Navy Cracker Jacks: No Toy Surprise

Another close-up view of the SpanAm jumper cuff shows the white button with an embossed anchor (eBay image).

In writing this blog, I am (happily and willingly) forced to expand my knowledge in a great many areas of military history that I otherwise would have overlooked. Each week, I am presented with the opportunity to delve into learning about uniform details and nuances that I’d previously had little or no exposure to. One aspect of this post has finds me diving into uncharted territory (for me).

Civil War Dress White Uniform

This Civil War-vintage dress white uniform was recently listed with an estimated sale price of $3,000-$8,000. Note the blue cuffs and the blue flap (white white stars), a design that would persist well into the 20th Century (source: James D. Julia Auctions).

Civil War Uniform - Back

On this posterior view, note the broadness of the blue flap and the horizontal blue piping along the seam of the jumper. The trousers have lacing at the rear of the waistband which is still in use on present-day dress blue trousers (source: James D. Julia Auctions).




























Civil War Jumper Flap - White Stars

This close-up view of the Civil War uniform shows the hand-embroidered star on the collar flap’s corner (source: James D. Julia Auctions).

The uniforms of the United States Navy, particularly the enlisted version, has maintained relative consistency in its design for more than 160 years. From the bell-bottom trousers and the collar flap to the various trim and appointments, today’s modern design has remained consistent with the original, functional aspects of those early uniforms.

Young Civil War Sailor

Leaning against a flag-draped table, this sailor’s uniform trouser-buttons are clearly visible and show the 7-button configuration (source: Library of Congress).

Civil War Sailor Tin Type

This Civil War-vintage tin type photograph shows a sailor wearing his dress blue jumper, blue neckerchief, and flat hat (source: Library of Congress).

Today’s jumper blouse design was incorporated with the collar flap which was used as a protective cover to protect it from the grease or powder normally worn by seamen to hold hair in place during the twenty years prior to the start of the Civil War.

SpanAm Front

Continuing the same design elements of the Civil War toward the turn of the century, this Spanish-American War jumper has blue cuffs and a blue flap with the three-stripe piping and the single stars on the corner of the flap (source: eBay image).

SpanAm War Jumper - Rear

The rear of the Spanish-American War jumper shows the “sculpted” horizontal seam across the back (source: eBay image).














SpanAm Cuff Stripes

A close-up of the SpanAm jumper shows the wool material and the three-stripe white piping (source: eBay image).

SpanAm Button

Another close-up view of the SpanAm jumper cuff shows the white button with an embossed anchor (eBay image).












Piping and stars were added to the flap while the flat hat (affectionately referred to in the 20th century as the “Donald Duck hat”) became a standard uniform item during this period. In the late 1880s, the white hat (or “dixie cup”) was introduced, essentially solidifying the current configuration we see today. Prior to World War II, the blue cuffs were dropped from the white uniform and the flap was switched to all white with blue stars. By 1962, the flat hat was gone.

1905-1913 Coxswain

I have the privilege of owning this 1905-1913 coxswain dress white uniform. Note the blue wool cuffs and collar flap and the three-stripe white piping affixed. The flap also has two white stars directly embroidered to each corner.

A collector colleague steered me to an online auction listing for an absolutely stunning Civil War-era white (with blue trim) U.S. Navy cracker jack uniform. Constructed from linen, these white uniforms were hard pressed to survive the rigors of shipboard use, let alone 1.5 centuries. Examples such as these are extremely rare and carry considerable price tags.

World War I Ship's Cook 2/c

Another jumper from my collection: this ship’s cook 2/c is from World War I and features a trimmed “crow” with the eagle facing to the left (rear of the sleeve).

Since I’ve been collecting, I have seen a handful of late nineteenth century Navy uniforms listed at auction. While most of them are blue wool, I have seen a smattering of dress whites.

With the arrival of the twentieth century, the Navy expanded its fleet and global reach requiring increase of manning. That expansion means that collectors today have greater opportunity (and to pay lower prices) to locate period examples. These later uniforms were constructed using better materials in order to perform better in the harsh, mechanized and considerably dirty shipboard climate. Blue uniforms were constructed from heavy wool while linen was dropped in favor of cotton-based canvas material for the whites.


With the exception of the heavy wool material (which has been supplanted by a light-weigh weave), this World War II jumper does not differ from current-issue blues.


By World War II, dress whites no longer had the blue cuffs and a white flap replaced the blue one that had existed since the Civil War.

Today’s enlisted dress uniforms while representative of the pre-Civil War origins, they are quite sanitary and less desirable for collectors. Gone is the heavy wool for the dress blues. The dress whites are polyester, also called “certified navy twill” or CNT. One saving grace is that the white Dixie cup hats are virtually unchanged since their introduction, making them nearly non-distinguishable from early examples.

See other U.S. Navy Uniform Topics:


When the Navy began to specialize the enlisted ranks in the late 1800s, special marks were incorporated to denote the skills of the enlisted sailors. This WWII aviation radioman 3/c uniform has the distinguishing mark of an aerial gunner on the right sleeve.



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