American Military Patches, Other Insignia and Decorations of World War Two by Dr. Howard G. Lanham c.2011

Dating Metallic Insignia: Collar Disks

Type I disks 1910-1937

An Early 20th Century 38th N.Y. Cavalry Soldier wearing "Cut Out" Collar Insignia on a Dress Uniform
38th NY
A World War One First Army Soldier wearing a Medical Corps Collar Disk
Medical

Ohio National Guard About 1916
Ohio
The following is a brief introduction to U.S. Army enlisted men's collar disks. The illustrations are examples and I am not showing all of the varieties that exist of each type. The type classification is one by formulated collectors and not by the U.S. Army. Categorizing early disks into a Type I and a Type II was originally the idea of Charles A. Edwards and the classification was extended and codified by James McDuff. Although, I do not find this classification system totally satisfactory, it is understood by collectors and therefore I will use it. When I call a disk a one-piece or two-piece only the front of the disk is considered and not the various attaching parts on the back of the insignia. For those who find that odd, I am only following established terminology that insignia collectors use. The problem with counting attaching parts is that some are permanently fixed to the back of the insignia. So, are the parts that are not removable counted or not? The classification system is focused on the front of the insignia and does not fully consider the all features of manufacture style and of dating issues. The various dates of use I list are my approximations and subject to error. Items were often continued in use as long as serviceable even if a newer style had been introduced. Collar disks similar in style to those of the U.S. Army were also used by the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Forest Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps and others.

Type I Disk: The Threaded Post and Thumb Screw Nut
Type I
Pair of Disks for the 20th Engineer Regiment
From a World War One Uniform
20th Engineers

On October 8, 1907 the War Department issued Circular No. 68 that described new insignia to be worn on the standing collars of enlisted men's service uniforms. These were to have been two pairs of one inch bronze disks. On each side of the collar there was a pair, one bearing the letters U.S. and the other the branch of service. The insignia were attached by a threaded post and thumb screw nut. Older enlisted insignia that were in use were cut out emblems of the service branch similar to officer's collar insignia. The edges of the cut out insignia snagged on brush and the insignia came loose. The pins frequently broke on these and it was hoped that these new disks would be nearly indestructible. A second circular No. 78 of November 17, 1909 delayed the implementation to July 1, 1910. Not long afterward the decision was made that each soldier would wear a total of two disks rather than four with the right one being the U.S. and the left one being the branch. Certain of the disks included the regiment number and company letter on the face. The earliest of these disks are referred to as Type I disks. This type was in use from 1910-1924 and was the type used during the First World War. They have a background pattern that was plain or may be dots, cross-hatches, diamonds, etc. but these were manufacture variations and have no major significance.

Examples of Bronze Right Sided Collar Disks Type I

U.S. Block Letters
1910-1924
US
Monogram U.S. National Army
1917-1917
USNA mono
Monogram U.S. National Guard
1917-1917
USNG
Block U.S. Reserve Corps
1917-1918
USR
Block U.S. National Army
1917-1918
Block USNA
Block U.S. National Army
345th Unit Number
1917-1918
Block USNA
Block U.S. National Guard
1917-1918
Block USNG

The plain block US was the original and basic right sided collar insignia. It was used by the Regular Army during the entire period. In August 1917 monogram disks with the letters USNG (United States National Guard) and USNA (United States National Army) were approved. The USNG were federalized National Guard units and the USNA were units comprised of drafted soldiers. In December 1917 it was decided to replace the monogram style with ones showing small block letters NA or NG on a rectangular frame set on the US. These were more similar to officer's insignia, easier to read, and allowed a number to be placed on the disk. For example we have number 345 on our one example. This might have been the 345th Infantry Regiment if worn with an infantry disk on the opposite collar or it might have been the 345th Field Artillery Regiment if paired with an artillery disk. The infantry disk might have the company letter below the branch device. In that way an observer looking at the pair would know from the right the regiment number and the left the company letter. Disks also exist for the Army Reserve Corps featuring the letter R, either as a series USR in block or script with a larger central letter or as an R superimposed on the US as in the example shown. Another distinction was the letter V for volunteers, which can be found in similar styles. In time the distinction between the Regular Army, the federalized National Guard and the National Army proved to be divisive and was dropped.

