Category Archives: Militaria

See Worthy: Good Form Navy Chairs, ca. 1939

Dorset Finds is reticent to throw around the phrase “design classic.” Sure, some pieces are built to last and serve a purpose, and others are aesthetically appealing, but it’s the combination of these factors that propels an item toward greatness and, therefore, icon status.

In 1930, the General Fireproofing Co. launched its foray into aluminum chair production and rolled out the Good Form seating line in 1932. They had just built a new factory with state-of-the-art machinery and conveyor systems designed specifically for this new direction. Prior to the move, the company had focused exclusively on steel furniture, so the $1 million investment in diversifying into aluminum before a single product had left the factory was a substantial one.

Initially, timing proved to be their enemy. Aluminum chairs were more expensive than wooden ones, and with the advancement of the Depression, the cost-conscious were dubious of the new line’s merits. Being the first company to nationally market an aluminum chair, General Fireproofing had their work cut out for them. The Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), which held patents and designs for several institutional chairs, sold all rights to GF in 1934, giving them an even greater slice of the market.

Upon the request of the U.S. Navy in 1936, a new range of aluminum chairs was created to be stationed aboard all naval vessels. Durability was of great importance: should a destroyer be hit by a torpedo, the chairs were required to withstand the blast! Also, it was imperative that the materials not gradually degenerate through exposure to moisture — as was the case with steel or wood — and the chair’s structural integrity must remain preserved. In all, there are only 12 welds on a Navy chair, and these are filed down to give the appearance of seamless joins.

This is an exciting pair, as they come from a very early production run. There is minimal age to the surface of the aluminum, and what patina is evident only serves to share some of the chairs’ history.

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Pedal to the Mettle: WWII B.S.A. Airborne Paratroopers Bicycle, ca. 1940s

Friends and associates alike have often heard Dorset Finds prattle on about the WWII-era BSA Paratrooper bike, a rare and somewhat mythical piece of militaria that folded, attached to a parachute-equipped commando and jettisoned from carrier planes over occupied European territory. The search for a clean, original example over the past few years has met with several dead ends, but finally, it’s proven fruitful.

Possessing equal parts design ingenuity,  a great story (a lost tale of badass-ery to rival any since) and machismo — servicemen used parabikes to chariot their female acquaintances du jour — this collectible is worthy of significant praise.

B.S.A. (Birmingham Small Arms and Metal Co.) was founded in 1861 as a munitions manufacturer and supplier. Most of the company’s revenue was derived from government contracts, for supplying rifles throughout the Boer War, WWI and WWII. Though orders from the governments of Turkey, Russia, the Netherlands and Portugal followed, B.S.A. diversified into bicycles in 188o — and later, motorcycles — in order to remain competitive.

British and Allied forces adopted the Airborne Paratrooper bike during WWII. Photographic evidence demonstrates their use in large-scale landings, including the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944 and the Battle of Arnhem later that year. It was highly advantageous for soldiers to land already carrying their transportation, as they conserved energy by not having to walk the great distances from town to town. Rifles could be stored in the bike frame, with the rider’s supplies stowed on his back. Each bike was fitted with a tool bag and tire pump for repairs on the go.

This example features its original B.S.A. leather saddle, unrestored military green paint, pedal bars, lamp bracket, grips and “war grade” Michelin tires. The frame hinges at two points in the middle where the bike can be collapsed. Large wing nuts make for easy locking and unlocking of the frame. Original decals, including the B.S.A. logo of three crossed rifles, are clear and sharp.

Special thanks to The B.S.A. & Military Bicycle Museum and the Old Bike blog.

The Bog of War: WWII Military Jeep Pump, ca. 1940s

With U.S. military jeeps playing a significant role in transporting troops across all manner of unforgiving landscapes during the second World War, it’s no surprise that each jeep was fitted out like a mobile Swiss Army Knife. Reliability wasn’t just a preference, it was a necessity, which is why each jeep had its own pump concealed behind a seat.

This example was manufactured in 1942 by Circle N and retains its original brass air chuck nozzle. The army green paint on both the wood handle and steel shaft is bright and the pump works just fine.

I may not have a jeep tire to pump up but this will do just as nicely on the superbly distressed Hawthorne I recently picked up.

Be My Light, Be My Guide: Explosion-Proof Nautical Light, ca. 1950s

The power generated from the firing of 16 inch guns is nothing short of staggering. To put down an opposing ship the size of the Chrysler building, it needs to be, right? Ships, and more so their lighting systems, need to be strong as steel – if you’ll excuse the lame pun.

This ship light has been converted to use a household plug, is encased in thick glass, accented with brass screws and protected by a heavy-duty aluminum cage. Weighing in at over 30 lbs. and a towering 17 inches, this light means business, bitch. So don’t mess with it.

Flight For Your Right!: Flight Suit, ca 1930s

The hunt for unusual items can take you in strange directions. Keeping an open mind is imperative, as it allows you to see something old with a new appreciation. Who’s to say that because you’re used to buying a certain type of collectible that you can’t branch off now and then in a completely different direction?

Case in point: a leather flight suit, apparently owned by a “barnstormer” in the 1930s, issued by the Bureau of Aeronautics, U.S. Navy. It has some condition
issues, with some tears in the suit and loss of fur on the collar, but overall it’s a
nice piece of militaria. This really resonated with me, partly because of the wear to the thick brown leather, but also because of the incredible history behind the piece.

Above, is a Moultrie, Ga. air show flier detailing an appearance by “Bat Wing” (Charlie Zmuda) who was the original owner of the flight suit.