Joseph P. Robinson.
15 November 2005.
Not a great deal has been written about the
individual plumes used on pickelhaube. Randy Trawnik, in
his new volume "Spiked Helmets of Imperial Germany”
devotes an entire chapter to parade plumes. This short article
is intended to augment the information in that volume. The
book shows many pictures of helmets with parade plumes.
This article will focus on pictures from the timeframe.
There is no intent to discuss the feathered plumes of generals,
nor the plumes on Ulan, Hussars or shakos.
Plumes came in three colors: red, white and
black the same colors as a national flag.
These were not standard throughout however,
as in general the first two battalions of guard regiments
wore white plumes and the third battalion black plumes.
Red was reserved for musicians, but also for certain Bavarian
artillery. The general rule of thumb was that white was
The first generalization to ensure we look
at is that not all regiments wore plumes. Only those authorized
to wear plumes wore them. As a result, many helmets have
spikes that do not unscrew to allow a trichter. Many private
purchase helmets that were used in regiments that were not
allowed plumes still had spikes that unscrewed. This was
an inexpensive upgrade and aided in the transportation of
the helmet. For some reason there is a legend that says
only officers wore plumes; this is absolutely false. The
real purpose of the plumes was for parade, those that did
not parade, like a zahlmeister, did not wear a plume.
The second generalization is that enlisted
soldiers wore horsehair plumes, and officers wore fuzzy
buffalo plumes. In reality the plumes were first authorized
in 1843. The trichter shape and size changed, and both officers
and enlisted personnel wore straight horsehair plumes until
1896. There was a separation of commissioned officer, plumes
in that year by allowing the wearing of a buffalo plume
instead of a horsehair plume. Horsehair was easy to spot.
Straight and kind of scraggly whereas the buffalo plume
was more curly or kinky and more full. The buffalo hair
came from a yak.
According to regulation of the officer trichter
was supposed to be 15 cm long supplanted by a 4.5 cm button
on top. There were many different styles of trichters and
buttons. Those pictured below are a mere subset.
Another part of the regulation was that the
plume itself would be trimmed with a pair of scissors. For
troops on foot, the intent was to cut it to the top edge
of the front visor. Mounted troops were supposed to have
the plume cut to the bottom edge of the front visor. Photographic
evidence shows that sometimes it is not easy to determine
if length was applied properly.
The man on the left from the 92nd Regiment is cut properly
for foot to the top of the visor. The gentleman in the center
is from a mounted unit, and you can see how much longer
his plume is. The photo on the right below it is of a foot
unit, but you cannot tell that on the basis of the plume
The plume was to be cut to the wearing length regardless
of the length of the trichter. Trichters did not always
start off that 15 cm and older trichters were shorter as
the helmets themselves were taller. Trichters "grew"
as helmet size decreased.
Differences in the quality of the plume are easily described
in the catalog by M.Neumann. Similar to helmets themselves,
the plumes came in different qualities. The higher the quality,
the fuller the plume was, and the higher the cost was. It
is interesting to note that a white plume could cost as
much as 50% more than a black plume.
Enlisted helmets came with issued plumes. However, you could
also buy one that was in enlisted quality. It is instructive
that these came in two qualities. The lower quality was
horsehair and the higher-quality was hair from the horse's
mane. As opposed to buffalo hair these were extremely cheap.
You can also see on the bottom of the chart that you could
get an extra light trichter for a substantial increase in
The 1903 enlisted uniform regulation specifies
that the enlisted trichter is somewhat shorter 11 cm high.
The button on top is somewhat smaller, and the design on
top is plain. Private purchase trichters tended to be shaped
like a spike with the plume on top. The issue trichters,
looked more like a tube.
As with many items in the enlisted regulation, the weight
of the parade plume was very important.
Again, this is only a beginning to supplement
the information already available.
Pictures come from the author's archive, the
Kostel collection or with permission of the owner. Translation
assistance from Roger Benner. Catalog is price list 29 from
Neumann undated. The enlisted uniform rate is a 1903 version
printed by Mittler and son