Examples of Bronze Left Sided Collar Disks Type I

Air Service
1918-1924
Air Service
325th Artillery Regiment Battery E
1917-1918
infantry
Cavalry
1910-1924
MGA
Coast Artillery 124th Company
1910-1917
Coast Artillery 124th Co.
Corps of Engineers Company C
1918-1924
EngC
Division Supply Train
1917-1921
MGA
Infantry
1910-1924
infantry
Infantry Company K
1917-1924
MGA
Infantry Machine Gun Battalion Company A
1917-1921
infMG
Infantry Supply Company
1915-1924
InfS
Motor Transport Corps
1918-1921
Motor Transport Corps
Signal Corps
1910-1924
signal

The 12 disks shown above are but a small sample of the various branches and variations that existed. In 1917 the problem of supplying certain branches with left-sided disks having both regimental and company designations was solved by placing the regimental number on the right-sided U.S. disk and having the company letter on the left-sided branch disk. That way the same disk could be issued to all the Company A soldier in each regiment and the same numbered U.S. might be used by soldiers in different branches whose units had the same number. Many branches did not try to display unit designations on disks at all; for example, ordnance, medical or quartermaster. Surviving uniforms and photographs suggests that the soldiers in practice were often wearing obsolete insignia and the obvious results of all these changes was a lot of chaos.

Examples of Gilt Collar Disks Type I

The original concept of the bronze collar disks was that they would be worn on the service uniform as distinct from the blue dress uniform. In 1917 with the nation at war the dress uniform and its insignia was suspended. It was to be an olive drab and khaki war. Once the war ended the dress blue uniform was not restored for general use but for many the service uniform was too drab. The solution was to use gilt collar disks rather than bronze ones. Previously, gilt disks had been approved in situations were troops were wearing white dress uniforms and certain other situations. Army Regulations AR 600-35 of October 14, 1921 stated that collar disks might be bronze on service uniforms and gilt on white uniforms. On November 25, 1924 the bronze disks were dropped for peace time use on all uniforms. Those still in service were to have been polished to a bright finish.

U.S. 5th Unit (Regiment or Battalion)
1924-1937
U.S. 5
Artillery Company F
1924-1937
Art Co. F
Infantry Company F
1924-1937
Infantry Company F
Ordnance
1924-1937
Ordnance
Coast Artillery
1924-1937
disk coast art

Type II disks 1926-1937

The distinction between Type I and Type II disks is minor and is one made by collectors rather than the military. Type I and Type II disks continued in use until the advent of the Type III disk and likely were issued until stocks of them were exhausted after 1937, which was the usual practice by the Army. Type II disks were also one piece screw post disks but have a more intricate background pattern than the Type I disk. The pattern consists of a series of diagonal cross hatched lines with a pattern of shields or acorns in the squares formed by the lines. This background pattern was established as the sole official one by Army Regulations AR 600-35 of December 31, 1926 but existed as a manufacturers variation prior to that time. Prior to 1926 at least six different different background types were in use and Type II background appear on disks dated to 1919 according to Albert Scipio. The regulations issued on December 31, 1926 also abolished the standing collar and introduced a label, rolled collar coat. The collar disks were then worn on the upper collar of the coat's lapels. There are also a few disks with a Type II background produced that were two piece with a branch device that could be removed for cleaning similar to the Type III disks that would follow.

Example of Bronze Collar Disks Type II

Block U.S. Army
10th Massachusetts
c1920-1924
USMass10
Block U.S. Army
197th New Hampshire
1922-1924
USNH197

The above disk is a right sided one for the 197th Artillery Regiment (Coast Artillery Corps) of the New Hampshire National Guard.

Example of Gilt Collar Disks Type II

U.S.
1926-1937
Infantry Company F
U.S. with a slight dome
1926-1937
U.S. with a slight dome
Block U.S. Army
197th New Hampshire in Gilt 1921-1937
197th
Artillery Service Company
1926-1937
art S
Infantry Howitzer Company
1926-1937
Howitzer
Quartermaster Corps
1926-1937
QM

Type II disks for the 101st Engineer Battalion Company B on original cards for the Amcraft Company
101st Engineers


Sergeant wearing a Medical Corps Disk
World War Two Era
medcorpsserg

Type III disks 1937-1943

In 1937 the Army adopted a new type of disk that differed from the Type I and II in that the disk was two piece. It had a plain blight brass finish with a small square hole in the center. The device of the service branch or the letters U.S. were a separate piece that had the screw post in its back and fit into the hole in the disk. A separate piece screwed on the back held the disk and branch device together and the entire assembly was attached to the uniform with a screw nut. Type III disks were mass produced in the early years of World War Two and are common on period uniforms. Their production was discontinued during the war because they used a fair amount of brass, which was a strategic material. William K. Emerson called type of Type III disk adopted in 1937 a Type IIIa to distinguish it from the more recent two piece disk that I call a "Neo-Type III" and he calls a Type IIIc.

