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MODEL 1891 SIGNAL CORPS ENLISTED MAN’S DRESS HELMET – A RARE SPECIMEN IN EXCELLENT CONDITION:  The Signal Corps was one of the smaller branches of the Indian War era Army, resulting in a low survival rate of their distinctive Model 1891 Dress Helmets.  The orange trimmed Model 1881 Signal Corps Dress Helmets were discontinued in 1889, and this black trimmed dress helmet was adopted for enlisted Signalmen in 1891.   

Due to most of the soldiers and officers of the corps being assigned individually or in small detachments in support of the Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry regiments, much of their contribution throughout the American West during the Indian Wars has passed unnoticed, albeit unfairly. 

In addition to communicating on the battlefield via the use of the semaphore flags that are featured in their 19th Century insignia, the Signal Corps also staffed telegraph stations and telephone exchanges in some of the larger metropolitan areas.  In 1870, through an act of Congress, the Signal Corps then under the command of General Myers, was tasked with recording meteorological observations at the military posts throughout the nation and its territories, and via telegraph providing alerts of the approach and force of developing storms.  This assignment was the birth of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and in 1873 while attending the International Meteorological Congress of Vienna, General Myers proposed a resolution establishing a world wide network of weather stations and providing for a daily exchange of weather observations – effectively the genesis of the World Meteorological Organization.

Arguably, the most renowned performance of the Indian Wars-era Signal Corps was the successful use of the heliographs which were employed against the Apaches during the campaigns in the Arizona Territory.  Having established a chain of heliograph stations posted on prominent mountain peaks throughout the area of operations, observers were able to rapidly communicate the position, numbers, and activities of the renegade Apaches and by using this timely information, the field commanders could deploy their troops to contain and intercept the raiding parties.    

US Army Signal Corps soldiers manned these lonely stations to great effect and one such soldier, Sergeant Will Croft Barnes, became one of only five Signal soldiers to have received the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, for his actions at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory.  On August 29, 1881 the Fort Apache commander, Colonel Eugene A. Carr, set out with a column to arrest a medicine man at a village on Cibecue Creek. Barnes remained behind at the fort with about 70 other soldiers and civilians who were isolated due to the Apaches having cut the telegraph lines.  Uncertain about the status of Carr's expedition which was rumored to have been destroyed, Barnes volunteered to climb a nearby 2,000 foot mesa alone and use his signal flags to alert the post to any threatening Indian activity. Instead of Indian movements, Barnes was able to signal the return of Carr's column.  During further operations, Barnes found himself involved in several skirmishes while continuing to get messages through via mounted courier. Barnes’ abilities as a soldier and signalman impressed his superiors who described him in the recommendation for the Medal of Honor as being “prompt and unhesitating in the discharge of all duties assigned to him, more than once being exposed to great danger.”  

Sgt. Barnes is captured in the image below wearing his dress uniform, albeit that the sleeve of his dress coat bears the Signal Corps brassard comprised of the two crossed signal flags, the predecessor to the addition of the burning torch to the insignia in 1885.  He holds his plumed Model 1881 Signal Corps Dress Helmet with the helmet cords arranged properly around the collar of his coat and secured to the epaulet button with the waffles and tassels hanging down over his chest.  Note that the orange plume and cords, like the Cavalry yellow plumes and cords, appear black in these period images – a function of the photography process of that era.  Although Barnes is wearing the earlier version of the Signal Corps Dress uniform and helmet, this image documents the dress uniforms of these specially trained soldiers on the frontier. 

This specimen of the Model 1891 Enlisted Man’s Signal Corps Dress Helmet is in excellent condition.  Complete with all of the original correct trimmings and insignia, to include the plume, plume holder, side buttons, rings, the proper staff eagle plate with the German silver Signal Corps insignia overlay, and of course an excellent helmet body.  

The Signal Corps overlay on the eagle plate and the insignia on the side buttons is the Signal Corps insignia adopted in 1885 which included the burning torch with the crossed signal flags.   

The helmet body is full form with no crushing, breakage, loss of finish or other damage.  The inside surface of the sweat band retains the legible maker’s contract stamp – “ C.J. HELLER, PHILA”.   The original size paper tag is still present at the rear of the sweat band. 

The original plume and set of cords on this helmet are in excellent condition.  The plume falls gracefully over the helmet with no tangles.  The cords are complete with all the trimmings and both sets of waffles and tassels, and the cords are strong with vivid color and no significant snags from being worn.   

This is an outstanding example of the relatively rare Signal Corps Dress Helmet of a quality seldom encountered on today’s market and it is one that would deserve to be displayed as a centerpiece in your collection.  (0902)  $2875

If you are thinking in terms of a Signal Corps display, you might want to consider an excellent, complete Heliograph Set I have listed under "FIELD EQUIPMENT" which you can view by clicking here and a Signal Corps Corporal Chevron worn concurrent with this helmet that you can view by clicking here



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