It is sometimes said that while the rest of the world goes to war for territory or to protect an empire, America goes to war for souvenirs. It’s a cynical notion, clearly, though still manages to raise a smile here and there, especially among those for whom collecting historical militaria is a serious hobby.
As I’m sure we’re all aware by now, nearly a century ago, the United States declared war on the Kaiser’s Germany. At that time, the USA was a minor player on the world stage, despite having the most impressive industrial base of all. When congress did declare war in April 1917, the idea, at least according to President Wilson, was to ‘make the world safe for democracy,’ and acknowledging all the subtexts that go along with that grand-sounding idea.
Interestingly, the American army was not quite ready for combat on the scale the Great War demanded, both in terms of men and material. But as is usual in times of crisis or need, Americans rose to the challenge.
In 1913 – and about four years before the US ‘threw its hat in the ring’ of the Great War, the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution imposed an income tax on both individuals and corporations. Despite the influx of money to government coffers, made even greater by wartime tax increases, various drives and fundraisers were common and served very useful purposes, and none was more famous than the series of four Liberty Loans.
These loans, or bonds, were usually sold by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and by the war’s end, 2.3 million had been bought, with a total of $354 million owed to the people of the United States.
Various prizes were awarded to stimulate interest in the campaigns. One such item was this patriotic-painted Prussian enlisted spike helmet.
Captured from a Prussian soldier, the original black leather was repainted with patrioticAmerican red and white stripes across the crown, fore to aft, while the front visor was adorned with white stars on a blue field. A late 19th century braided horsehair cavalry plume was added to the spike top.
The example pictured, sold by Manion’s in September 2004, included the original leather liner. Special attention was paid to the detailing, meaning that the gilt Prussian eagle wappen (front plate), round spike base, and front visor trim were removed for painting and reapplied.
A ‘rare bird,’ as we said in those days!