Foil Fencer; USA, c. 1870

Fancy meeting you here...

Fancy meeting you here...

He wouldn’t have looked out of place in Berlin or Munich…

The belt, embroidered with the Turnerbund’s motto “Gut Heil”, identifies this young foilist as a German Turner… a member of the German gymnasts movement founded by “Turnvater” Friedrich Jahn in the retrospectively mis-named “Wars of Liberty,” a.k.a., the Napoleonic Wars.

The three-colored ribbon worn across his chest is of the kind worn by German fraternity students. Which makes it all the more surprising that this cabinet card photograph was produced by a Philadelphia-based studio—a testament to the vitality of German social institutions that existed in the United States prior to the outbreak of anti-German hysteria in 1914.

The foil has a rare, flat circular brass guard. We’ll be adding the picture of a live one from the Amberger Collection later.

(Originally, I had dated the photograph to c. 1890. Based on the studio, however, I was able to predate this picture by a good 20 years. Here is additional information on the photographer, William Paullin:


PAULLIN, William, aeronaut, born in Philadelphia, 3 April, 1812; died there, 1 December, 1871. At the age of twenty-one he began the construction of his first balloon, and in August, 1833, he made a trial-trip from Philadelphia, inflating with hydrogen gas, followed by numerous ascents, and on 26 July, 1837, made a private effort from the Philadelphia gas-works with the view of testing the practicability of using coal-gas for balloon purposes, he succeeded, and was thus the first, in this country at least, to use illuminating gas for balloon purposes. In September, 1841, he sailed for Valparaiso, Chili, and he made numerous ascensions during his stay in South America. On one occasion he rose from St. Jago and crossed the volcano, being compelled to ascend to such a height as to distress him severely. The heat was so great as to endanger the balloon, while the fumes that arose threatened the aeronaut with suffocation. Mr. Paullin made ascensions also in Cuba, Haiti, Porto Rico, and Mexico. After an absence of six years he returned to the United States, and made many ascents from the western states, and some in the east. During the Civil War he was connected with the National army, making his last ascension under General Joseph Hooker. He then resigned, and became a photographer. It is intellect was affected for some time before his death.


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