United States Sailor Headwear: Tallies

Figure 1.--This unidentified Bangor, Maine boy had his portrait takem in the E.J. Faney studio. The portrait is undated, but looks to have been taken about 1905-15. His cap talley seems to read 'USS Kearsarge'. The 'USS Kearsarge' (BB-5) was a battleship launched in 1898. We are not sure if the boy had this tally because the 'Kearsarge' was a famous ship or perhaps because his father may have served on the ship.

Tallies are essentially ribbons which decorated the caps and hats worn by enlisted sailors. We are not sure yet about the time-line for tallies in America. It appears to be a custom, like most naval customs, acuired from the British Royal Navy. We believe the U.S. Navy had begun using tallies by the time of the Civil War. They tended to be black with gold letters. We are less sure how common they were on boys' sailor caps or to what extent actual ship names were used. Many of the American tallies read" U.S. Navy". We have, however seen some American tallies with ship names. The United States did not participate in the massive European arms race during the late-19th and early 20th century. Even so, the United States did build a sizeable high-seas fleet. Some American ships as in the Royal Navy were very well known. One of the most famous ships at the turn-of-the 20th century was the cruiser "USS Olymia", Admiral Dewey's flag ship in the Battle of Manila Bay. Another eas the "USS Msaine" which blew up in Havana harbor. 2These name commonly appeared on the tallies. A good example is the Davis boys in 1901.


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Created: 4:00 AM 10/27/2008
Last updated: 3:08 AM 5/30/2009