Book Review: A Collection of US Army Unit Crests, by SFC William E. Cotter, Ret.

More than 13,000 Army Crests are identified and illustrated.
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A Collection of US Army Unit Crests, by SFC William E. Cotter, Ret.

A Collection of US Army Unit Crests, by SFC William E. Cotter, Ret. retails for $250 but if you purchase through his Facebook page, it is only $149 + 20 shipping!

A Collection of US Army Unit Crests, by SFC William E. Cotter, Ret. (ISBN: 9780578783529, privately published, available from teh author, William E. Cotter, 2307 Goff Ave., St. Joseph, MO 98531; cffdrnkr@yahoo.com. Soft cover, 2021, 506, pages, more than 13,000 color illustrations, $250 + $20.00 shipping)

In 1993, Barry J. Stein published the last serious compilation of US Army unit crest. The 600-page book contained thousands of crests along with unit histories. 

In the quarter-century since collectors first embraced Stein's book, William E. Cotter has been gathering new information and has identified hundreds of crests omitted from Stein’s work. The result is a massive volume that he is aptly titled, A Collection of US Army Unit Crests.

Cotter has included more than 13,000 images of crests, although he is quick to admit the search for unit crests is endless. And while there isn’t any book currently in print that has all crests of a particular branch, this is volume is pretty darn close — and it covers more than 30 branches of the U.S. Army (some which no longer exist)! Cotter’s goal was to illustrate as many different unit crests and variations in color and in one volume. And this, he has accomplished handily!

Cotter has broken down the field of unit crests by chapters covering branches, such as “National Guard, “Ordnance,” “Quartermaster,” or “Transportation.” In addition, he as included chapters on Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

But don’t turn to this volume for descriptions or unit backgrounds. Cotter deliberately left these out, opting to provide the collector with a visual catalog. With rows of color illustrations on each page, it resembles a sort of postage stamp album. Woe is the casual crest collector, if they do not know the branch of a particular crest, though.

Apart from holding a crest in one hand and turning page after page, there won’t be an easy way for a novice to identify a particular crest. With the only “finding aid” being a numerical order of units within a branch, a collector will have to rely on their own heraldic skills to figure out where to begin looking in this hefty book to identify the unit affiliation.

On the other hand, if a collector already has identified a group of crests, it is an easy flip to the appropriate branch page to identify what crests or variations may be missing from their series.

Rather than standardize all photography within the book — and thereby missing some very rare examples — the author chose to include illustrations regardless of the quality. While most are great representations of the crests, some images may be blurry or even appear to be “squashed” to fit the allocated space. To some, this may appear disorienting, but it will become obvious why the author chose this route when a collector is finally able to identify a crest that no one else even able to describe.

While A Collection of U.S. Army Crests may not be the right tool for a casual collector, it will be indispensable to anyone who is compiling or curating a major collection of unit crests. — JAG

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