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The founder of “Uniformkunde”, or the study of military uniforms, the artist and historian Prof. Richard Knötel, was a world-famous authority in the field of military costume, but despite his own extensive knowledge and personal collections, he repeatedly encountered difficulties in obtaining reliable material for his work as a military painter. This is how the plan, supported by many equally interested friends from all over the world, came about to compile a comprehensive collection of material on the history of the development of military uniforms. As a part of this work, a lot of original source material was saved that would have otherwise been irretrievably lost. The concept of “uniform study”, or “uniformology” as it is now known, was thus created as an entirely new area of study, just as important as many other areas of historical research.

The result was Knötel's “Uniformenkunde”, a series of plates and accompanying text that is the only comprehensive study of military uniforms, not only in Germany, but in the entire world.  Although there are many excellent special studies of individual armies and periods, there is no other work that illustrates and compares the history of the uniforms of all armies as thoroughly.

The “Uniformenkunde” plates were published in volumes of 60 plates each (volumes I and II had 50 plates) approximately annually starting in 1890.  In all, there are 18 volumes totaling 1060 plates. Volume 18 was unfinished when Prof. Knötel died in 1914 and was completed by his son, Herbert in 1921. Consequently, plates nos. 1 thru 10 and no. 12 of volume 18 are by Prof. Knötel who signs as R. Knötel, and plates no. 11 and nos. 13 thru 60 are by his son who signs his work as Knötel d. J. (Knötel der Jungere).

Volume XVIII was started in 1914 but because of the war and Prof. Knötel’s death, was not completed until 1921. After the war good quality paper stock was hard to find, so beginning with No. 31 the plates are printed on poorer quality paper and show significantly greater age related discoloring. Also, probably because of these difficulties and because many fewer copies were printed, the volume XVIII plates are very difficult to find. 

In spite of all the diversity and apparent randomness of the uniforms depicted, there is a definite organizational plan to the work. For the initial plates, famous epochs, such as the Napoleonic campaigns and the uniforms of the various German states prior to the unification of 1870, are represented. For the later plates, emphasis was placed on illustrating troops that were only temporarily part of the standing armies, such as the Prussian volunteer formations (freiwillige) of 1813, on uniforms of countries other than the main European armies, and, in particular, on previously unpublished uniforms.

The drawing and coloring of each plate was done with absolute accuracy, although since each plate was hand colored, you can find occasional discrepancies in the coloring. All relevant material on original uniforms, pieces of equipment and authentic images was used to make each individual panel as historically correct as possible.

The full series of plates was originally published by Max Babenzein in Rathenow and has been reprinted numerous times since. The first reprinting was by the publisher Diepenbroick-Grüter, later Diepenbroick-Grüter & Schultz, in Hamburg from 1932 to 1939. These are faithful reproductions of the originals but lack something in the printing quality and coloring. For instance, in plate (Band I) Nr 2 of the Hussar Regiment von Belling, the printing and the black ink drawing are heavier, obscuring some of the fine detail, and the coloring is off – the foreground is a blueish green instead of a yellowish green, the background hills are blue instead of tan, the horse is an almost pinkish grey instead of tan, the green trim is darker, almost turquoise, and the skin tone is sallow. The plates were also republished by Jürgen Olmes in Krefeld starting in 1972 as part of the “Heere der Vergangenheit” (Armies of the Past) series of reprints. These prints are enlarged in scale, printed photomechanically on glossy paper, and have the added feature of English and French translations of the original German text on the back.  My feeling is that the quality of these prints suffers considerably from the printing process, the paper, and from the change in scale. For instance, in plate Band VI, Nr 57 of Napoleon’s Marines of the Guard, the uniforms appear almost turquoise with orange trim while in the original Babenzien printing they are correctly dark blue with gold trim. On the other hand, they have English and French translations of the original German text on the back of the plates. The plates were again republished by Friese & Lacina in Hamburg from about 1986 to 1995. These are very high quality reprints and also have the English and French translations printed on the back. There are more reprintings available, but I don’t list them because I have no experience with them and do not offer any of them for sale at this time.

Each printing of the plates can be identified by the notation of the publisher in the bottom right corner of the front of the plate.  The originals are noted as “Verlag von Max Babenzein in Rathenow”.  The Diepenbroick edition is noted as either “Verlag von Hans Dietrich v. Diepenbroick-Grüter, Hamburg” or “v. Diepenbroick-Grüter & Schultz, Hamburg”. The Friese & Lacina edition has the additional notation “Nachdruck: Editionen Freise & Lacina” added to the bottom center of the front of the plate while keeping the Max Babenzein notation in the bottom right.  And finally, the Jürgen Olmes edition is notated “Neuherausgabe durch Jürgen Olmes, 415 Krefeld”. 

Each volume (band) of the plates was published with a table of contents (inhaltsverzeichniss) listing the plates within that volume, but since the plates were created in roughly a random sequence, finding a particular uniform within the entire work is difficult. Consequently, sometime after the initial publication was complete, a complete directory of all 1060 plates (gesamtverzeichnis) in country (and state) and chronological sequence was created with each plate getting a sequential numeric identifier. All the copies of this directory that I see for sale were published by Jurgen Olmes in 1972, probably as part of the overall “Heere der Vergangenheit” publication, but I have a copy that says it is a facsimile edition of the directory published by Hans Dietrich v. Diepenbroick-Gruter in 1932 which is, I suspect, the original printing. In the description of each of my plates, I reference not only the volume and plate number, but also the directory (Uniformenkunde Gesamtverzeichnis) number as means for identifying the plate. 

As a side note, you may see that the numbering of the directory goes up to number 1072, not 1060.  This is because a few plates are listed under multiple states and consequently received two different numbers (and in one case, three). 

Starting with volume III, Knotel also published the “Mittheilungen zur Geschichte der militarischen Tracht” (Notes on the history of military costumes) as a supplement. It was like a monthly “newsletter” explaining in detail various aspects of the uniforms illustrated in the plates. It seems like it was the forerunner of the comprehensive “Handbuch der Uniformkunde” first published in 1896. Original copies of the Mittheilungen are hard to find and the complete set was reprinted by W. Spemann, Stuttgart in 1980.

Each complete volume was published in a fold-over wrapper and contained a table of contents to the plates (Inhalts-Verzeichness), the plates (lose Blatter), a newsletter table of contents, and the 12 monthly issues of the newsletter (Mittheilungen). There are also editions where all the material was bound into hard cover book form. Dealers will often remove the plates from the book to sell individually and so you will often find plates with the remains of the glue strip on the back where it was glued into the book. 

The plates are supplemented by the classic text “Handbuch der Uniformkunde” which describes the development of military uniforms throughout the world, but primarily the armies of Europe, from the late 17th century through its publication in 1896. The work was thoroughly revised and updated in 1937 by Herbert Knötel along with another military historian, Herbert Sieg, who added descriptions of the armies up through the eve of the Second World War and extended the coverage to the armies of the United States, South America, and Asia.  An English translation of the work, “Uniforms of the World”, was first published in 1980.