Original Ottoman Empire WWI Turkish Prisoner of War Souvenir Snake Dated 1913
Original Item: Only One Available. This souvenir beaded “snake,” brought back after the First World War by a USGI and originates from the Ottoman Empire. Drawing on the rich tradition of textile crafts in the Ottoman Empire, Turkish soldiers incarcerated in British prison camps in the Middle East during and immediately after World War I made a variety of bead work items to relieve the boredom of their prolonged imprisonment and to barter or sell for food and other amenities.
A nearly identical example is part of the collection at the National World War One museum in Kansas City, Missouri and can be seen at this link. Another wonderful article on Ottoman Prisoner of War Snakes published by the Australian War Memorial can be found at this link.
With blue beads spelling out: TURKISH PRISONERS 1913, this piece was made by the beaded crochet method or weaving on small looms. Crochet beaded snakes were the most popular of the beaded souvenirs created in the prisoner of war camps at the time. This is probably for two reasons, firstly a snake is basically a tube, a very easy shape to make with bead crochet. Secondly, snakes were a symbol of good luck in parts of South East Europe, so the prisoner of war snakes could have had a symbolic importance for their makers.
Prisoners who made the items might have been from the far-flung Ottoman Empire: Turkish, Kurdish, Arab, Greek, or Eastern European. According to recollections Seaman 2nd Class Cyril H. Gaudreau, he was given a snake by Turkish P.O.W.’s to thank him for teaching them how to play baseball.
This example is offered in excellent condition, with some wear on the head and tail tip, and measures approximately 68" inches in overall length.
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