Disassembled Type III Disk
parts

Examples of Collar Disks Type III

U.S. Block Letters
1937-1945
US
U.S. 110th Regiment
1937-1945
U.S. 110
U.S. 181st Massachusetts
1937-1941
mass
U.S. Block Letters Connecticut
1937-1945
US CT
Cavalry Machine Gun Company
1937-1941
Cavalry Machine Gun Company
Coast Artillery Company B
1937-1945
Coast Artillery
Division Headquarters
1937-1941
Headquarters
Infantry Company H
1937-1945
Infantry Co. H
Infantry Headquarters Company
1937-1945
Infantry Headquarter
Ordnance
1937-1945
Ordnance

Unclassified Disk Type Pre-WWII to WWII

This style disk appears not to have been assigned a typological classification. It has narrow but deep border and is a slightly domed two-piece disk attached by a screw post. The pair were removed from a pre-WWII mothed out uniform.

Unclassified U.S. Disk
Courtesy: soldiersmuseum.com
U.S.
Unclassified Air Corps Disk
Courtesy: soldiersmuseum.com
Air Corps

Unclassified Disk Type WWII era

This style disk appears not to have been assigned a typological classification. It is a thick, one piece disk attached by a screw post and marked with the letters PC intertwined.

Unclassified Air Corps Disk
Air Corps back of Air Corps
Unclassified U.S. Disk
U.S. U.S. Back

Unclassified Disk Type (Type III variation) World War Two

This style disk also appears not to have been assigned a typological classification. It is a thin, two piece disk attached by a screw post. There is an outer edge that is "cookie cutter" like.

Unclassified U.S. Disk
U.S. back U.S>

Unclassified Disk Type (Type III variation) World War Two

This was removed from a relative's uniform who was discharged in 1945. It is very similar to the previous one but features an outer edge which is rolled. These unclassified disks almost appear to be "missing links" between the more common Type III and Type IV manufacture styles. It is possible also they are of foreign manufacture.

Unclassified U.S. Disk
U.S.

Type IV Disks 1942-late 1940s

Albert Scipio defines the Type IV disk as an uncommon type thick one piece disk attached by clutches rather than screw posts. William K. Emerson mentions that ROTC torch disks and certain postwar German manufactured disks are of this type. I do not seem to have any examples.

Type V Disks 1942-1970

World War Two Type V Collar Disks

Type III disks used too much brass and because of the need to conserve strategic material the manufacture of two piece post and screw disks was discontinued and a new type of disk, the Type V, was introduced. These were one piece of thin stamped brass that were attached using Ballou clutches and two pointed posts mounted on the back of the disk. The clutch was invented by Frederick Ballou and Melvin Moore. The B. A. Ballou Company of East Providence, Rhode Island began producing clutches in 1942 and received its first patent on them in 1943. Other clutch types had been used on some private purchased insignia since the 1920s, however, this was the first time clutches were used in mass quantities. Ballou clutches used during the Second World War are marked "Patent Pending" or "PAT NOS' 2308412 -- 2308424." A second, less common clutch type found on some insignia are Tinnerman clutches. These were invented by Albert H. Tinnerman (1879-1961), whose company made all kinds of spring steel fasteners for industrial applications. Since the U.S. or branch design was stamped on the front of the insignia you do not see the variety of that existed with type III disks. The various additional unit designation letters and numbers do not appear on type V disks.

Posterior WWII Type V Disk with Ballou Clutches
U.S.
Tinnerman Clutches
Tinnerman Clutches

This was removed from a relative's uniform who was discharged in 1945. The clutch posts are supported by a steel or zinc insert in the back of the insignia.

Posterior WWII Type V Disk with Ballou Clutches
U.S.

