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Weekly World War One Wing #6

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Patrick was very kind to give me a week break last week with his very interesting and informative thread on Dunham wings.


Thanks Patrick!


This week, presented is perhaps the most unloved, under appreciated, and possibly even most maligned World War One wing; the 2nd type Observer:



Change 1 to Special Order 41, 29 December 1917, authorized the 2nd Type observer.




History. Clearly derived from the similar Royal Flying Corps (RFC) badge, the 2nd-type Observer appears to have endured a mixed history. Campbell relates how pilots in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) overseas quickly designated the badge, and by extension the Observers who wore them, as the "Flying A**hole." It likely didn't help matters in the Air Service, AEF that RFC practice was for the Observer to be considered the "director" of the aircraft while the pilot's duty was to be the "bus driver" and deliver the Observer to report on the important objective handed down from higher headquarters. There are plenty of first-hand accounts of observation pilots referring to their aircraft as "The Bus."


Preference by Observers. For their parts, many observers appear to have eschewed the 2nd-type Observer badge. There is ample photographic evidence of observers continuing to wear the 1st-type Observer badge (wing and shield) throughout and even after the war. Realistically, the relatively small number of observers trained before 29 December, would not account for the numbers of 1st-type Observer badges encountered. Regardless, whether to avoid the ignominious appellation or simply appear to have been something of an "old bird," there appears to have been a preference, at least among some observers, to avoid the 2nd-type badge.




Wing. Standard American-made badge with its wing characterized by a first row of feathers picked out individually in silver bullion, surmounted by a two-tier shoulder with feathers constructed with rachis of one type of bullion and vane a second, contrasting type. In this example, the lower feathers are separated by lines of fine black thread.


The top of the wing is bordered with coiled bullion wire. The wing is fairly well padded.


Gothic O. The O on this badge is constructed of a single type of bullion and appears to be slightly padded.


Collector Notes


​In terms of rarity, there were approximately 10,000 Reserve/Junior MilitaryAviators trained during the war. Contrastingly, records indicate only roughly 1200-1600 Observers of all types were trained before the end of the conflict.


Bullion, sew-on, American-made 2nd-type Observer badges are surprisingly difficult to find on the loose. This particular badge was removed from a mothed-out uniform and before I got to it the little buggers had taken a nip or two off the black felt edging too. Still I was glad to get it as this specific version of the 2nd-type Observer badge remains the only example of its type I have yet been able to find.


As always, I'd love to see your American-made, 2nd-type observer badges to compare or contrastingly your European made variants. As always opionions are welcome as well.








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I love these wings! I am not 100% sure that they actually used/accepted the term "flying a**holes", or if they did hear it I suspect someone was going home with a blood nose and black eye. It must have been something to be in an open cockpit trying to shoot down the guy trying to shoot down you!

I would agree that the 1/2 wings are rather rarer than the pilot wings. Although I suspect that more observers were trained in France or England (rather than in the US Air Service) and that many of these guys would have been assigned to/come from other units. For example, arty-spotters, divisional liaison observers, etc. There also seemed to be a fair number of balloon observers who may have worn the observer wings but not been trained directly by the air service. That is all a guess, but I suspect what was happening in France during the war was evolving, especially who was riding in the plane (as opposed to the guy flying it).


In period photographs of various AEF Aerosquadron personnel overseas, you can find a mixture of the two types of observer wings being worn. It seems to me that the early-front line squadrons tend to show the observers with wings that are pretty close to the RFC/RAF patterns. But at the same time, you also see wings that are closer to the US regulations. There may have been some leeway in that regard, but it also seems that there was a fair amount of uniformity WITHIN a specific unit.


Although I believe that for every rule there was an exception and for every exception there is a counter argument... which just makes the hobby more enjoyable!


These are my wings that I have managed to pick up over the years. I think that there is a mixture of US, French, and English-made badges, but other than matching with vintage photographs, it is hard to know for sure.


