Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gorget

The last vestige of knightly armour, this decorative piece of metal was suspended around the neck of officers in the 18th century and early 19th centuries.   Originally, gorgets were a metal or stiff leather collar intended to protect the throat and neck. In fact, the term is derived from the French word for throat.  In the 18th century, the size of the gorget diminished as it became a piece of adornment for the uniform -- another sign of the rank of an officer. 

By the 18th century, the gorget shrank to a small piece of crescent shaped metal.  Suspension around the neck was by chain or ribbon. 

Colonel George Washington of the Virginia Regiment. 

As the examples below demonstrate, the gorget bore arms distinctive to the nation or monarch of the officer. Often, regimental numbers or symbols were etched on the gorget for that distinctive flair.   18th and 19th century gorgets are found in brass, gilded brass, silver and brass or silver with enamel.  As with officer's swords of the time, the gorget was as ornate as the officer could afford. 

 French gorget

British gorget

British gorget

French Napoleonic Gorget

Dutch gorget

Hessian gorget

The gorget made its way into the new world as a trade item.  Europeans exchanged gorgets with Native Americans for pelts and other goods.  

By the 1830s, most of the world's military ceased wearing the gorget.  However, it's use is seen in the 20th century -- most notably by the German military. 

Imperial German gorget

German WWII military police gorget

German Reich Labor gorget

German WWII standard bearer gorget

I've always considered the gorget an interesting proposition for collecting, but have not entered the field. With so many variations, and with relative ease of display, a collector could assemble quite a large and impressive collection. German WWII gorgets are easily found in the market and at a varied price range. As with everything German WWII, non-military items are the most affordable with SS items garnering the highest prices.  I have not encounter many 18th or 19th century gorgets on the market.  The few that I have seen bore significant price tags.  Due to the popularity of reenacting, gorgets have been reproduced. The reproductions are fairly easily to spot, but the buyer should beware of false aging and other faking techniques.