Big Red here at me favorite waterin hole, Cohan's Pub.
Pull up a chair, have a pint....
I often hear collectors engage in discussions about the provenance and authenticity of helmets in their collection and although they inadvertently touch upon aspects of context they never seem to put much weight on this aspect of collecting which often results with a helmets context being forgotten.
In order to have any meaningful discussion that involves authenticity or provenance, it is necessary to define “context” as it relates to M-1 helmet collecting, which means we need some common definitions related to objects in time. An artifact is typically defined as an object that was made or altered by a human being and holds cultural or historical interest. Artifacts require cataloging, preservation and analysis. Analysis is required to understand the cultural significance of the object and how it was used.
If an artifact is the object, a relic can be defined as that which remains. A relic is defined as an object surviving from an earlier time which is now outmoded. A relic is often venerated for its association with an event especially one of historical interest. Relics can also be defined as a souvenir or memento which begs the question could the M-1 be defined as an antique or simply as a collectible?
The difference between an artifact and an antique depends on the baseline of comparison meaning it depends on what the M-1 is being compared to and who is doing the comparison. For example, Archaeologists recover artifacts as opposed to antiques based on the distinction of the readily available meaning how common is the object as well as where and when the object was found. This would suggest that a M-1 helmet used then left behind on a field of battle becomes an artifact or relic while the ones in a surplus or second hand store would be considered collectible antiques.
Time is also a factor to be considered however it is not an easy metric to pin down. This is partially because there is no time requirement for an object to be an artifact but there is to be an antique. Antique furniture often requires a minimum of a hundred years where a firearm only requires fifty. Another difficulty is the length of the M-1 helmets active service and the multitude of overhauls they received during that time. Perhaps the best way to view the M-1 within the scope of time is by the African expression of Sasha and Zamani.
Sasha refers to history being handed down in the “now” by those who experienced the history directly while they are still alive. Zamani is past or ancient history as it concerns remembrances of events of those who are no longer alive. So, Sasha is current lived and remembered history while Zamani is ancient history. By this measurement we can conclude that the M-1 helmet, as an object, is still in the Sasha while the first historically significant event, WWII, is transitioning to the Zamani. What this means is that documented information on how the helmet was developed and manufactured as well as its intended purpose can still be clearly articulated for every collector to study and understand while the way in which helmets were modified or adapted for uses other than as body armor become stories recalled from Veterans that have since passed.
Finally, there is an interesting and relatively ignored anecdote regarding the M-1 helmet which is that many are technically stolen property. The M-1 helmet was not assigned by the Government to individuals rather these helmets were issued to units and were the responsibility of the unit. The M-1 was then issued by the unit, to individuals within the unit, for use while there and were returned at the individuals time of departure. Because multitudes of M-1 helmets found their way out of the military and into the homes of Veterans suggests that the Government really had no concern or issue with this practice. However, unlike the decision to award helmets as souvenirs to veterans of The Great War, the Government made no similar edict after the close of WWII. This reality does not mean that one day the Government is going to demand helmets be returned however this is part of the helmet’s history and adds to its context and provenance.
Now that all that clarification has fully muddied the water, let’s try to distill these thoughts down to a manageable definition of the M-1 helmet as a collectible object, artifact, relic, antique, souvenir, memento, collectible or stolen property.
There are contexts within which the M-1 should be considered an artifact because these contexts explain where the helmet was found and the events they were involved with. However, the M-1 helmet unlike an artifact, does not need to be analyzed to understand its cultural significance or purpose as an object. Likewise, the question of whether the M-1 is a souvenir, or a memento can be answered with the same argument of circumstances in that an M-1 helmet, as a souvenir, is limited to the helmet’s direct association with a service member who took their helmet back to their civilian life for that purpose. The next generation then could keep the helmet as a memento of that Veteran’s service.
Antique, by loose definition, is an appropriate label for the earliest version of the M-1 but not for all the helmet’s incarnations. As time passes and the historical events involving the M-1 helmet slowly slip from the Sasha into the Zamini this definition becomes more appropriate. There can be no doubt that the M-1 helmet is a collectible and although reference to a relic is often used by collectors to describe a helmet in poor condition, a mint un-issued M-1 from 1941 to 1945 is still technically a relic of WWII and each subsequent time period of its use.
Lastly, is the M-1 helmet stolen property? In the instance of a veteran kept helmet, the answer is a technical yes. No matter the argument of circumstances of how, why or the reality that the military largely looked the other way in regard to veterans that chose to depart with their helmet, the reality is the Government never formally gave permission for veterans to take helmets from their assigned units. However, this and other contextual aspects of the M-1 helmet bridge over into the heavily debated topic of “provenance”.
So until next time, I bid ye a fond