First up-- I am pretty sure these are French made badge. The first literally fell off a uniform that I picked up on eBay. This type of bullion work seems to be something that was done in France with some of the early US arrivals. Sometimes they have sequins worked into the pattern. Sadly, there was no information on this guy.


The other one has the type of bullion that is frequently attributed to French-made wings. It is named, but I have no proof that it was actually attributable to the observer.



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This is one that is sort of interesting. It is white silk (and I believe it is also British-made). It could be RFC/RAF or it could be US worn. This silk thread wing is very similar to other bullion wings that you sometimes see being worn. With the high shoulder over the "O".


There is also an example of this wing as a bullion example that could also be British-made RFC (mess dress) or US observer wing. In this photo, you can see that these two observers are wearing "o" wings, with one having the "Brit-style" wing.




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I don't know how common US-made bullion observer wings are, but I suspect that they are around. Certainly the balloon squadrons probably had a fair number of observers.


I kind of think that this may be a US made bullion wing. But I won't quibble either way.


That raises another question, what about the metal wing?


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The BB&B observer wing is rather rare with the gothic O. There is also a BB&B 1/2 wing with the shield. Interestingly, the brass backing plate seems interchangeable between these two pattern of wings. This on in my collection has a backing plate that is clearly designed for a shield. On the other hand, I have seen these wings with a plate designed for the O. Thus, they probably made these wings concurrently. Clearly they were worn stateside, and are frequently attributed to balloon observers.


I cannot recall if I have ever seen the Eisenstadt observer wing in the Dallas pattern. But as seen in the previous Dunham thread, they made observer 1/2 wings. Eisenstadt also made (more than likley) a series of hand chased silver observer badges. Each of these could be considered one-of-a-kind works, because each one was hand made. Bob's website shows a number of these badges. (http://www.ww2wings.com/wings/wwi/us/us.shtml)


Finally, this is one that came to my collection a few years ago.


It was made by the TH Allen company in Los Angeles. They also made a pilot wing, but those are the only two badges I have ever seen by this company.


As I said, I have a big soft spot in my head for these types of wings. Interestingly, while probably about an order magnitude more scarce than the full size wings, the observer wings seem to be as popular as a red-headed step child on Christmas morning. They can be found (sometimes) on the cheaper side of your bank account, and don't seem to be the source of as many fakes as their 2-wing cousins.








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First up-- I am pretty sure these are French made badge. The first literally fell off a uniform that I picked up on eBay. This type of bullion work seems to be something that was done in France with some of the early US arrivals. Sometimes they have sequins worked into the pattern. Sadly, there was no information on this guy.


The other one has the type of bullion that is frequently attributed to French-made wings. It is named, but I have no proof that it was actually attributable to the observer.


Actually, the first one belonged to Lt Thomas Alexander Cole who joined with the 278th Aerosquadron in France (probably just after the armistice).


The second one is "attributed to" Lt Morton Adams of the 90th AS.


The Adams family... ("you rang") sent a lot of their boys to France to fight. At least two of them were observers!





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Some really great stuff! Thanks for jumping in the discussion. I too love the half wings and feel like they are under appreciated--especially given their relative scarcity.


I also want to add that I think your T.V. Allen wing may be one of the great rarities in WW1 Wings as it is likely associated with the short lived, and very small Balloon School in San Diego CA. The number of T.V. Allen badges manufactured must be very small indeed!


As far as so-called Dallas-type Observer badges goes:


I have thus far cataloged three different major variations of the Bailey Banks and Biddle (BB&B ) manufactured wings; a Reserve/Junior Military Aviator wing and two varieties of 2nd-type Observer wing:



Top: Reserve/Junior Military Aviator

Middle: 2nd-type Observer (variant 1)

Bottom: 2nd-type Observer (variant 2)

Interestingly it appears as though BB&B may have been tooling-up to make Junior Military Aviator/1st-type Observer badges as expressed by variant 1 and its shield-shaped back plate. To date, I have not encountered a BB&B manufactured Junior Military Aviator/1st-type Observer half wing to catalog. I have cataloged one hybrid wing that has a BB&B shield mated with an Eisenstadt* wing that appears to be a period assemblage. Interesting!


