The term ‘trench art’ originally referred to pieces made during WW1 but it is somewhat of a misleading term. Some of these items were indeed created by soldiers in the trenches, but they were also made by convalescing soldiers in hospitals, local people who made and sold them as souvenirs, and even manufacturers back home. They used original war-related items like fuse heads and shells, and made them into souvenirs for the soldiers, as these items were way too heavy and bulky to bring home from the front.
A great variety of trench art items were made, and this was not exclusive to WW1. War souvenirs and trophies date back to ancient times, but there are many WW2 and more modern examples as well. Items range from more basic shell case art pieces through paperweights and letter openers, all the way to more detailed and artistic objects; for example rings and other jewellery. Many soldiers sent these home to their spouses and loved ones, while others sold them to get some extra money.
WW1 Ashtray Trench Art
Some of the objects made from war items are utilitarian as well as decorative. Like this ashtray for example, which has a mixture of different elements; the base is a 77mm shell case, the stem is a smaller cartridge, and the decoration on the matchbox holder on top is an Austrian button.
The case is dated 1916 and has ‘Düsseldorf’ on it as well as the letters ‘R.h.M.F’ which is the abbreviation that stands for Rheinische Munitionsfabrik Düsseldorf, meaning ‘Düsseldorf Ammunition Factory of the Rhineland’. So, what this means is that this particular shell was manufactured in the aforementioned factory in 1916.
This ashtray is available from World Military Collectables for £36.
WW1 Trench Art Sweetheart Bracelet
This trench art piece is so unique! It’s a lovely, ornate bracelet made using a driver band taken from an artillery shell. It is a very clever, creative way to reuse war material. With it being so ornate, it was possibly made by a soldier for her wife/girlfriend back home. Items as such are often referred to as ‘sweetheart’ items, of which badges and brooches were the most popular. The bracelet features oak leaf motifs, as well as a German Iron Cross miniature.
The Iron Cross dates all the way back to Prussian Germany. It was first awarded during the Napoleonic Wars, but was famously used during WW2 with an added swastika, and even today, a version of the Iron Cross is the symbol of the Bundeswehr (German Army).
This exquisite and unique trench art bracelet is for sale at Sabre Militaria for AU$225.
WW2 Fluted Canadian Trench Art
This next piece is quite a typical piece of trench art, which was often used as an ornate vase. It has a fluted stem and the top edge has also been bent outwards in a decorative manner. The shell is a WW2 one, dated 1944. With it being such an important year in WW2 history, shells and other items with a 1944 date are quite desirable.
One side depicts a flower – possibly a tulip – while the other side has a maple leaf on it. The maple leaf is typically a symbol of Canada, so it’s quite possible that a Canadian soldier made it. Perhaps while he was recovering in an army hospital in Normandy, you just never know! Which is what’s so fascinating and exciting about military collectibles. They are all unique pieces of history.
This lovely fluted trench art is available from Rocksteady Antiques for €65.
Pair of Trench Art Vases
Finding a lovely, shiny, unique piece of trench art is difficult, but a matching pair is even more so! This pair has three nice, ornate legs, which you don’t see often. The legs are attached to the base of the shells with screws so they are very secure. The base of the shells is dated 1918 on one of them, but the other date is not visible due to where one of the legs attaches. The shell cases themselves are 3 pounders, so fairy large! They’d be perfect to use as vases.
This great pair is available from The Militaria Shop for £125.
Small Tray with Belt Buckle
Trench art comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. This tray is a lovely small trinket dish, with a Prussian belt buckle as its centrepiece. It would make a lovely addition to a collection, or even a gift for an Imperial German collector!
It is currently for sale at Relic Militaria for £35.
Trench Art Letter Opener
One of the other useful and popular items that were created by using war items, is a letter opener knife. These were often lovely and ornate. Back then postal communication was the way soldiers could keep in touch with their loved ones. Therefore letter openers would be used very frequently. They must have been a good and easy sale as well, if a soldier wanted to make some extra money, as the local people would have used letter openers as well.
This example was made by attaching a piece of medal at the end of a rifle round, which was quite a common thing to use. It is available from Military Tour in Canada for $49.
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