There are some basic rules about collecting militaria that we ignore at our own peril. First and foremost is always “Trust but verify” as the number of “enhanced” items and downright frauds appears to grow daily. Another rule of importance to consider is “What is rare is not always valuable, and what is valuable is not always rare.” This rule applies to our topic at hand.
But first we need to add some context.
US Response in WWI
After the US entered WWI, it became necessary to impose a logical numbering system on the emerging. Army divisions, brigades, and regiments. A surprisingly simple scheme was developed. The 1st through 25th divisions would be Regular Army divisions and be filled with volunteers. The 26th through 50th were to be National Guard divisions and manned by Guardsmen from the forty-eight states and the U.S. territories. The 51st through 75th were set aside for future use, and the National Army divisions would start at 76 and be filled with a small cadre of trained soldiers and the rest were men selected through the draft.
It was a good plan and worked fairly well. The 1st through 7th Divisions were deployed to France prior to the Armistice. Likewise, the 26th through 42nd Divisions, comprised originally of National Guardsmen, were deployed to Europe. For the draftee-based National Army Divisions, the 76th through 92nd also made the long voyage to France. The 93rd Division was an anomaly because it was made up of some “colored” National Guard units and some units comprised of drafted African Americans.
As these units completed training, left their camps and were deployed to France, new divisional units were organized at those camps in the U.S. All of these newer divisions were considered either Regular Army or National Army because the National Guard units had been deployed already. Therefore, the new divisions received numbers from 9 to 20 and 94 to 102.
After the Armistice, economics prevail
With the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the need disappeared for those divisions still in training in the States. In fact, the troops in these units needed to be demobilized quickly and sent home so the divisions serving in France could be brought home and also demobilized. Several of the divisions in training, including the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th, had been making final preparations for going to France and even dispatched advance parties to Europe to prepare for their arrival. An army of 4 million men eats 12 million meals a day, so economics drove much of the need for quick demobilization.
Following the Army’s recent edicts for having distinctive unit shoulder patches, some of the new divisions in preparation for service in Europe had designed their patches. Therefore, it’s possible to find uniforms from these newer divisions with divisional patches, as seen in the accompanying photos.
Cost versus availability
Now, to return to the discussion of “valuable versus rare.” As most WWI uniform collectors will attest, there is a value premium attached to the uniforms and other material of certain units. For instance, anything associated with the Marines of the 2nd Division, the 332nd Infantry Regiment soldiers serving in Italy, the Army Tank Corps, or the units in the two Russian campaigns will bring higher prices than a comparable item from the Big Red One, the 3rd Division, the 42nd Division, or the 82nd Division.
And this second group’s items will always cost more than similar items from the 7th Division, the 78th Division or the 91st Division. And so on.
During my collecting days, I had the privilege of examining, owning, buying, and selling several hundred U.S. Army and Marine Corps WWI uniforms. Yet, for all the really nice and very expensive 2nd Division Marine uniforms I dealt with, I only ever saw and owned one 10th Division uniform. Its asking price was well below any of the premium items mentioned above.
So what’s the point? Though much more plentiful than 10th Division uniforms, Marine uniforms, because of their association with the Marines’ exploits, are held by the collecting community to be more valuable. The result for collectors is that while many cannot afford to buy and own some of the really expensive items, it is still possible to find reasonably priced and relatively much rarer items from those “other” divisions and their subordinate regiments.
One last example: Compare the price difference between one of the many Marine portraits made in Germany during the occupation with a comparable portrait of a Camp Lewis soldier wearing clearly visible collar disks for the 1st Infantry Regiment (13th Division). Again which is more valuable and yet which is rarer?
I think we all appreciate that some units are more colorful and storied than others. Yet, by judiciously searching and purchasing from the “other” divisions, a collector can build a truly interesting and unique collection without taking a second mortgage on the house.
One final note of warning for interested collectors: Among the “other” divisions, there are some units which existed only for a very short period and therefore more difficult to find. But that’s what makes it fun, right?
Alexander F. Barnes is a former Marine and retired Army Warrant Officer. His most recent book, co-authored with Pete Belmonte, United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I was released in November 2021. He currently serves as the Virginia National Guard Command Historian.
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