Original Belgian M1950 Colonial Service Pith Sun Helmet with Puggaree - Belgian Congo
Original Item: Only One Available. The small country of Belgium only gained its true independence in 1830, and became established as a Constitutional Monarchy. By this time, many of the other European powers had already been colonizing the world for centuries, so there was little of the world left that had not already come under the European sphere of influence. During the 1840s and 50s, King Leopold I tentatively supported several proposals to acquire territories overseas. In 1843, he signed a contract with Ladd & Co. to colonize the Kingdom of Hawaii, but the deal fell apart when Ladd & Co. ran into financial difficulties. Belgian traders also extended their influence in West Africa but this too fell apart following the Rio Nuñez Incident of 1849 and growing Anglo-French rivalry in the region.
By the time Belgium's second king, Leopold II, was crowned, Belgian enthusiasm for colonialism had abated. Successive governments viewed colonial expansion as economically and politically risky and fundamentally unrewarding, and believed that informal empire, continuing Belgium's booming industrial trade in South America and Russia, was much more promising. As a result, Leopold pursued his colonial ambitions without the support of the Belgian government, which meant there would be no oversight.
One of the places Leopold II managed to acquire was the Congo region in 1885, with the help of other European powers, which became the Congo Free State. This loosely organized territory was primarily used for one reason: economic exploitation. Ivory and Rubber flowed out of the area, at the cost of millions of lives. Disease, violence, working conditions, and other factors led to this massive loss of life. By the turn of the century, the violence used by Free State officials against indigenous Congolese and the ruthless system of economic extraction led to intense diplomatic pressure on Belgium to take official control of the country, which it did in 1908, creating the Belgian Congo, which is today the fully independent Democratic Rebublic of the Congo.
This very nice pith sun helmet comes from the immediate Post WWII Period, and is in fact dated 1953 on the underside of the sweatband. It follows the standard European design, with a fabric covered pith/cork body, with 6 panels of fabric covering the top. It has leather trim around the edge, and a nice "puggaree" wrapping around it, usually indicating issue to an officer. The front has a very nice badge, which shows the Belgian Royal Crown over a tri-color cockade (Red, Yellow and Black), with a laurel leaf wreath. We have seen some refer to this as a "Belgian Marines" badge, but we are not sure on this. We are however certain that this is a colonial issue badge.
There is a small label on the back of the sweatband liner, giving the size as 53cm or 6 1/2, and there are the maker marks F.N. - Z.M. 1953 and LEVIOR 53 stamped on the underside. The leather chin strap is in good condition, and is fully adjustable.
A very nice mid 20th century pith helmet, ready to add to your collection!
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