Civil War Saddle Tree Maker Plates

In 1863, the Ordnance department of the US Army was making numerous positive actions to improve the horse equipment acquisition process.  One of these efforts was concentrated on quality control of saddle trees – a product notoriously difficult to produce to specification on a mass scale.  All saddle trees were made using hand tools, so the potential for trees having variations in shape was very high. The Ordnance department put a series of controls into place, and increasing requirements for inspectors, in 1863 and early 1864.  One of the early steps taken was to establish a way to clearly identify what contractor had made a saddle tree, by use of a permanently attached brass tag. The first mention of brass plates was in late March of 1863.  In an Ordnance circular of April 1864, a recap of all the quality controls for saddle trees was distributed, with this mention of the brass tags – “No tree is to be stamped with the inspector’s name until it has had the maker’s name and residence, stamped on a brass plate, affixed to it in the manner prescribed by previous instructions from this office.”[1] While the Ordnance department circulars and memos suggest that they were expecting a certain design for these plates, there appears to have been some design variations.  Generally speaking, they are oval in shape, with beaded edges, and have the contractor/makers name and location on them.  Occasionally, additional information was sometimes included, such as the year of production.

Allegheny Arsenal:

The first examples shown here are those from the Allegheny Arsenal, a well-known source of odd variations of the standards.  As noted in the page on saddle size shields, the Arsenal had been using this information on the pommel shields since 1861.  In 1863, they used two different designs on the oval makers plates.  The first design appears to have been a temporary method that used the existing pommel shield stamp to mark a unpunched coat strap mortise plate.  The lettering, spacing and text is identical to 1863 pommel shield markings.  The letters ‘US’ appear to be hand-stamped above the other lettering.  This re-purposed mortise plate seems to have been an expedient until a new design was available, that used a thinner sheet brass blank, with raised embossed markings.  Saddles seen by the author with these stamped mortise plates usually have pommel shields with the common raised embossed pommel shields with full text seat sizes.  Allegheny did not appear to mark saddle maker info on both pommel shield and makers tag – hence the lack of pommel shields with 1864 or 1865 year markings. At some point in 1863, the dies were acquired at Allegheny Arsenal to punch out these embossed thin brass stock makers tags.   The only differences noted in these later embossed tags was the changing of the last number of the year.  Authentic Allegheny Arsenal makers plates are found with ‘1863’, ‘1864’ and ‘1865’ marks.  Any Allegheny design oval plates with ‘1861’ are modern replicas or fakes – depending on the intent of the seller.   No ‘1862’ ovals are known to exist, whether authentic or reproduction.
1864 Allegheny saddle plate
The Allegheny oval maker plates are found on the upper surface of the near-side sidebar, just below the rear saddle ring staple.

Daniel Demarest:

Daniel Demarest was the proprietor of a saddlery house in Newark, NJ., and was well known for his high-quality product.  A man of singular virtue among civil war contractors, he was well known for his many letters to ordnance officials, making suggestions for production enhancements and improvements in order to provide the best product possible for the troops.  A number of his suggestions for improvements were heeded and used in the specifications for late war cavalry equipment sets.  His plates are invariably found on the left-front sidebar, usually tucked under the skirt or quarterstrap, as with these examples shown.

C. Prudden:

image courtesy Ken McPheetersCondict Prudden was one of the most prolific saddle tree contractors of the Civil War, located in the saddlery district of Philadelphia, next door to well known saddlers, Nece & Knorr.  They had a non-standard ‘eye-shaped’ thin brass plate, smaller than most.  They were much less fastidious about where they attached the plate.  They have been found just about anywhere on the top surface of the near-side sidebar, from fully exposed either front or back, peeking out from under a quarterstrap, or (rarely) fully covered by the leather skirt.  It is also significantly smaller than the typical makers oval.

