Pre-WW1 was a great time of military manufacture of high-end items. It was before the days of mass production and world wars, which meant that specialist stores could take their time and manufacture stunning helmets and headgear.
British headgear in particular was truly special during this time. Of course this was only for the higher ranks; you wouldn’t find a lowly soldier at Rorke’s Drift wearing a plumed helmet! Consequently, the higher the rank, the better the helmet.
Nowadays, these items command very high prices from collectors and dealers as their rarity speaks for itself. It’s not something you will find at a local flea market too often, so below we will explore some of the pre-WW1 British headgear for sale across our partnered sites this week.
17th Lancers English Officers Lance Cap
Here is 1902 to 1910-era English officers lance cap from the 17th Lancers in stunning condition. There is light crazing to the skin on the body, but no damage on the skull. Only the edges of the top white mortarboard have some slight age staining but there is no moth damage.
The gilt lacing on the helmet is bright and good, and it has the correct, heavy intertwined bullion ‘GR’ pompom. This stunning helmet features a full-length officer’s white swan feather plume, complete with the correct officer’s plume holder.
The lion’s head chin chain retains are nicely tilted, and this is matched on the gilt velvet backed chin chain. The front plate is double constructed and has the battle honours of the 17th Lancers, which ranged from the Crimea through Central India, all the way to South Africa in 1900 to 1902. This helmet includes the famous battle honour for Balaclava, where the 17th Lancers charged.
The helmet interior is complete and has a Morocco sweatband of grained leather, which has some light usage wear. It has its crimson inner band with the slight remains of a gold block manufacturer’s name visible on the upper inner crown.
Available from Regimentals £5,250.00.
Post-1902 / WW1-Era British Grenadier Guards, Guardsman’s Bearskin
As one of the five Foot Guards Regiment in the British Army Household Division, this regiment has a lineage dating back to 1656. It took part in the Seven Years’ War as well as the Napoleonic Wars.
It was given the prestigious grenadier title by Royal Proclamation because in WW1 the regiment served with distinction during the battles on the Western Front.
This grenadier guardsman’s bearskin is in almost mint condition. It has a deep full-bodied black fur exterior, which is in very clean condition. The bearskin has a white feather removable plume and a brass King’s Crown grenadier guard’s ‘ignited grenade’ badge. The wicker basket frame of the bearskin supports the exterior fur, as well as a black sweatband, liner and leather-mounted brass link chin chain is graduated in size. It is approximately a UK size 6 1/2.
Available from JC Militaria priced at £745.00.
Royal Dockyard Battalion 1847 Shako
A Royal Commission was put in place in 1847 in order to protect the Royal Dockyards. Each superintendent formed a volunteer force from their adult employees. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 55 was eligible to join this unit.
The commission recommended to the Crown that they would need a minimum of £10 million to defend all the country’s naval facilities and arsenals from a potential attack. The Royal Dockyard Battalions grew until they consisted of approximately 10,000 officers and men. However, they did not last long and were subsequently disbanded in 1857.
This Shako has a large oval front plate featuring an anchor in the centre, which is surrounded by acorns and a Victorian crown to the top. The shako’s body is made of black felt with sunk top front and rear peaks. It has two holed air vents, a band around the base and chin strap; all in patent leather. The sweat band is complete with white and red ball tuft.
Available from MDL Historic Military Antiques £2,850.00.
Victorian British Army 16th The Queen’s Lancers – Officer’s Lance Cap
This lovely-condition Victorian 16th Lancers Officer’s cap or shapka has gilt fittings with a silvered Victorian Crowned front plate. It has battle honours with a bullion rosette and a black horse hair plume.
Formed in 1759, the regiment eventually amalgamated with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers in 1922 to create the 16th/5th Lancers.
The regiment was located in Ireland (1802 & 1805) and then during the Napoleonic Wars it was ordered to the Iberian Peninsula. It charged during the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and it was the only British Cavalry Regiment that served continually throughout the Peninsular War.
The skull and peak are made of black patent leather and a waist of gold lace and a red. The rear has a gilt metal ring & hook with a 4-leaf mount. The front peak is adorned with gold purl.
The cloth top and sides are covered in black cloth with the regimental facing colour. There is a bullion cord across the top of the cap and down each of the four angles, as well as a stylised monogram-rosette and a lion’s head bossed with a velvet-backed chain.
The craftsmanship of this item is truly exquisite, and the quality is outstanding. A Victorian gilt and silvered Victorian Crown badge adorns it, and there is a royal arms and battle honours above a 16th Lancers banner. There are no visible markings to display the size of the cap but it is approximately a UK size 7 ½.
Available from JC Militaria £2,850.00.
11th Foot Regiment Bell Top Shako
Our next item is an officer’s bell top shako from the 11th Foot Regiment, which was also known as the Devonshire Regiment. This regiment gained notoriety after the Battle of Salamanca, when the nickname ‘the Bloody Eleventh’ caught on.
An extremely rare item, this bell top shako was worn by officers as standard from 1829 to 1844. It has a crown circumference of 10½ inches and the helmet is constructed of pressed felt with a leather peak and crown. The peak is slightly loose as the stitching that holds the peak to the main body has partly rotted.
There are pressed felt sides and leather V sections on both sides with the correct lion over crown side bosses. It has chin scales in flat disc form and the green wool pompom sits within its correct cradle.
It has an impressive 11th Foot officer’s shako plate which includes the battle honours for the Peninsular Wars of Toulouse, Orthes, Peninsular, Neve and Nivelle.
The original multi-stitched inner liner has worked loose from the helmet at some point and during a previous restoration some glue has affixed the liner to the helmet’s main body. It appears that some restoration has been undertaken on the crown area, but there is no evidence of any holes or damage that may have been repaired.
The front plate sits within the original holes, indicating that the plate has likely never left this helmet. There are slight stains in parts to the beaver skin which covers the exterior, and the chin scales are strong, good and firm; as is the leather backing.
Available from Regimentals £3,850.00.
Officer’s 1834 Pattern Helmet – Inniskilling Dragoons
Next one on our list is a striking Inniskilling Dragoons 1834 Officer’s Pattern Helmet, which is a gilt copper helmet with moulded tall crest and oak branches. This helmet’s ornate design would have definitely made sure that the wearer stood out and commanded respect.
The leaping lion terminal sides with scroll floral panels exude strength and elegance. The front plate, which consists of the Royal arms with regimental battle honours for Peninsula and Waterloo, sits above a beaded band which is embossed with the words ‘Inniskilling Dragoons’.
The oak leaf embossed gilt brass chin scales are leather backed and there are rosettes in the form of blossom. The front peak is lined in green leather and the rear is brown. An aged repair sits behind the badge on the helmet’s body. On the skull there are a few contact marks.
Available from MDL Historic Military Antiques £3,750.00.
Bedfordshire Imperial Yeomanry Officer’s Lance Cap
Our following item is quite a rare find. This officer’s lance cap from the 1900s belonged to an officer of the British Army Bedfordshire Yeomanry Regiment. The regiment served intermittently between 1797 and 1827, before eventually being reformed in 1901 for service during the Second Boer War.
This example of the lance cap has a gilt and silver officers’ helmet plate, an excellent-condition leather shell, gilt officer’s back hooks along with lion head side bosses, a link chin chain and a gilt mount for the impressive black feather plume.
The leather and silk lining has the markings ‘Carter & Co.’ inside the crown, indicating the maker.
This is a rare and seldom-found example of a British lance cap in excellent condition.
Available from Military Antiques £4,900.00.
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