relatively new. Our obsession with colonial campaigns would have been alien to nineteenth century soldiers, who were far more interested in the American Civil War, the wars of Second Empire France, the German Wars of Unification and Russia's campaigns than any skirmishes in Africa or India. Luvaas, Holden Reid etc. make this point in their academic works, but the best explanation comes from George MacDonald's Fraser's Sir Harry Flashman, who once had to remind George Armstrong Custer that as of 1876 the US Army had fought and won the largest war since the Congress of Vienna.

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First up, a German reproduction of a First Empire Imperial Guard Dragoon's coat from about 1913. I purchased this piece from Helmuth Weitze, who I believe accurately identified it as having been made for the 1913 celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Leipzig. This tunic has standard post-1895 Prussian Army buttons and snaps and hooks which are identical to other early twentieth century German dress uniforms.

 

I am still seeking more information on these ceremonies, as I have no evidence that there was a military contingent at the unveiling of the Monument to the Battle of Nations in 1913. The Kaiser had a lukewarm attitude to the ceremony because of the problematic nationalistic narrative of the "War of Liberation."

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Next, a related commemorative sports pennant from the 1913 celebration of the centenary of the Battle of Leipzig in St. Louis, Missouri. Although St. Louis had originally been named after King Louis XVIII of France and had briefly been part of Napoleon's Empire before being ceded to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, by 1913 it had a large German population. Athletes in St. Louis, I believe from the German "Turner" gymnastics movement, which had a chapter there, participated in the international Germanic celebrations that coincided with the centenary in 1913. This pennant would have been used by onlookers cheering them on.

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Next, a nineteenth-century French reproduction of a French infantryman's bonnet de police. These were widely reproduced in France and the earliest pieces were sometimes worn by veterans. The only photographic series of Napoleonic veterans, taken ca. 1858, show that a mix of original and reproduction uniforms and equipment were worn by veterans in the annual 5 May parade up the Place Vendôme in Paris. You can see these photos, which are preserved in the Anne S.K. Browne military collection, at http://mashable.com/2014/10/27/napoleonic-wars-veterans/#xPbUuprY5kqj, the sharp observer will note that while most of the items worn by the veterans are original issued items, many of the miscellaneous items such as shoulder boards are Second Empire pattern, and I suspect at least some of the uniforms would have been made up new for this important ceremony.

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And finally, another nineteenth century French reproduction, this time of a bonnet of the Imperial Guard Dragoons.

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Edited by TS Allen
Updating information

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My only contribution to the theread is to agree that 19th century repros. are common.  A friend, a professional uniform maker was, last time I saw him, refurbishing an officer's dress uniform which the owner believed original but which my friend thinks is a good quality repro., based on the fact that bits of it are machine sewn.  That, of course means that at the very least it has been re-worked and, given the lasting popularity of l'Empereur it would be amazing if people hadn't done copies of his troops' dress over the last 200 years!

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What an interesting thread this promises to be. I had never thought of reproductions as being collectible, before. I now realise this was a considerable blind spot, on my behalf. Please keep them coming T.S.

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Well, if the repros are themselves 100 years old, that gives them an interest and value that the c**p being put together in 'the East' and sold as real doesn't have.  In the case of my friend, however, part of his task is/was to convince the owner of the uniform that it was not un fact 200 years old, as I believe it was purchased as such. That said, yes, well made repros. have a place in collections.

I'll certainly never spend the money, for example, to a genuine light company officer's sabre to go with the British uniform I wear at re-enactments and, when I hang up my spurs I assume that one of my kid's will keep the sword as a souvenir of my starnge hobby, so it too will be 'collectible' in the broad sense.  I also hope, given what I paid for it, that my tunic doesn't wind up in a rag bag or at the local Good Will store.   

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Many of the Orders were reproduced especially during the second empire when anything Napoleonic was the in thing I have seen the Orders of Louis Napoleon, the Order of the Reunion and the Iron Crown reproductions from that period.

