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What do we Really Know? The Fur Cap of the North China Marines


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#1 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:27 AM

"No one is an expert." "Do your own research". "Ask questions" we are told. Many years ago I attended a lecture by historian David McCullough who said If you want to really know a subject, write a book about it. This thread is my attempt "to write a book about it" and discovering how many holes can exist in some areas of our hobby. To anyone who collects China Marine items, the fur cap and its corresponding enameled company diamond represents IMHO the high point of the hobby. These brightly colored diamonds have always been scarce, the fur caps even scarcer. So when a diamond and cap were offered to me for close to market value of what an authentic diamond would sell for, I had to take the risk. After a few years of studying diamonds in several established collections, sharing ideas with experienced forum members, taking measurements of known period pieces and excellent reproductions, I think I have a fairly good idea of the diamonds characteristics. I have learned, although there are wide variations in their dimensions and coloring, certain characterizes remain; that I believe can be used to identify an authentic diamond. But what of the fur cap?

We know the Peking Legation Guard Marines were wearing a fur cap as early as 1906-7, if not earlier. We know these were either the Armys muskrat winter fur caps or purchased stateside from a vendor who made fur caps to similar specifications. A surviving example of this type of headgear is illustrated in Alec Tulkoffs excellent "Equipping the Corps" and shows a hat with brown muskrat fur. We see from photo evidence and from surviving records, this type of cap was worn through the early-mid-1920. By then the muskrat caps were reaching the end of their service life, and stateside stocks were no longer available.Since a fellow forum member is preparing an article for publication on this subject, I will not go into details of his findings, but the cold winters of Northern China demanded a solution be found.

What we do know is the Marines ended up contracting with local vendors for fur caps, with the eventual approval of Headquarters USMC. Given the timelines involved, I would estimate these Chinese made caps started reaching the Legation Guard Marines sometime around 1927-28. Color, material, shape and size, are as of yet, unknown on these early caps. But from photos we see the cap, like it muskrat predecessor had fur ear flaps, a folding front fur bill, and a ribbon tie that allowed to flaps to be tied together.

Here we see the early muskrat cap and the final evolution of the winter cap (photo courtesy of the BobGee collection). Although most wear the Tientsin model, at least one is wearing the rounder version. And below the hat offered that is neither of these

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 08:24 AM.


#2 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:29 AM

We should stop here, and ask who during this period was wearing this style of fur cap in China. Since the fur cap with fur flaps and a tie ribbon is common to both China and Russia- anybody living over there and that includes resident Western civilians. Also the British soldiers stationed in Northern China also had a locally made fur cap, as well as soldiers from the Tientsin-based 15th US Infantry. And lastly, another group of Marines were in Northern China at this time, and photo evidence shows they too were soon wearing fur caps. These Marines were from Smedley Butlers 3rd Brigade, garrisoned in Tientsin since the summer of 1927. In December of that year, Butler, after reviewing the 15th Infantry, wrote admiring of their Chinese tailored uniforms. Photos show the Tientsin Marines wearing a fur hat during their first winter. I dont believe they brought these caps with them from the States, as their original destination was Shanghai, with its far milder winters. The photographs also show a fur cap cut significantly different than the Army old muskrat caps. These are in all probability Chinese made caps. Photos show Butlers men added dress EGAs to their caps, somewhat center mounted on the caps bill, copying regimental devices worn by both the 15th Infantry and the British. Again, we dont know anything about the maker of these caps, the materials used or even and most importantly, the color. Photos also show variations in their shape. A photo dating from those same years found in the Col. Price album shows a British regiment wearing its fur caps, and yet within the regiment, hat shapes and the colors differ noticeably. As it was pointed out to me by a retired Marine curator, not surprisingly, because when you ordered field-made caps, sometimes they did not always have enough of the same color cat fur in stock. BTW examining known and confirmed examples, these caps were never really made out of cat fur, despite the common myth.

The 15th US Infantry, c. 1925-26/British Legation Guard. Note the wide variations in color and shape of their hats during this period. And photos of General Butler and staff...again note the variations in hats.

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 11:31 AM.


#3 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:30 AM

By the beginning of 1929, Butlers men had returned stateside leaving only the Marines at the Legation Guard as the only Marines stationed in Northern China. And by the end of that year the now much sought after enameled diamond made its appearance, most likely with the men of the Mounted Detachment first, followed by the HQs and line companies.

The Diamond, although damaged shows some fine construction details.

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 11:31 AM.


#4 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:33 AM

Even then the hats continued to vary in shape. As one late pre-war Marine noted to me "There were two styles in use in the early 1940s a rounder style, and a squarer style like the Tientsin Marines wore that was designed to lay flat." Numerous period photos confirm this. Again how often the Legation Detchment Marines purchased these, and from which vendors is unknown. And what of the officers who also wore fur caps. How did they acquire theirs? We do know newly arriving Marines were issued one fur cap and one diamond soon after their arrival. Thereafter, additional caps and diamonds could be purchased through the Post Exchange.

