Although I have only been collecting militaria seriously for about eight years, I have been picking up little bits on and off since I was a child, and this matchbox cover from WW1 is something I have had for many years:During World War One virtually all troops smoked and the most common method of lighting cigarettes and pipes was a box of matches. These boxes could easily get crushed in a pocket so metal covers were often used to protect them. Examples in enamelled tin were popular, as were home-made ‘trench art’ examples in brass like this one. The basic brass covers were either made by the troops themselves from scrap brass (old artillery shells being used) or by enterprising French civilians who sold them to soldiers to decorate as they wished. This example was owned by a soldier in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, Private H Topham, who put his name and details on one side of the cover:The ‘spine’ of the cover has the simple word ‘France’:Whilst the reverse is unusual in having a German Style cross with the date ‘1914’ on it:Trench art falls into a number of categories:
- Objects made by the soldiers themselves in the front line.
- Objects made by those convalescing after injury and prisoners of war.
- Items made locally by civilians either during or after WW1 for sale to troops and tourists.
- Commercially made pieces using military surplus sold after the war.
As can be expected these pieces range from the very crude (like my matchbox cover) to beautiful pieces of art. Often the quality is dependent not only on the individual making the item of trench art, but also the tools available to him. A soldier in the front line might only have access to a nail or his pocket knife to engrave his object, a soldier working in a Royal Engineers field workshop would obviously have more tools and probably more skills so could turn out a more refined piece. Here we see some French Poilu making trench art vases from shell casings:Happily this is one area of WW1 collecting where there are few reproductions- the thousands of man hours needed to make a piece far outweigh any monetary value it might have so most pieces are original and date to WW1 or the immediate post war period.