Contrastingly, I have cataloged, that Eisenstadt* manufactured the below two wings:




Top: Reserve/Junior Military Aviator

Bottom: Junior Military Aviator/1st-type Observer

Also interestingly, that it appears Eisenstadt* never seems to have made a 2nd-type Observer badge. Or at least, if they did, I have not yet found an example to catalog.


Best wishes!



* If anyone has verifiable proof that these badges were manufactured by Eisenstadt Co of St Louis, MO please share with me--I would love to see it.


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I was hoping to do an Eisenstadt/Sweeny thread, but now it a good time to cover some of what you brought up about Eisenstadt.


First, the "Dallas" wings. There are actually a couple of Eisenstadt variations, including one that was called the Eagle LE (the LE is for Eisenstadt). It consisted of a Dallas style wing, but as one piece. Campbell talks about this wing in his book. It has a black painted (or maybe enameled) base.


Here are the two different variations. The Eagle wing is very rare. But I have seen this also in the 1/2 wing version AND the O wing version. The O has a very interesting overlapping of feathers type design.




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There were also another type of LE wings. These were hand chased and carved. Here are some of the hallmarked pilot wings. These wings have a very similar type construction and workmanship. There are also some LE marked Bombing Aviator wings (sometimes with the LE sometimes with a S for Sweeny (I presume).





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There are also a series of observer and RMA wings that share a great deal of similarity to the above. Although I couldn't find any that were hallmarked the clearly share a lot of carving and chasing similarities that make me assume they are also from Eisenstadt.


This is a "biographical wing" from Cliff's collection. There are a couple of others that are less "flamboyant" that clearly were made by the same hand. See Bob's site for more examples.



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I apologize for not being more precise with my wording above. Clearly Eisenstadt made, in their various hand-made lines, 2nd- type observer badges.


My specific intent above was to note that a particular so-called "Dallas" type wing badge (weather full or half wings) is commonly attributed to Eisenstadt but try as I may, I have not been able to source any direct evidence that is the case in my research. So to disambiguate the discussion, I mean precisely:



Eisenstadt EAGLE with Eisenstadt Hallmark


Badge commonly attributed to Eisenstadt


Third, similar badge, from another unknown manufacturer

The three badges above, and their various half-wing derivatives are commonly conflated. Each has distinctive die work correlating strongly to different manufacturers. Certainly the "EAGLE" marked so-called Dallas wing was made by Eisenstadt, and that it bears that Company's hallmark. However the other two, while they do exhibit a certain design similarity, are different enough, and show quite different die work--so it may be problematic to conclude that they are all made by the same manufacturer.


Best wishes!







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Chris, very interesting. I had always assumed if the wing had 3-feathers in its shoulder, then it was an Eisenstadt. And I had always assumed that because that is what everyone else said...


The EAGLE badge hallmark only reinforced that idea in my head that 3 feathers = Eisenstadt-made wings. In collecting, some people are lumpers and some are splitters, I tend to be a lumper and put things together. So if it looks like a duck (Eisenstadt) and quacks (has 3 feathers) like a duck, then I would tend to call it a duck. BUT, importantly, that doesn't really make it a duck.


Your points are well taken, and frankly I hadn't really studied these wings that closely. To me, it doesn't seem that much of a stretch for the same hand to have made these very similar dies. It is like the Jonnhnson and Tiffany wings being so similar. In many ways what we are trying to figure out if 2 or 3 companies used very similar patterns, or the same company used 2-3 different dies--and if pigs could fly, how many of them would fit on a pin with dancing angels? I have no idea, but I will continue to do research and hope that the real answer is out there.


For example, if we look at Dunham, they clearly had a bunch of different dies that they used. If not for Campbell's book and Dunham's advertising, maybe we couldn't have been sure who make those wings (as none of them seem to be hallmarked).


I sense perhaps a WWWIW#7 topic is lurking near!


Has anyone ever seen a vintage Eisenstadt catalog?

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