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Flasheart

Grenadier Bearskin cap, regulations of 1768, 59th Regiment of Foot

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The second grenadier cap is the 1768 pattern Bearskin, which may be a drummers bearskin given the metal drum at the rear.   50th Regiment of Foot, as depicted by the Roman numeral 'L' on the rear panel and the number '50' on the drum.   Does anyone have any experience of original bearskins to offer views?

Mike

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As I've said on the thread with the other cap, I am no expert on these and can only offer an intelligent (I hope) opinion. I do know for a fact that these helmet plates have been very well copied, also that about ten or fifteen years ago there was one of these in one of the more respectable military auction houses which was mysteriously withdrawn, the word "on the street" being that it was a complete fake. The fur on this one looks oddly new and in extremely good condition. If I had to venture an opinion, I'd say I don't have confidence in it.

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The current owner of these helmets is a 30 year collector and has one of the world's best collections of very high end (ie, Generals helmets, rare regiments etc) Imperial German helmets.  He is currently bowing out of the collecting hobby and is handing the entire collection over to British and German auction houses.  I intercepted these two hats!

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I have seen just one real one and it was in a pretty poor state. Of course things survive in different condition but this one looks too good to be true and even from these low-res pictures it seems to lack the appearance of any great age. Does that leather band, or the fur, really look old? Can you really trust that plate, knowing that extremely accurate copies have been made?

Even after nearly four decades of collecting British kit from the Crimea to WW1, I may be totally wrong about this. If you "buy" the seller, fine, but it is perfectly possible to be an expert in one field and fooled in another, especially when you want something to be right. If it's real then of course it's a very fine piece, and if not it's an expensive mistake. Personally I have always have to feel very sure indeed about high-end purchases, but it's not my call here. I don't know the seller and I haven't handled the cap. All I can do is offer an honest, unbiased opinion based on what I see here.

Edited by William1

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Very nice British Grenadier Bearskin! I am no expert on these, but it's in such good condition, it looks like you went back in time and took it from 1770 whatever. However, perhaps as it could be a grenadier drummer's bearskin (appears to be a drummer or musicians) the drummer kept it and it's been stored and kept in good condition and it's been stored in perhaps a family house addict. I saw an article somewhere, a Royal Navy Lieutenant who served with Admiral Nelson in the early 1800s Napoleonic period (I think Trafalgar) kept his uniform after his service and it's been stored in the family addict for hundreds of years and was uncovered recently, in untouched condition, and it's the only known example to a RN Lieutenant of that period to exist so far. Long story short, it could be a fake, and I'm no expert, but if uniforms can survive from around the period (I've seen some really nice Napoleonic uniforms (VERY expensive, but very nice) in very good condition, from very prestigious militaria sellers... then I think it is very possible that that this could be authentic, but when dealing with rare, expensive examples like this, it is often worthwhile for forgers and fakers to fake a hat such as this one, so you must be cautious with these. Stuart Bates, a well known hat collector, who is on this forum, has (or at least had, probably still has, not speaking for him, though) a very similar example. His hat collection topic, page 1 

Don't know if you've seen it or not yet, but maybe you should contact him as he may able to help you authenticate it. That's just my insight, hope it helps. Best regards,

-Jamie

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Thanks Jamie, I have sent an email to Stuart.   Here are the front plates of this Drummers cap (top) compared to Stuart's Grenadier's cap (bottom).  The plates have different scroll work drummer versus grenadier, the photos have been taken at different focal lengths, and the Drummers front plate is more heavily used, but otherwise I cannot see differences, even at the very fine level.

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Here is the plate on this mitre compared to another original plate.  Look at the ridges in the scrolls, the serifs on the lettering, where the ridges cross the letters. Also look at the bent left leg of the second 'N' in TERRENT. Both are identical.  They only differ in that the grenadier plate has the scroll work around the crown and the GR letters are larger and set lower, versus the drums and flags and higher set GR on the drummer cap.  I saw some of the reproduction plates on various sites, they are not even remotely close to these.  Any views?

 

mike

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I don't usually like being proved wrong but if it happens this time I will be more than happy. I am certainly not out to deliberately rain on anyone's parade and I very much hope this cap turns out to be bona fide.

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Here is an original Drummers 1768 Bearskin from 'The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum' (bottom photo). Compared with the subject 1768 Drummers Bearskin (top photo).  They appear to be identical, although the subject Bearskin seems to have some black paint or oxidisation on the 'G'. Note also the send 'N' in TERRENT, the left leg of the N is slightly bent on both plates, like in the previous post.

 

 It seems that both Drummers bearskins and grenadier bearskins must have been pressed on the same die, and the drums or scrolls added later?  Or maybe the original master was used to make both dies. Either way, they exhibit identical flaws and features.

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Edited by Flasheart

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Nothing screams 'wrong' to me, but for the kind of money I assume is involved, you might want to consider contacting a museum or high end auction house for an opinion.  Sadly, there is just no substitute for holding the thing in one's hand.

