Sunday, January 31, 2010

U.S. Navy commissioned officer

U.S. Navy commissioned officer hat badge, pre-1941
Two piece construction; 65mm (l) x 55mm (h).
H & H (Hilborn & Hamburg) hallmark on eagle wing. Viking hallmark on the anchor.
Eagle and shield sterling (marked); anchor gold-filled (1/10 14K GF).
Circa pre-Second World War era; late 1930s.

Following the Revolutionary War and dissolution of the Articles of Confederation, the early American republic decidedly wished to break with the aristocratic traditions of old Europe - if not in practice, then in symbolic language. Crowns were removed from coinage, royal was dropped from place names, and liberty became the byword of the era. With the birth the Federal government, the American bald eagle emblazoned with a shield representative of the first thirteen states, and clutching arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other - not so subtle visual metaphors of both the defense and peace-providing nature of the young republic - cropped up on government seals and on military uniform buttons. Despite the desire to promote a democratic and egalitarian society, removing holdovers of rank titles and uniform clothing of a recent hierarchical and aristocratic past from the military proved exceedingly difficult - tradition dies hard, even when trying to supplant it with another (case and point: it was only after numerous bureaucratic and social changes wherein the naval rank of Admiral was finally allowed decades after independence).

The Navy, in particular, was (and still is) an organization requiring strict discipline and order in its ranks. Reticence to ape European traditions spurred the U.S. Navy to create its own socially relevant native American symbols of rank and hierarchy. Nevertheless, it fell in line with the prevailing tradition of leaves and lace. One of the more curious phenomena illustrating this is the permutations that U.S. Navy officer's hat badge has gone through over time; these also offer insight as to contemporary concerns of the U.S. Navy establishment and can be used to date items to a specific time period. Early on, the cap device denoted rank or rate through color and arrangement of woven images of live oak leaves, acorns, olive branches and other devices such as old-English letters. These show that in the period immediately preceding the Civil War, concern revolved around an officer's job aboard ship: Navy uniform regulations outlined differences in line or specialties of officers, e.g. engineers, surgeons, chaplains or deck. With the close of the Civil War, Federalism was the rule in the governance of the United States, and the strength of the Union was represented even more so than before on naval insignia. The elaborate differences once found on commissioned officers headgear gave way to an elegant and uniform means of identification: an eagle-anchor device worn on a uniform cap centered above the visor. This device served as a potent visual statement of how officers were in the service of the government, and not merely members of a ship - those indicators found themselves on the sleeve and epaulets. Plates in the 1869 regulations illustrated a gaunt republican eagle facing the wearer's left and surmounting a large United States shield in silver with embroidered gold anchors underneath. A definitive statement on the device's construction was published in 1889; afterward, it went through small manufacturer design changes until the publication of the Uniform Regulations of May 13, 1941. Previously, as stated before, the eagle faced to the left whereas the new regulations stated that the eagle face right. A memorandum from the Director of Naval History to Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe of 13 December 1963 states that:
The shift of the eagle's aspect to right-facing from left-facing is logical from the perspective of heraldic tradition, since the right side (dexter) is the honor side of the shield and the left side (sinister) indicates dishonor or illegitimacy.
I am sure the original configuration was nothing that serious. It was most probably due to a manufacturer creating a product, it selling at the right price and the design continuing to be used without anyone thinking about the possible sinister repercussions or undertones. I imagine the subject was brought up at a garden party and later memos were typed and decisions were made...

The stamped metal eagle accompanying this entry is from the period immediately preceding the entry of the United States into the Second World War; it is also during this period that Hilborn-Hamburger began hallmarking insignia with the distinctive H-H in a stylized eagle-star device, and also when Viking began producing anchors for officers' insignia. Unlike other times of earlier uniform change, personnel of Navy during mid-twentieth century quickly adopted insignia as dictated by new regulations and few sailors found themselves contrary to regulation. This eagle was not worn during the war; it found its way into a cigar box and was secreted away for decades. Although, regarding the expedient change of insignia... apparently flag officers were exempt or just very slow to change as seen in these LIFE snippets from 1941 and 1942:

Adm. King is detailed on 24 November 1941 (p 92).

J. Auld is curious about the hat badge on 15 December 1941 (pg 2).

Adm. Leahy apparently hasn't updated his wardrobe by 28 September 1941 (cover).

Some design notes: this hat badge is convex and has two screw posts; one small, behind the eagle's breast, and another, larger holding the shield and anchors together. Toward mid-war, the former screw all but disappeared and was replaced by two pins near the wing tips - as can be discerned here. This eagle's body is similar in design to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps - Water Division hat badge which appeared in 1944. The aforementioned eagle was almost exclusively manufactured by Gemsco. This anchor design continued to be employed until the Korean War by jewelers and private-purchase insignia houses.

James C. Tily, The Uniforms of the United States Navy.
Cranbury, NJ: Thomas Yoseloff, 1964.

U.S. Navy commissioned officer.
Hat badge, obverse.

U.S. Navy commissioned officer.
Hat badge, reverse.

U.S. Navy commissioned officer.
Hat badge, reverse detail.
Some details of note are the notches on the shield for the flush placement of the anchor stock and chain, and the presence of the convex washer. Later varieties lack notches, and the anchors are placed behind the eagle-shield device; at times slightly bending the anchors. The washer has also changed through time and has become flat - which it is at present.

U.S. Navy commissioned officer.
Hat badge, reverse hallmark detail.
Note the H-H hallmark on the reverse of the right wing and Sterling on the left. The Viking hallmark is on the left anchor stock; in later designs, Viking placed hallmarks on the anchor shank and sometimes on the arms. I have yet to determine an adequate chronology for Viking hallmark placement.