IDENTIFIED 1851 PATTERN MASSACHUSETTS MILITIA SHAKO AND CASE

$4,500.00 ON HOLD

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 33-271

An impressive Massachusetts militia 1851 pattern gray shako still with its carrying case from the “elegant elite.” Standing about 6 ½ inches tall, with a gray wool-covered pasteboard body, this shako follows the lines of the US regulation 1851 pattern enlisted shako with a flat, bound leather visor that flares slightly from side buttons forward. The flat crown is about 5 ¾ inches in diameter and is pierced at the forward edge for a pompom that is black and faded light blue. Below this on the top front is a regulation stamped gilt brass eagle with the arms of the US, familiar to collectors from its later use as a sideplate on the Hardee or Jeff Davis hat. Two welted seams form a point-up chevron near the base of the hat, beneath which is a gilt brass hunting horn with a silver company letter “A” in its loop. The thin leather chinstrap is in place and secured on either side with a small Massachusetts button bearing the armored sword arm surrounded by the words “MASS. VOLUNTEER MILITIA: and bordered by stars. The interior is lined with a brown polished cotton on the sides and crown. The tall red morocco sweatband is also present, complete and firmly in place.

Gray was a widely used color for prewar militia uniforms, north and south. Massachusetts was no exception. By 1853 the state had specified the US 1851 uniform as the pattern to follow, but even in 1861 some companies were still holding on to individual uniforms even when part of formally established regimental organizations. Even the famous 6th Massachusetts, which shed blood at Baltimore, had only three companies that conformed to state regulations according to Todd.

It might be possible to establish the ownership of our cap. The owner’s name is written in period ink on the sweatband in two places. One is somewhat rubbed but on the wearer’s right is clearly written, “H. Darling No. 12,” which is certainly the soldier’s individual number in the company, and we can pinpoint the company as Co. A from the insignia on the front of the cap. A number of Massachusetts infantry regiments and rifle battalions had companies with that designation, but below Darling’s name seems to be the name of his company commander, “Capt. […..]” With some work it might be possible to establish that name and from there get the owner’s identification.

A search of the 1850 census suggests he might be Henry H. Darling, an insurance agent in Springfield. The 1860 census lists a man by the same name, who is then a physician in Douglas, Worcester County, and also Horace H. Darling, a jeweler in Newburyport. If we push it to 1861, we also pick up a Harvey Darling, who enlisted in April 1861 in the 12th Massachusetts and was killed at Antietam, but we have no indication of previous militia service. There are also likely a few other candidates.

Regardless of the precise identification, this is a superior example of US prewar militia headgear and a rare chance for the collector. There are just a couple of moth nips at right rear on the lower edge. The black, tinned iron carrying case is also in good shape, with just minor wear to the paint at the edges. Oval in shape, the case measures about 10 by 12 inches, has a folding handle on top, and has preserved the cap in its remarkable condition for the past 150 years. [sr]

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