Paul

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As Paul points out, during the reign of Napoleon III, the 1st empire was cultivated to a maximum. Old soldiers (neglected after 1815) were dug up (not literaly) and restored in glory (note the St. Helena Medal), and many of the old glory was restored. In the times of Napoleon I there was no photography, but 50+ years later this fashion was in full swing. So many revisionists, nostalgists, and others dressed up in Napoleontic uniforms, with rifles, swords, etc. (of poor quality) as props to furnish their houses or to be eternalised in photographic images. After one and a half plus century, most antiquity dealers and auctioneers, with little knowledge of militaria, sell these props and other souvenirs as the bees knees... but "let the buyer beware".... Also, note these romantic images, from the 2nd Empire.

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Edited by Odulf

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Odful, wonderful images! Do you have any history associated with them? They look Victorian to me.

I must note, also, that many if not most of the surviving 19th century French reproductions I have seen are of extremely high quality. That is why so many of them fool collectors and transmute into original pieces.

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There is no information on the reverse of the photos, I don't know their origine (I have gathered thousands in the past 45 years, and I did not keep records about their provenance), but the price (written in pencil on the back) is in Francs, so I think that I bought them there.

The potos measure 11.4 x 16.2 cm, albumen print, and they show traces of paper indicating they were glued in an album. I would date them around 1870.

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Here's another great one: The Hon William Reginald Wentworth Fitzwilliam dressed as Lord Nelson for the Duchess of Devonshire's [Famous] Ball, 1897. More info at http://www.rvondeh.dircon.co.uk/incalmprose/. Much to my surprise, no one dressed up as Napoleon. Too raw in France and too impolitic in England at the time, perhaps.

 

A military colleague has also recently sent along photos of the St Cyrien cadets' annual recreation of Austerlitz. Not "early" reproductions but quite amusing. I will seek permission to post them.

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Dressing up in historical costumes, was a popular past time in the 2nd half of the 19th century amongst students and gentry.

Here we see a group of Scots Guards officers in 18th century fancy dress

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Couple the French fascination with l'Empereur and high end nineteenth century craftsmanship with the collectors' desire to own pieces of history and you ave the potential for many many costly misattributions.  

The friend I mentioned, the professional costumer, who supplies museums world wide, not infrequently finds examples of his work advertised for sale as 'original' despite numbers of clues to the contrary for any discerning buyer.  People will believe what they want to believe and the unscrupulous or romantic and ignorant sellers are more than happy to feed those dreams!

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UPDATE: I have not been able to turn up anything on the 1913 centenary commemoration of the Battle of Leipzig that the pennant showcased above may have been from. The fine folks at the Missouri History Museum & Library and the St. Louis Public Library have kindly scoured their archives for me, and turned up absolutely nothing. It is possible the event was very small and simply disappeared from the archives (I suspect without any evidence that these pennants were rather like T shirts today and could have been produced for a very small event). I am actively seeking further information on the event the pennant may have been used at, so please post here or reach out to me directly if you have any.

 

Best,

T.S.

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These reproductions aren't "early" but they are unique, so I thought I'd share.

 

The enclosed photos are from St. Cyr's annual food fight recreating the Battle of Austerlitz. They have been kindly sent along by a friend of mine.

 

It seems that they are wearing cadet overcoats along with very rough approximations of First Empire shakos and crossbelts. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any photos of the "Austrian" or "Prussian" armies.

 

I wonder how long this tradition has been going on? These photos date from 2013.

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In Belgium on many occasions you will get to see some, during (mostly)religious cortege.

I can not lay hand on any pic's right now, but I will when ever I bump in to one.

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I think I may have found another piece that fits the theme of this thread. It conforms almost perfectly to the pattern of a First Empire hussar's dolman, although with a color scheme that does not match any particular regiment that I am aware of. It seems to have been constructed in the early to mid twentieth century, likely in France. Of note, the ca. 1913 reproduction of a dragoon tunic that I listed above also conforms to the pattern of a First Empire dragoon tunic generally but does not have the correct color combination for any particular regiment. One images that the people making these cared more for aesthetics than accuracy.

 

Images of the dolman are enclosed. The lister from the original eBay auction has given me permission to re-post them. The original listing is still up on US eBay under item number 122446328546, but the item has sold. Sadly, I didn't win the auction.

 

I might add that I have built up a large library of images from auctions of similar pieces, which I cannot post here as I did not secure permission to do so in most cases. That being said, if anyone is looking for images of a particular type of piece for comparison, do not hesitate to post here and message me requesting any images I may have.