This is a second type of Type V disk that is World War Two era, having a circular metal insert that occupies the entire back of the insignia.

Post-World War Two Type V Collar Disks

Once World War Two was over there was no longer a critical need to conserve brass. There was also a large stock of unissued collar insignia. Critical to our understanding of the evolution of manufacture styles are those new branch designs that did not exist during the Second World War and thus needed to be newly manufactured. William K. Emerson mentions that beginning in 1951 many collar disks are manufactured with a slight convexity.

Postwar Type V Armored Cavalry Disk
1951-1970
armored cav back armored cav
Postwar Ballou Clutch with Cleats
Ballou

In 1948 the Ballou Company patented an improved clutch with eight small cleats to better hold the material. Clutches have their limitations as dating tools. Collectors or others often remove clutches and then replace them with others not appropriate to the date of the insignia. The earliest deviation from the World War Two manufacture style appears to be the use of brass rather than steel in the insert supporting the clutch posts. It is possible that some of these date toward the end of the war as brass was removed from the strategic material list but I have not yet discovered one on an unimpeachable World War Two veteran's uniform. As an example of this construction I show an armored cavalry disk. In 1951 armored and cavalry units were combined into one branch and a new disk introduced with an M26 tank superimposed over crossed sabers. Our example of one of these disks is very similar to the World War Two Corps of Engineers disk removed from the uniform and illustrated above but uses brass rather than steel or zinc.

Examples of Collar Disks Type V

U.S. Block Letters
1942-1970
US
Chemical Warfare
1942-1970
chemical
Detached Enlisted Men
1942-1970
mass
Tank Destroyer
1943-1947
tank destroyer
Women's Army Corps
1943-1970
WAC

Post-World War Two "Neo-Type III" Collar Disks

During the postwar period a new type of two piece disk was introduced that was very similar to the pre-World War Two Type III disk. Collectors also call this a type III disk but I will call it a "Neo-Type III" since I believe classifications should be progressive and these disks are distinct from the prewar Type III. The prewar Type III disks are post and screw with a retaining nut while the postwar "Neo-Type III" disks are clutch back. The screw in the "Neo-Type III" disks holds the U.S. or branch device to a brass plate in the back that supports the clutch posts. The design allows the insignia to be disassembled for cleaning and once again allows the use of optional unit designators. As an example I am illustrating an Air Defense Artillery collar disk. In 1957 the design of artillery branch insignia was changed to incorporate a missile. In 1968 this insignia was reserved for Air Defense Artillery only and field artillery units once again wore crossed cannons. James McDuff's original classification used the terms Type III-A for screwback and Type III-B for clutch back and assumed that III-A disks evolved into III-B ones. I believe rather that the Type V were sandwiched in between and that there was a short break of several years during which no Type III-A disks were manufactured. The "Neo-Type III" were in use as a private purchase insignia but in 1970 were adopted as the official issued pattern and Type V disks were discontinued. There are a large number of different shapes to the post support plate. I will not try to illustrate all of them. The clutch post support of the disk illustrated is marked N. S. Meyer, Inc M-22 (in shield) and is believed to date approximately 1965-1975 period. The "M-22" is a alpha-numeric manufacturer's hallmark code for the N. S. Meyer's Company. These first appeared on insignia during the 1960s.

Postwar "Neo-Type III" Air Defense Artillery Disk
Air Defense Artillery Air Defense Artillery Back

Post-World War Two Domed Collar Disks

One distinctive variety of post-World War Two collar disk is the domed type. These are two piece disks which were manufactured with a domed surface rather than a flat one and were available as an optional private purchase insignia.

Domed Finance Disk
US
Finance Disk Side View
U.S. 110
Finance Disk Back
Finance Disk Back
Domed Ordnance Disk
Ordnance Disk
Ordnance Disk Back
Ordnance Disk Back

Post-World War Infantry Blue Framed Disks

In 1952 members of the infantry branch were given the additional distinction of an additional blue plastic frame accenting the collar disk.

U.S. with Infantry Frame
1952-Current
US
Frame detail
frame
Domed Infantry Disk with Blue Frame
frame


I would like to thank Don Wagner for his assistance with this page.

References:


Back to Enlisted Branch Insignia of World War Two
Back Dating Various Categories of Insignia to period of use.
Dating Clutch Fasteners on Insignia
Back to Insignia of World War Two