Help ID uniforms in an old drawing
December 14, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Help me identify uniforms worn in an antique pencil watercolor. And maybe a guess as to where it was recorded.

Found this little drawing/watercolor at a consignment shop. Overall. I really like it but am struggling to figure out who it is depicting. Trying to pin down the date based on the uniforms but have not gotten very far. Someone suggested mail carriers which might make sense considering one is carrying a bag over his shoulder and the other is holding what looks like an envelope.

Detail Views here:
Detail One

Detail Two

Would love to hear any ideas and also any thoughts on where it might be taking place. It is saying Philadelphia or Washington DC to me.
posted by WickedPissah to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It looks to me like Germany.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2012

Mail carrier makes sense, but will be difficult to track down without more detail, since letter carrier uniforms were not standardized in the US until the late 1800s and it's not even clear to me that this picture is from the US.

Could also be soldiers, one mailing a letter and one walking with a sack of who knows what. If so, tracking down the uniform type without any other details is probably impractical.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2012

I don't think those are uniforms - peaked caps were in fashion as everyday wear for the working class at various times in the 19th century.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2012

Well the men are wearing trousers so it's probably after 1815 or so. This probably doesn't help a lot. What about the painting is "saying" Philly or DC to you? Is this based on any actual markings or identifiers or is it just a hunch?

I would agree mail carriers. Two of the men are wearing a distinctive red coat and blue cap. Until around 1892 (if this is indeed in the U.S.) when the Postmaster General John Wanamaker reported to Congress about the issue, local postmasters set the uniform for their mailmen, so it's possible that some local post office somewhere had their mailmen dressing in red coats and blue hats. Note that the hat is the "police" style hat. That type of hat wasn't around until at least the 1880's I believe, so that might date your picture a little further. I googled a bit for mail carriers wearing red coats, blue caps, and white trousers. The only thing I found was this, which states that the Lawrence Letter Carriers’ Band wore bright red coats and white trousers. Letter carrier's bands were bands of local letter carriers that marched in parades and the like. Unfortunately I have no idea which Lawrence they're talking about (Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts?). It may be that this Lawrence Letter carrier's band was basing their marching band uniform on their actual working uniform, or an earlier version of it.
posted by katyggls at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2012

Slap*Happy: "I don't think those are uniforms - peaked caps were in fashion as everyday wear for the working class at various times in the 19th century."

The fact that two different people in the painting are wearing the same red coat, blue hat (in the same style) and white trousers (which certainly weren't common as working wear in the 1800's) strongly suggests uniform.
posted by katyggls at 9:54 AM on December 14, 2012

The only thing I have to go on is decades of international military experience and a love of history, all of which gives me a vague and unsubstantiated instinctive gut reaction of "Victorian British Quartermasters" (supply/logistics soldiers). But I don't have any way to prove that. You may also wish to consider that the painter was not overly familiar with military themes and just sort of made it up as he or she went along. It actually happens a lot in older paintings, and can drive us history buffs mad.
posted by seasparrow at 11:00 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Livery uniform would probably be a better guess than military - they just don't appear very martial.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:23 AM on December 14, 2012

Those look like riding coats. See how they're long and flared a bit at the bottom? That's because they're split in the front and back so you can sit a horse on them and they cover your upper thigh. Nothing else about the picture supports that they are riders but the coat in the first detail is distinctively shaped and colored to anyone who rides.

Curious as to what he has in the bag now.
posted by fshgrl at 2:21 PM on December 14, 2012

Thanks so far everyone. It is a mystery still I guess but I have more to go on. If it matters the item was purchased in Massachusetts. There is no signature or date. There is a partial sketch of buildings on the back. I get the impression that its more of an architectural sketch than a cityscape. Just a guess. But there looks like there was a lot of care taken to getting the building angles correct.

My initial gut feeling was 'hey redcoats' but the uniforms dont match up. Another history buff friend said they look French for some reason but didnt have anything to back it up.

The reason it feels like DC or Philly to me is the low row style buildings and cobble streets. Not based on anything.
posted by WickedPissah at 9:38 PM on December 14, 2012

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