Field Segment: American WWI Uniforms
HOST: Water once powered many textile mills across Oregon, and this mill museum was once a thriving woolen factory. During the First World War, the mill produced woolen blankets and clothing for the U.S. military. Appraiser Jeff Shrader was on hand to discuss the market for World War One uniforms. Jeff, America entered World War One in April of 1917, and consequently right after that or shortly thereafter, wool was rationed so that we could provide wool uniforms for all these soldiers. How many soldiers were called into action?
They mobilized about 4.5 million American soldiers to serve in World War One. HOST: Well, that's a lot of wool uniforms.
That is a lot of uniforms. In fact, Uncle Sam had it figured out to the day how often every soldier would need another uniform. So in addition to being four-and-a-half million men in service, every single one of those gentlemen was going to need a new coat approximately every 79 days. HOST: It's important to note that the uniform then is not like it is now where you had a camouflage uniform for battle and a different one for everyday use. This was the uniform that most soldiers wore.
That's exactly right. There was a dress uniform, but most of those guys who entered the service specifically for World War One never would have seen one. This is the model 1912 coat, and that is what the army troops fighting in World War One wore. A plain jacket with no insignia on it is going to be sold at retail somewhere between $50 and $100. But the thing that makes a uniform special to a collector is the insignia that was applied to them after the end of the armistice that distinguishes individual units, and that's what collectors are looking for. There are a lot of clues that tell you who this fellow was and what he did. These two chevrons tell us that the soldier served overseas for a minimum of 12 months. Each one of those signifies six months overseas service. We know that he was honorably discharged, he has an honorable discharge chevron. There is the Italian War Medal, and most importantly for the collector on the left shoulder is the Italian-made, Lion of St. Mark, bullion-embroidered patch that was worn by the American ambulance service and the 332nd Infantry. He has Medical Corps collar insignia, and we know right where this guy was. This uniform would sell at a retail value of around $900 to $1,000. HOST: Let's move to this next uniform here, and this is pretty important as well. Tell me about this one.
This particular officer was a pilot in the Army Air Service in World War One. This was the first large-scale use of military aviation in U.S. military history. The uniform has an Air Service rondel, shoulder insignia, but the most important part of this particular uniform is the reserve military aviator wing that he wears on his left chest. HOST: With all that, what then is the value for this uniform?
For an army aviator uniform from World War One, a collector can expect to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 at retail unless there's something else particularly special that drives the value higher. HOST: Like if we knew he was an ace or something.
Exactly right. HOST: Very good. Well, thanks so much for sharing this, Jeff. It's really remarkable to see these great uniforms survive over the years.
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Value can change: The value of an item is dependent upon many things, including the condition of the object itself, trends in the market for that kind of object, and the location where the item will be sold. These are just some of the reasons why the answer to the question "What's it worth?" is so often "It depends."
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