Exhibitor : Phil Stringer
In 1975 I found my first matchbox grip that could be placed into this category of collectable. At this time the term Trench Art was not used, sometimes described as prisoner of war work but generally just considered as low quality home-made items. The quality can vary dramatically partly due to the skills of the individual creators but largely due to the availability of tools and workshop space.
In the trench or professional workshop; – A certain TV presenter for the BBC’s antique programs has romanced up the story of trench art describing how a bored soldier in the trenches would tinker away with a rusty nail to fashion an elaborately chased and raised pattern on a shell case, infeasible. The fact is there are two types of wares typically described as trench art :
- those made by soldiers (not necessarily in an actual trench) and
- those made as part of a cottage industry utilising left over materials from the war and potentially made in well equipped metal workshops
As a general rule items inscribed with generic legends in the nature of “Souvenir 1914 –18 War” are likely to have been made for the tourist market, those which show a soldier’s name and perhaps his rank and regiment as well as those which highlight a particular battle or location are more likely to have been made by the man in the trench. The matchbox grip was a common subject being a very useful but relatively straight forward and uncomplicated item to construct.
I believe these five examples are pieces most likely to have been made by soldiers or individuals.
 this piece in copper has the names and dates of various campaigns and the soldier’s name. It has been inscribed by using a tool in a rocking fashion which is commonly seen. To engrave even straight and curved lines in the conventional fashion requires a skill that takes a lot of practice.
 The handshake on the reverse of this piece in brass and the date 1914 – 1919 (Versailles Peace Treaty) suggest this may be post war but it does bear a personal name and number.
 Relatively crudely engraved in German the reverse reading “souvenir of imprisonment” with the dates and the name which appears to be K Winter.
 This piece in brass is engraved with a more competent though not highly refined hand, the ship on the reverse may suggest a navy man.
 this piece in aluminium is dated 1916 the dedication suggesting that it was made as a gift. The “On War Service” engraving on the reverse depicts the badge issued by the Ministry of Munitions for civilians engaged in urgent war work.
Examples 6-10 below have no specific dedication usually inscribed “souvenir” and “France” and being finished in a more decorative manner. Click on an image below to enlarge it.
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