These shots show the period when the first batch of Chinese constructed hats are noticeable, 1927-1933. The Marine at the top right is wearing a fur cap with the first year the diamond was issued. The top left from the 1933 annual. Bottom left from 1927-28. Note how different these appear from later caps.

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 11:32 AM.


#5 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:36 AM

Now here is where the story gets interesting, and shows the knowledge gaps that need to be filled before we can come close to mastering this aspect of collecting. The Marines have three confirmed examples in their collection; all three though are from known late 1930s Peking embassy/Tientsin serving Marines. We know one maker made several of these caps. And there are wide variations of color, construction and materials used. They have though no confirmed examples of earlier models from Butlers 3rd Brigade or from early 1930s in the Legation/Embassy in their collection.  So when the cap in question came along, I immediately contacted one of our more experienced forum members who has a later 30's honest line company issued cap. So we sat down and compared the two of them. The first thing noticeable is they are not obviously the same color or exactly the same shape. The shape difference does not bother me, with his being more of a Tientsin pattern. But many aspects of construction, and cap hardware do match.
 
Next I had a well known, now retired, longtime  Marine Corps Curator inspect the cap and he immediately recognized the cap was old, had many identical construction features to known examples and compared very favorably to early examples seen in photos. If a married piece, then over ten years ago, a collector found a early Chinese made cap and placed upon it a real enameled diamond. Again he was not bothered by the color at all. The other forum member did note upon close examination the hat appeared to have brown fur roots indicating it might have been dyed at some point. 
 
So here is some of the things we discovered:  The stitching that held the pelts together and attached to the shell itself was to our eyes, a 100% match. This stitching on many of these even had aged to a faded to a similar greenish-black. There are two snap fasteners on all the hats, with both the male and female components matching known examples, and showing the same markers mark on several of them: a star and the size number. Although the size numbers are different. The snaps on my hat appear older. How the snaps are attached are similar on all examples. My hat does not have a sweatband (and probably never did), while the other forum members does, that although unmarked matches in color and quality to known examples. Furthermore the forum members brother purchased a cap at last years Show of Shows, and that cap appears to never have had a liner either. Although the silk ties differ in color, they dont in material used, and how they are finished. In fact a match right down to the patterns on the ties.
 
Cap details against known original caps

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 09:04 AM.


#6 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:40 AM

So what do I have at the end of the day? A fur cap that is not a total match for a 100% confirmed late-1930s original. But I have exhausted all my within reach research tools, brought over an advanced collector and a noted retired Marine curator to inspect the hat, and so after as much learning as I can I am left with as a minimum a legit diamond for the Mounted Detachment and two, a fur cap with strong manufacturing links to China during our period of interest showing a good match for hats seen in a number of period China Marine photos during the late 1920s early 1930s.

It will be interesting to continue searching the archives, or other sources that will provide that "Magic bullet" that will tell us what to look for with these rare hats....who made them, what color, and to what general specifications.

Photographing in B&W for comparison and showing the liner

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Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 10:46 AM.


#7 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:56 AM

Comparison to an member of Butler's 3rd Brigade

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#8 broker

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 08:01 AM

Great research!



#9 Brig

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 08:11 AM

Dirk,

 

As always, an exhaustive research effort made before posting a fabulous Marine Corps item, to the forum. The way you approach the hobby is commendable



#10 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 08:36 AM

Thanks guys! You really have to hold it side by side with a known orginal to see the connection....

#11 warguy

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 08:58 AM

Thank you Dirk, I have always been fascinated with these but have never known enough to look for one. I remember the one that sold to the "other" forum member off ebay a couple years ago. Knowledge is power as they say, and I would sure like to stumble across one of these someday, although we all know how rare they are. I couldn't agree more with you, the epitome of the China Marine collectible. Very informative thread once again, thanks! Kevin

#12 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:09 AM

Kevin that you! The collector brought his example over for examination and we had a number of opportunities to compare notes. Next up will be to go to Quantico and examine the originals in their collection. Although they feed me photos and close ups and have matched each of there hats to specific Marines, nothing will beat handling them in person. Like you said, knowledge is power and this Fourm offers a great opportunity to share and discuss these grey areas of our hobby.

#13 The Iron Brigade

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:14 AM

Outstanding presentation Dirk! ! ! Thank you. thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif thumbsup.gif

#14 suwanneetrader

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:37 AM

Dirk:  Would this example be the later WWII version which was US made?  Sure are more fur hat variations than when I first thought of.   Richard

 

Iceland Winter 3 Copy.JPG Iceland Winter 2 - Copy.JPG Iceland Winter 4 Copy.JPG Iceland Winter Copy.JPG

 

 



#15 Blacksmith

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:39 AM

Thank you Dirk. I've never known much about these, and found your posts very interesting.