 

Best,

T.S.

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Beauitful work!  Pity the tailor didn't use a real colour scheme and pattern.  Oh, for the days when such sewing was affordable!  

I just spent 4 hours hand sewing a set of medieval 'braies' or underwear.  At any reaonable rate of return I'd have to charge $50-75 for them if I were selling same. :(  That's why no one does this kind of work anymore!

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The Armoury of St. James, a London-based militaria shop, currently has a lovely gorget listed... from 1912! I'll quote their description: "In 1911, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Highlanders performed a prominent role in George V’s imperial coronation durbar at Delhi, and the same year were presented with new Colours by the King.  On the latter occasion the King made special reference to the battalion’s extraordinary valour in 1815 at Waterloo, where 2/42nd Royal Highlanders repulsed eleven French cavalry charges, losing 289 of its 498 officers and men. In September 1912, to mark the occasion of the King becoming Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, the officers and sergeants of the 2nd Battalion held a special dinner at Fort William, Calcutta. For both the dinner and subsequent officers’ ball in December of the same year, the Black Watch officers wore an elaborate and specially made uniform based on the style of 1815, of which the present gorget was an integral part."

 

The gorget is at http://www.armoury.co.uk/antiques?show=All

 

Enclosed a photo of the officers in uniform at the 1912 dinner.

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I showed this to a couple of people, who all oowed and ahhed over it.  Not, however, without noting that the whole 'reproduction' thing is a minefield when one goes back a century. 

A good friend makes quality reproduction uniforms, many of them French Imperial, for museums and historical units world wide and some of his efforts have found their way onto the market as 'authentic'.  They're not, of course, and there are ways to tell - he typically machine stitches anything not visible when a coat is in wear, for example, but not everyone is as savvy or a shonest as The Armoury. 

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A new acquisition!

 

For the retour des cendres (that is, the return of Napoleon's ashes from exile on St. Helena to Paris) in 1840, many veterans dressed up in old and reproduction Napoleonic uniforms to welcome Napoleon back. Thereafter veterans continued to dress up, particularly for the annual commemoration of Napoleon's death on May 5th. There is a very well-known series of photos of Napoleonic veterans dressed in what are likely reproduction uniforms in the Anne S.K. Brown military collection at Brown University which can be seen at: https://library.brown.edu/collections/askb/veterans.php. Careful observers will note that although the uniforms look Napoleonic in these ca. 1858 photos, many aspects of the uniforms such as the epaulets being worn are clearly post-1815.

 

This coatee was an actual military coatee that dates from the July Monarchy (1830-1848), and was modified at some point to look like it dates from the First Empire. The coatee itself is made of fine light blue wool and features heavily chest padded, seamed waist (common from the 1820s onward to achieve a slim-waisted silhouette), and pockets in the tails. At some point the front of the coat was carefully cut to make it look like a First Empire coatee, and new turnbacks, cuffs, and collar were added. There is evidence that galon de grade (which look like US service stripes) were removed to make room for the new cuffs. The remaining buttons are all the smaller-sized buttons worn by the Imperial Guard and appear to be 19th century copies. All of the larger buttons from the front waist and tails were removed (perhaps those were original). Two of the four silver bullion grenades remain on the tails. Inside the tunic, there is an old costume-house label, reading from H. Mathieu and L. Solatges, Costumiers at 18, Rue Laffitte, Paris. This costume was No. 1494. I doubt this uniform was originally made for them given its construction. Then again, Mathieu and Solatges have long been the costumers for the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and one can imagine this tunic has been worn in La fille du régiment as far back as its first performance in 1840, when it premiered with a cast in First Empire coatees. 

 

Although this tunic does not perfectly copy a First Empire Imperial Guard coatee as it should have a blue collar, it is a lovely approximation and a piece of history in its own right, especially given that it may well have been worn by a veteran of Napoleon's Grande Armée. I was so pleased to acquire it for my collection.

 

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I also learned recently that the French army still wears coatees--at least, the "Grenadiers de l'Empreur" of the Republican Guard do! Like the Commander-in-Chief's Guard at the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment in Washington, D.C., they are serving soldiers who recreate the past.

Edited by TS Allen

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