Third Army Portraits: A study of studios used by the Army of Occupation

By Alexander Barnes

Many American servicemen have also been relentless souvenir collectors. Those serving during the early part of the 20th century were no exception. One of the  favorite souvenirs of the Doughboys assigned to the occupation of the German Rhineland from December 1918 to February 1923 were portraits of themselves and their friends in uniform. In response, numerous German photography studios in the American zone were more than happy to fill this need. For several years now a number of the members of the Third Army WWI group on Facebook have been trying to locate and put a name to some of these studios as each appears to have a very distinct signature background or prop arrangement.

A typical portrait from the mystery studio with the painted open window. The subject of the portrait is Will Cummings, a twice-wounded Doughboy with three overseas stripes. Cummings appears to have the colored backing made from crepe paper and cardboard for his collar disks and both disks appear to be “US.” Though no rank is visible, the presence of the whistle-chain might indicate his rank as being an NCO.

A typical portrait from the mystery studio with the painted open window. The subject of the portrait is Will Cummings, a twice-wounded Doughboy with three overseas stripes. Cummings appears to have the colored backing made from crepe paper and cardboard for his collar disks and both disks appear to be “US.” Though no rank is visible, the presence of the whistle-chain might indicate his rank as being an NCO.

Among the most notable studios was one that used a painted backdrop showing a partially open window. Looking very much like a set from a 1920s German horror film, the portraits from this studio are almost instantly recognizable by collectors. The address and name of the studio however remained beyond the grasp of those seeking it. Recently, however, there was a breakthrough.

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On the back of a Third Army portrait from this studio, recently found at a militaria show in Richmond, was not only the date and written name of the studio but also the street address. So now, for posterity, we can identify these “twilight zone” portraits to the photography studio of Theodor Loos on 6 Schloss Strasse in the city of Coblenz. Ironically, along with the studio information, the soldier included a list of all of the folks he was going to send copies to (including his mother, Caleb & Myra, Ida Phillips and Auntie Rix) but neglected to add his own name to the back of this “Rosetta Stone” photo.

With one mystery solved, there are many more unidentified studios to locate and document. The basic source document for the American Army of Occupation during the period of 1919 to 1921 is the small booklet, Review of the American Forces in Germany, published by James G. Adams in Coblenz in September 1921. A combination “Who’s Who,” school yearbook, and yellow pages, Adams’ Review is required reading for those looking to study and understand the duties and experiences of the American soldiers serving in the German Rhineland after the First World War.

The key to the mystery: this unidentified soldier has dated the back of his portrait to 19 June 1919. On the back he has recorded that this picture was made in “the photoshop of Theodor Loos, 6 Schloss Str. Coblenz on plate number 1824.” The date is also interesting because during this part of June 1919 the Allied Occupation Armies in the Rhineland were on high alert preparing to attack unoccupied Germany on 23 June, should the Germans refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Fortunately, the Germans signed with 8 hours to spare before hostilities started again.

The key to the mystery: this unidentified soldier has dated the back of his portrait to 19 June 1919. On the back he has recorded that this picture was made in “the photoshop of Theodor Loos, 6 Schloss Str. Coblenz on plate number 1824.” The date is also interesting because during this part of June 1919 the Allied Occupation Armies in the Rhineland were on high alert preparing to attack unoccupied Germany on 23 June, should the Germans refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Fortunately, the Germans signed with 8 hours to spare before hostilities started again.

In the advertising section of Adams’ book, there are other Coblenz photography studios listed: the “Hockenberry Studio” and the “Photo and Sport House Rudolph Pillen,” both of which are located on Schloss Strasse.

Among the many other ads is an intriguing advertisement for the “Pekin,” ostensibly the first Chinese Restaurant in the Rhineland and run by the local American Legion Commander; serving authentic Asian food along with “Rhine Wine, French Champagne or a glass of Coca Cola.” Perhaps even more appealing is a visit to another local eating establishment also run by a former doughboy: the Baltimore Lunch Room and Restaurant. Among the Baltimore’s claim to fame is that a “soldier with an appetite but no ready cash can procure a meal ticket, good for meals, drinks and cigars on credit and pay for it on pay day.” Very handy for a soldier who has just spent his money on portraits.

A section of a street map of Coblenz in 1919 showing clearly the location of Schloss Strasse starting at the Schloss (number 8) and heading straight up until it runs into Löhrstrasse. The headquarters building for the Third Army, and later, the American Forces in Germany (AFG), is marked by the number 34.

A section of a street map of Coblenz in 1919 showing clearly the location of Schloss Strasse starting at the Schloss (number 8) and heading straight up until it runs into Löhrstrasse. The headquarters building for the Third Army, and later, the American Forces in Germany (AFG), is marked by the number 34.

There were also a number of photography studios located in Treves (Trier), the other large city in the American zone. Fortunately, a number of them are easily identifiable because they stamped their names on the portraits

Therefore, the studios in Coblenz remain our current target for identification. Of particular interest would be locating portraits made in the Coblenz studio operated by Karl Baer.

Another portrait of two bandsmen of the AFG taken very late in the occupation. Though the size of the AFG was shrinking rapidly by 1922, a very large band was maintained in order to perform at the many ceremonial functions. Note also that these two soldiers are enjoying a lot of German wine; a privilege denied their stateside Army comrades by the imposition of Prohibition.

Another portrait of two bandsmen of the AFG taken very late in the occupation. Though the size of the AFG was shrinking rapidly by 1922, a very large band was maintained in order to perform at the many ceremonial functions. Note also that these two soldiers are enjoying a lot of German wine; a privilege denied their stateside Army comrades by the imposition of Prohibition.

Baer was suspected, with good reason, of being a spy for the German intelligence service in Jersey City, New Jersey, before the war and was arrested in Coblenz in June 1919 for impersonating an American intelligence agent.

Standing beside one of the most photographed tables in the Rhineland this Doughboy poses for his portrait during the early period of the occupation. This table served as a prop for other photos that included soldiers from the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Division and also from the 1st Division.

Standing beside one of the most photographed tables in the Rhineland this Doughboy poses for his portrait during the early period of the occupation. This table served as a prop for other photos that included soldiers from the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Division and also from the 1st Division.

The unusual wallpaper is the hallmark of this studio and seen in many photographs. This portrait may actually be from the same studio as the tall table pictures as the wallpaper in the background of one of the “table” portraits appears to be the same pattern.

The unusual wallpaper is the hallmark of this studio and seen in many photographs. This portrait may actually be from the same studio as the tall table pictures as the wallpaper in the background of one of the “table” portraits appears to be the same pattern.

Photo 8. A late-occupation period (mid-1922 to 1923) portrait of a soldier and his girlfriend. Note that by this time, the “garrison cap” has become the standard headgear for the soldiers of the AFG. The heavy draped backdrop of this unknown studio is seen often in portraits made late in the occupation.

Photo 8. A late-occupation period (mid-1922 to 1923) portrait of a soldier and his girlfriend. Note that by this time, the “garrison cap” has become the standard headgear for the soldiers of the AFG. The heavy draped backdrop of this unknown studio is seen often in portraits made late in the occupation.

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