Monday, 21 October 2013

Even more uniform reference books - for free!

Reference material is like buses, you can't get any for ages and then a load comes at once! (Sorry, I couldn't resist regurgitating that old chestnut!)

I happened to be doing some late night surfing, just tootling around not looking for anything in particular, when I came across the 'Italian Society of Military History' web site. It's in Italian - naturally - so it was quite a feat of luck that I came across their download section (thank goodness for Google Chrome's translate feature)!

The site has a pretty large PDF archive, the contents of which is offers FOR FREE. I didn't expect much so imagine my surprise when I came across Koppen's 1890 'Armies of Europe' and the NYPL - Vinkhuijzen Collection's 'Uniformi Svizzere 1875-1909'!

Now, as far as I understand both of these antique publications are now in the public domain having been out of publication for well over 100 years, so I was happy to make use of this resource and downloaded...

Koppen's 1890 'Armies of Europe'
Actually, although - of course - the quaintly illustrated colour plates are very welcome this book has wealth of period text describing the disposition and organisation of the armies that it covers. These include; Britain, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy, France, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Spain and Portugal, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium and Turkey and The States of the Balkan Peninsula!

To be honest, the colour plates are not the best illustrations I have seen - I'm almost tempted to say that they are intended for a younger audience - and to make matters worse whoever scanned this publication did so rather amateurishly and the plates are rather dark (hiding some of the more subtle colours). The example plates I have included here have been Photoshoped by myself to enhance brightness, contrast and vibrance and are now a little more useful.

One of the colour plates for the German army. All together - Boo! Hiss!

However, I was very pleased that the publication included a few armies that are not usually covered and in particular appreciated the fact that the Scandinavian nations were represented.

Norway! Huzzah!

As mentioned, the monochrome printed pages are just as useful, I think, and these include some charming line drawing as well. The PDF includes some 172 pages but a rather nice 'added bonus' were the amusing Victorian advertisements included at the back of the book!

All in all, this is a wonderful volume and definitely fills in some of the reference holes that modern material leaves in the history of European uniforms of the period.

Koppen's 1890 Armies of Europe - PDF direct download link

'Uniformi Svizzere 1875-1909'
Ah, Switzerland! Cookoo clocks and chocolate...And home of one of the damn finest armies in Europe!

No, these sturdy chaps didn't see any action in the 19th/20th centuries, but that didn't stop them becoming one of the more modern, professional and well equipped armed forces on the continent. For sure, if anyone had infringed their neutrality then they would have payed a very high price for doing so.

But anyway, Switzerland - or Army Red and White to put it in Funny Little Wars terms - is a wonderful subject for a book on uniforms as they really do turn out a smart body of men.

The book - some 45 pages long - is actually more of a pictorial study or collection of period lithographs. There is no accompanying text other than some very short captions within the illustrations themselves. But what illustrations!

The rifle is the 1889 Schmidt-Rubin in 7.5×53.5mm.
Unusually for the time it had a 12 round capacity.

The artwork in this collection is absolutely wonderful, realistic, full of character and a delight in detail. It includes individual figure from most organisational arms, each captured in what looks like manoeuvres in the field. It's all very atmospheric and dynamic and - unlike 'Armies of Europe' has been scanned with some degree of expertise.

As well as a glorious reference tome these colour plates would look very handsome indeed in picture frames, they are that attractive. But the real joy of well drawn illustrations like these is the level of detail when it comes to the uniforms, there is little room for doubt as every uniform is captured accurately.

The Swiss army may be something of a niche subject - although I can think of at least one of my readers who will be very pleased with this book - but one cannot help but being very impressed with these superb illustrations.

'Uniformi Svizzere 1875-1909' - PDF Direct download link

My thanks goes out to the Italian Society of Military History for making these publications available freely to it's visitors. You can see it's full download archive here: SocietĂ  Italiana di Storia Militare - ARCHIVIO LIBRI IN REGALO


  1. Great finds there - thanks for posting the links!

    1. No problem Tim.

      Laughingly I have so far spent as much time reading the advertisements in the back of 'Armies of Europe' as I have looking at the plates! ;)

  2. Thank you for the links. I love the eclectic nature of the collection.

  3. What a find! I'm off to have a look now!!!!