 A friend, Peter Twist of HistoricalTwist, here in Canada, makes his living producing museum quality reproductions of [mostly British] uniforms from the 1760-1820 period and anything he has made in the last 30 years would be indistinguishable from an original except for deliberately added mistakes, to prevent fraud, and aging.  The bearskin on this one looks to me very like a number I saw last summer which are modern repros. which have been worn daily for a decade, so that isn't a warning sign to me but...  There are enough good copies out there now, never mind the fakers work, that even an experienced collector like the vendor can make mistakes.

 Again, not trying to queer his pitch.  I assume he's sell it 'pending verification' and were they my shekels, I'd even consider paying for an expert appraisal.  My ratrher long-winded tuppence worth.  Good luck!    

Edited by peter monahan

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Would look rather nice with these bits, However i think id like to buy that through one of the leading auction houses in London like Dix Noonan Webb, of great interest to me .

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Here is a better photo of the original 62nd Regiment Drummers Bearskin (top) from the Rifles Museum, compared with the 50th Regt cap (bottom).  I have been over these in forensic detail, they are identical down to the mould casting flaws.

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These can only be subjective impressions via a photograph but I don't share the view that  this cap lacks the appearance of any great age, nor that it looks as if it's been brought back in a time machine.  The hair is matted and discoloured in a way that, to me,  suggests the passage of centuries. I can't comment on the front plate but Flashheart's observations seem to me thorough and persuasive pending closer examination.

Peter's comment about extended daily wear by a re -enactor  or similar is an interesting  one, but I have two observations to make. The first is that the great majority of re-enactors' bearskin caps don't get the look right, especially  the 'skinny' profile of the upward grain of the fur. Instead, the nap is too bushy and they tend to resemble bad copies of French Imperial Guards caps. Or bad copies period (Obviously Peter is talking about an exception to that tendency). Secondly, who would wear such an immaculate and clearly expensive copy as this one in the field?  As was the practice at the time,  the caps were found to be too fragile for field use and were soon returned  in store for special occasions in camp or cantonment.  True the grenadiers at Brandywine still had their caps with them, ready to put on before they advanced..  I did see on a forum dedicated to the AWI, a claim by a re-enactor that his cap was so light and pliable,  that he would keep it stuffed in the side pocket of his uniform coat, ready to whip out and  clap on his head.  I expressed some scepticism but he was insistent.

Drummers might have been more likely to keep their caps although their role as  signallers  in the field was  eventually relegated to a more ceremonial one,  sounding calls in camp. The 50th, reduced by service in the West Indies and sent home in 1776, passed the rest of the Americanwar reforming and on garrison duty in England and Ireland before being posted to Gibraltar in 1784. It passed the next fifteen years serving in various mediterranean stations culminating in the Egypt campaign of 1801 after which it returned home. At that time, the new model grenadier cap, its function entirely ceremonial, was being introduced.

One other thought about survival: bearskin caps were regimental property and so this would be more likely to have been kept by an officer when the 1768 cap was superceded by the next model, ca. 1800, and then passed on in who-knows-what series of gifts or transactions but kept safe. The organic nature of the material means this kind of survival is rare but clearly it has been possible.

Edited by jf42

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JF42

Thanks for the very useful comments on the use of bearskins.  I should have made it clearer that I was referring only to what a bearskin looks like after 500 -800 -1000 wearings in the sun, and not to the authenticity of the cap per se.  My key point was 'get an expert opinion'! :)

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I have only ever seen examples of this type of cap at the National Army Museum in London and they were obviously behind glass with no opportunity to examine them. From what you have shown so far Mike I would be inclined to hope that this is in fact a fine survivor of its type.

It may sound silly but does the cap smell old, it's something that can't imho be replicated and something of this age will have a unique 'old' smell. The other thing I would be interested to know is what size the cap is? As a general rule the population is getting bigger and I know this will not give any definite answer but I would expect it to be a small size.

I wonder if an enquiry with The NAM would provide any further proof, not sure how helpful they would be but worth a chance if you can contact them.

Regards Simon

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17 hours ago, coldstream said:

It may sound silly but does the cap smell old, it's something that can't imho be replicated and something of this age will have a unique 'old' smell.

Simon, I don't have the bearskin yet, but I absolutely agree, old things have a unique and unmistakable smell. I have 100+ Imperial German pickelhauben and a couple of hundred other headgear items dating back to the Franco-Prussian War, plus 150 or so WW1 and WW2 uniforms. There is a unique smell, particularly old leather and 100+ year old tobacco smoke residue, that cannot be reproduced.

Mike 

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I agree that heads are bigger now than they were.  Unfortunately, or perhaps in this case fortunately, that tends to mean that smaller hats survive better, especially when re-issued, as they are less likely to be used in later periods.  Ditto smaller size tunics: of little use to re-enactors, regimental colour guards in period kit and so on.

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