Original British Early 19th Century “Bell-Top” Shako

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. A shako is a tall, cylindrical military cap, usually with a visor, and sometimes tapered at the top. It is usually adorned with an ornamental plate or badge on the front, metallic or otherwise; and often has a feather, plume (see hackle) or pom pom attached at the top.

The word shako originated from the Hungarian name csákó for the peak, which Hungarian border soldiers (Grenz-Infanterie) added around 1790 to their previously visorless stovepipe-style hats. Originally these hats were part of the clothing commonly worn by shepherds, before being added to the uniform of the Hungarian hussar in the early 18th century. Other spellings include chako, czako, sjako, schako, schakot and tschako.

From 1800 on, the shako became a common military headdress worn by the majority of regiments in the armies of Europe and the Americas. Replacing in most instances the light bicorne, the shako was initially considered an improvement. Made of heavy felt and leather, it retained its shape and provided some protection for the soldier's skull, while its visor shaded his eyes. It retained this preeminence until the mid-19th century, when spiked helmets began to appear in the army of Prussia, which influenced armies of the various German states; and the more practical kepi replaced it for all but parade wear in the French Army. The Imperial Russian Army substituted a spiked helmet for the shako in 1844–45 but returned to the latter headdress in 1855, before adopting a form of kepi in 1864. Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, military fashions changed and cloth or leather helmets based on the German headdress began to supersede the shako in many armies.

The bell-top shako was a large and elaborate type which became popular in the 1820s and 1830s when there was little warfare between the major European powers and practicality on the battlefield became less important than appearance on the parade ground. It featured a crown that clearly flared outwards towards the top, giving a distinctive bell shape, and was often adorned with decorative cords and plumes. British troops were accoutered with the bell-top shako from 1829 to 1844. US troops followed that example by adopting the "yeoman" crown cap in 1813 for artillery and rifle regiments, followed by the bell crown cap (with concave sides) from 1821. The US shakos changed again from 1832 to 1851, when a leather-made "cap" for infantry and artillery was introduced, resembling the former "yeoman" crown cap. Dragoons were issued with a cap model, whose crown was smaller than the cap's base. All those models were dropped in between 1851 and 1854, in favor of a cloth made shako of smaller size and swung shape, similar to the British "Albert" shako.

We believe this Bell Top example to be of British origin. It is in lovely condition for the age, but unfortunately there are no badges or adornments present, only the blue cloth badge in the center. Most of the black finish on the leather has been retained, but there is rub and wear present on the edges, exposing a lovely russet brown leather. All stitching appears to be intact as well as a majority of the leather liner on the inside, but it is heavily worn with a section missing.

This is truly a lovely example that is in dire need of a display to be a part of. Comes ready for further research and display!

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