#16 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:41 AM

Again thanks guys! Richard that looks like one of those Iceland/post WWII US made caps.

#17 bobgee

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:44 AM

Dirk - Great analytic & forensic examination of this rare "Mongolian piss-cutter". When collectors get into researching any theater-made items used by any U.S. military organization - we find the proverbial 'bag of worms'. So seldom is recorded the usual ad-hoc selection of the maker/vendor of these items recorded. I think in the 1920/30s China this is especially so, accounting for numerous variations of the same basic item. Alas, the best provenance is the original owner of the item, and this unfortunately, is seldom available. Your analysis of this particular China fur hat & badge provides excellent info for collectors to better understand this unique piece of head-gear. Congrats on obtaining it for your collection. Semper Fi.......Bob



#18 warguy

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:50 AM

Richard your hat is a Marine specific winter wool and fur cap, but NOT worn in China. It was however prevalent in Iceland and later in Korea. There is a recent thread on these caps and several older threads.

Dirk, I forgot to mention I have one of the early turn of the century muskrat caps you refer to in the first post. I won't ruin it too much for the other forum member working in the research of these, but thought I would mention there are interesting variations to those as well. Many have the red chintz wool lining which was started in 1886, but mine conforms to the 1902 specifications. Mine has a brown polished cotton lining and I can just make out the Edmund Lyon contract stamp, one of the first contractors of these. Mine has no Marine provenance, but I did move it to my Marine display as I believe it conforms perfectly to the ones used by the Marines in China from the Boxer Rebellion on. Great information on these can be found in the out of print "United States Army Headgear" by Edgar M. Howell. I am looking forward to more information on these hats here on the forum as well. Kevin

#19 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:53 AM

Bob a big thanks! The cutator just emailed back and here is an excerpt "As we discussed, I am convinced that your new fur cap is, indeed, an original from the Peking Legation Guard, and that all of your research supports your hypothesis. I am glad to hear that Owen was such a help to you in determining its authenticity. I will ask Owen about the possibility of there being TWO Luther A. Brown fur caps."

Of course in the Wild West that is the pre-war China Marine fur cap, we will, as you rightly pointed out, without provenance, never know 100% for sure.....but you and I have discussed this often over the years and as a minimum we have given future researchers a starting point from which to continue the hunt.

#20 warguy

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 10:01 AM

Kevin that you! The collector brought his example over for examination and we had a number of opportunities to compare notes. Next up will be to go to Quantico and examine the originals in their collection. Although they feed me photos and close ups and have matched each of there hats to specific Marines, nothing will beat handling them in person. Like you said, knowledge is power and this Fourm offers a great opportunity to share and discuss these grey areas of our hobby.


Dirk, I should have mentioned fantastic research! This is the fascinating and most rewarding part of the hobby in my opinion, learning as much as possible about a collectible and who once owned it. Congratulations on obtaining what I am certain is a legit China Marine fur hat! Kevin

#21 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 10:02 AM

Kevin would love to see a thread on your cap.....I have Howell's book and saw one of those caps once 20 years ago, but would greatly welcome seeing yours online...as you know that hat appears constantly into a the early 20's in photos in my collection. And countless times on Marines manning he barricades during the 1912 Peking Riots.....you could do a fine display! Would be interested if the Chinese copied in any way the US muskrat example or just provided what was already being worn when they sold their first batches to the Marines.

#22 warguy

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 10:28 AM

Kevin would love to see a thread on your cap.....I have Howell's book and saw one of those caps once 20 years ago, but would greatly welcome seeing yours online...as you know that hat appears constantly into a the early 20's in photos in my collection. And countless times on Marines manning he barricades during the 1912 Peking Riots.....you could do a fine display! Would be interested if the Chinese copied in any way the US muskrat example or just provided what was already being worn when they sold their first batches to the Marines.

 

Dirk, as requested, I am starting a seperate thread on my early fur cap in the hopes it might be of interest to you and others. Thanks again, I look forward to watching your thread here closely. Kevin



#23 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 10:29 AM

Kevin thank you! I know I will be interested!

#24 kanemono

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 12:33 PM

Dirk,

Great post and research. You mentioned the fur hats in the USMC collection. Here they are so people can reference them. Here also is John W. Thomason's drawing of the various styles of Marine fur hats seen in Peiping while he was assigned to the Legation. This drawing shows the variations you mentioned in your article. Thank you for doing much needed research, in fact the only research I have seen, on North China Marine fur hats.

Dick

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#25 Dirk

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 01:50 PM

Thanks Dick! I will be looking at those at Quantico and they have told me which Marines wore wich hats in their collections! Thomason's drawings reflect the variety of hats at the time.

Edited by Dirk, 04 September 2017 - 02:37 PM.



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