E. Waters:

M1859 saddle tag - photo courtesy Kurt HughesEphraim Waters is very well known to Civil War artillery horse equipment aficionados, as his company in Troy, NY. was immediately across the Hudson River from Watervliet Arsenal.  They made a wide range of military accouterments and artillery equipment during the war – many of the ‘new model’ 1863 Grimsley artillery driver and valise saddle trees sport an ‘E. Waters’ brass plate, always found on the back side of the cantle, on the near side.   Pattern of 1859 cavalry saddles also exist with this same tag[2].  Known examples of Waters plates seen located in the position underneath the left rear saddle ring, as well as in front of pommel on near side.

F. P. Ambler & Son:

F. P. Ambler & Son was a woodworking concern in Bridgeport, CT., that received some large contracts in the later years of the war for saddle trees.  Their plates are usually seen on the upper side of the near sidebar, in front of the pommel, just under the saddle ring.  An interesting variation on their plates was the inclusion of the numeric sizing code – 1, 2, or 3 (11″, 11½” or 12″).   (see more on Franklin Picket Ambler )

J. E. Condict:

John Eliot Condict, located at 57 White St, New York, NY., was a well known leather equipment contractor in New York, and made a wide variety of military equipment.  Best known for leather strap goods, infantry and other accouterments, he appears to have gotten a contract for horse equipment at some point, which seems a bit out his normal leatherwork operations.  A rarity among saddle tree tags.   The original building still stands in good condition in Tribeca district in NYC – see more here.  A nice example of a Condict saddle recently appeared on eBay, and looks to have been very similar to early war arsenal pattern – the tag was located on near-side rear sidebar, between saddlering and skirt edge.

Christian Ploeser:

Christian Ploeser was a German immigrant that arrived in the late 1840s. Later St. Louis city directory shows him listed as a saddletree maker, along with his son Louis, and a partner, Chris Gessner. Louis was also listed as a shipping clerk with Grimsley & Co.  Most of the addresses listed for Ploeser show the same location as Grimsley’s old business on 1540 Jackson Street. While Grimsley may have died in 1861, the business of saddlery in this locale clearly continued to thrive with the skilled craftsmen that were part of that firm.[3]

Cornelius H. Jacobus:

According to “Pearson’s Newark City Directory for 1864-5” Cornelius H. Jacobus was a saddletree maker located at 5 North Lawrence. The plate bears a very striking resemblance to Daniel Demarest’s plate, in both style and location.[4]

Josiah Cummings:

Josiah Cummings, of Springfield, Massachusetts. The plate bears a very striking resemblance to other plates, in both style and location, of other makers such as Demarest and Jacobus. [5]   ‘J. Cummings’ makers stamps have been found on a number of other cavalry equipment items as well.
1865 advertisement for Josiah Cummings [6]

S. Clare & Co.:

Located in Bethel, Ohio, this company was formed in 1863 for the production of saddletrees. The area was well established for woodworking and lumber, and the Clare factory (formerly a wagon and carriage factory) expanded and modernized an already existing saddletree concern that had been in the town for many years. The company was said capable of producing 250 trees a day, with over 50 employees being retained for the work. The saddletree company survived the war and continued until 1877, when it was sold and converted to furniture manufacturing.[7] The principal in this concern was a Joseph Clare, so some extra digging may be in order to determine why they were titled ‘S. Clare & Co.’   These plates mostly appear in same locations as other contractors, exposed between the left front saddlering and skirt edge.  The S. Clare plate is very similar to the Jacobus tag, although the raised edge appears smooth and not beaded.  [9]  
OTHERS? If you have examples other than these – please feel free to contact me, and we’ll include them here as well!


[1]  Circular No. 12-Series of 1864, Ordnance Office, War Department, Washington, April 6, 1864.[2]  Photo courtesy of Kurt Hughes – thanks! [3]  Image courtesy Morphy Auctions, Denver Pa [4]  Photo courtesy of Al Para – thanks! [5]  Photo courtesy of AkinsAmericana (link)  – thank you! [6] ‘The New England Business Directory’, Sampson & Murdock Company, 1865, pg 280. [7]  History of Clermont County, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, McDowell Publications, Clermont County, Ohio, 1880, pg 323. [8]  Image courtesy Stewart’s Military Antiques, Mesa AZ

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