In the early 1950s,
Napoleonic Uniforms consists of two massive volumes, each with over 450 color plates. Virtually every type of unit and the different uniforms they wore is represented. Not surprisingly, the Imperial Guard has the largest number of illustrations, with 173 plates. Colonel Elting did not just include the French units. The foreigners who served with La Grande Armée are also well represented with 144 plates!
Volume I is devoted mostly to the combat arms and is broken into five parts:
Volume II finishes Part 5 and ends with Part 6. Two-thirds of the plates in this volume cover either the foreign units or the Imperial Guard.
Herbert Knötel first sketched the figure in pencil and then painted the image with watercolors. Since the paintings are one of a kind and were not meant for mass production, you can often see the pencil lines faintly in the background. You also can see faint traces where the painting was secured in a photo album. Occasionally, the corner of the plate is slightly crumpled. Below each figure would be a hand-written caption stating what the figure was. Interestingly, if you look closely you can see where the original pencil caption had been erased and someone wrote over it with ink. Unfortunately, there is no indication if this was done by the artist or later on by Colonel Elting. These are not imperfections that detract from the value of the plates. Instead they leave the reader with a sense that he has the privilege of viewing someone's much treasured, private collection.
Each plate consists of a single mounted or foot figure. There is no background scenery and there is no ground— all there is are the figures themselves. As mentioned already, the plates cover a wide range of units and uniforms. They depict the soldier in every type of uniform – whether on parade, in the midst of a campaign, or the mundane everyday chores that are the life of a soldier on garrison duty.
Some of the choice of plates were a bit surprising – such as one of a regimental fencing master and another of a senior blacksmith. But this just adds to the charm of the collection. One of my favorites is shown below -- a line infantry soldier who is foraging. He is sitting bareback on a small horse, with a pig draped over the front and a couple of geese slung over his soldier. All the plates contain incredible detail and the faces are filled with expression. Those soldiers that are on campaign are often shown to be scruffy – even with a touch of five o'clock shadow on their faces – while those on parade are spit and polish.
Below each plate is a short paragraph providing a few lines on the history of the unit and about the uniform itself – whether it is compliance with the uniform regulations or if not, how it is different.
A few years ago Michael Leventhal, of Greenhill Books, asked me to poll the Napoleon Series about what we thought about a new edition of Napoleonic Uniforms and what changes we would like to see in it. The response was very positive and the number one request was that a usable index be included. Greenhill listened (which is very nice) and this edition includes a functional index in each volume, compiled by noted author Colonel John Gill. It has entries for the different nationalities, different types of troops, and personalities. It does not list specific units or regiments, but instead refers the reader to the contents at the beginning of each major part.
Napoleonic Uniforms closes with a short essay on sources and a glossary. I found the essay fascinating because it compares the styles and the accuracy of numerous different artists. He closes with a bit of advice:
This edition is quite stunning! From its gold embossed red cloth covers with stitched binding to its beribboned red slip case it is destined to be a collector's item very quickly! I have both the original edition of Napoleonic Uniforms and Greenhill's new release; the originals were not as nicely packaged. The originals are extremely scarce and if you can find a copy, it will be a very expensive purchase. The cheapest used copy on Abe.com is over $700, while one listed as 'new' is being offered for $1750. I strongly recommend that you do not delay in ordering your copy of this new edition. If you do not order it now, in a few years you will be looking at used copies going for four or five times of what they cost today.
Note that this book is published in the
Reviewed by Robert Burnham
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2007
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