Spanish Instructional Handkerchiefs



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During the last quarter if the 19th century it became a common practice among many European armies to issue handkerchiefs printed with instructions on various military topics.  These colorful textiles provided a handy and simple illustrated guide to soldiers, especially those who might be less than fully literate.  France was the leader in this practice.  The first French patent for the idea of an instructional handkerchief was granted in 1875.  A War Ministry circular date November 29, 1880 created a series of thirteen different handkerchiefs, each covering the care and use of arms and equipment, as well as training aids.  Spain was quick to follow the French example.

The French military instructional handkerchief Number 1 describing the Model 1866 Chassepot rifle.  The Spanish infantry Remington handkerchief is an unmistakable copy of this original.

At least four patterns of Spanish instructional handkerchiefs (pañuelo de instrucción) have been observed.  The first three represent the major branches of service; infantry, cavalry and artillery,  The forth instructs the soldier in the manual of arms.  Most are printed in red and black on white cotton.  The earliest references to Spanish instructional handkerchiefs date from 1882, just two years after the they were first adopted by the French.  In that year the infantry pattern is first reported in a supplement to Memorial No.6 and a patent was also filed for the cavalry pattern.  The infantry pattern was included as part of the Peninsular soldier’s equipment in the 1886 infantry uniform regulations.

In theory, every soldier was issued an instructional handkerchief.  This included those troops stationed in the overseas possession.  The 1887 uniform regulations for the Philippines orders the artillery to use the pattern that corresponds to that branch. Other branches that use the Remington rifle were told to use the “Spanish” handkerchief that describes that weapon.  Undoubtably, this refers to the infantry pattern  These regulations give the measurements as 95 cm high and 69 cm wide.  They also note that these handkerchiefs are to be used to cover the knapsack to protect it from dust and humidity.  In 1888, the Batallón Infantería “Madrid” No. 3, then stationed in Puerto Rico, advertised for bids to supply the unit with 100 instruction handkerchiefs.  A few years later, in 1890, the Batallón Cazadores “Alfonso XIII” No. 30 placed an order for a supply of 1000 of the same.  In Cuba, the 1896 Havana Cloth Board report on the uniforms and equipment issue to soldiers on that island lists an instruction handkerchief as part of the issue equipment. 


A detail from a photo of a group of artillerymen in Cuba, ca. 1896.  This solder uses an infantry pattern instructional handkerchief as a sling to cradle his injured hand. (Coll. David Washburn)

A large number of artifact examples survive.  This is especially true of the infantry pattern.  One particular artifact with excellent provenance is preserved in Spain at the Museo Histórico Militar de Valencia.  The infantry pattern handkerchief was issue to Felipe de Tortajada, a soldier stationed to Cuba in 1898.  To date, only infantry examples, like that of Felipe de Tortajada, have been found in the colonial souvenir record.  In addition, a few period photographs taken in Cuba show infantry handkerchiefs in use.


A photo of a blockhouse guarding a train station in Cuba.  Note the infantry pattern handkerchief shown clearly in the detail below.



The center of the infantry handkerchief illustrates the Model 1871 Remington rolling block rifle and its components.  The Remington name is misspelled “REMINGTHON” on all the examples examined.  The overall pattern closely copies the French “mouchoir d'instruction militaire No 1” for the Model 1866 Chassepot rifle, going so far as to plagiarize some of the illustrations, only changing the soldier’s uniforms from French to Spanish.  Measurements average approximately 80 cm wide by 70 cm high.  The marks of two printers have been noted.  The most common by far is “GUADALL y PELLERIN. BARna” with a pattern number “No. 270.”  One example has also been noted with the mark “Fca de Edo BORRAS BARna.”  

The infantry pattern instructional handkerchief.  This is the most commonly observed of all the instructional handkerchiefs issued to Spanish soldiers.  Below is a detail of the center illustration.


On July 14, 1882, a Spanish patent, P2574, was issued to José Chacón Lerdo de Tejada for a textile printing pattern for a handkerchief to instruct troops of the cavalry.  The profile of a horse and a guide to the various body parts occupy the center of the cavalry handkerchief.  This is surrounded by detailed illustrations of arms, including the Spanish-made variant of the Model 1871 rolling block carbine, saber and lance.  Also shown are the saddle and horse tack and the drill movements with these same weapons.  The example examined measures 100 cm wide by 93 cm.  It is maker marked “RICART Y COPAÑIA BARCELONA.”

The cavalry instructional handkerchief.  Below is a detail of the center image.


Three variations of the artillery handkerchiefs have been observed.  Two are titled simply “ARTILLERIA” in the center surrounded by rolling block parts and cartridges.  One is larger and has three rows of illustrations of gun drills, shells and tools.  It measures 99 cm wide by 92 cm.  The other is smaller and has only two rows of illustrations.  It measures 79 cm wide by 72 cm.  Both are printer marked “J Y C MONTERREY Y Cia  BARna.”  A third variant has been observed but was not available for examination.  It is titled “ARTILLERIA DE CAMPAÑA” with two rows of illustrations.  Also, it is only printed in black and lacks the red filler normally seen.

The larger of the artillery pattern handkerchiefs with three rows of illustrations.  Below is a detail of the center as printed on both variations.

The smaller variant of the artillery handkerchief with only two rows of illustrations.


An army circular dated January 13, 1887 established a new instructional handkerchief that showed through detailed illustrations the many positions of the manual of arms along with the corresponding words of command  In the center is printed the patriotic cheer “VIVA EL REY / DON / ALFONSO XIII.”  The circular gives the size as 50 cm square.  However, an extant example measures 48 cm by 44 cm.  Two different examples of this pattern have been observed.  One has the figures printed in black with red filler.  On the other the figures are printed in red with a light gray filler.

One of several variations of the 1887 pattern handkerchief.  (Coll. María Soriano Buforn)


Currently, only Remington rifle or carbine specific instructional handkerchiefs have been documented.  No artifact 1893 Spanish Mauser instructional handkerchief has been observed.  Other nations did produce handkerchiefs for their Mauser rifles.  German examples can be found for both the Gewehr 1871/84 and 1888 rifles.  Argentina also authorized the printing of 100,000 “training cloths” to accompany their Model 1891 Mausers on December 13, 1893.  That contract was given to Rolfs and Cie. of Cologne, Germany. The question remains, however, if Spain issued a comparable item?  

A search of numerous period sources, both Spanish and American, has so far produced only one possible reference.  American Sgt. John Warner of the Philadelphia City Troop, a Pennsylvania cavalry unit, recalled the following incident during the Puerto Rican campaign.  He wrote, “They (the Spanish) also had handkerchiefs of a unique pattern.  In the center was an outline drawing of a Mauser rifle, and around it were drawings of soldiers using it in different positions.  On the border were printed full directions as to the way the arm should be handled and used.  Unfortunately these were all burnt – by order."

It is apparent that Sgt. Warner’s description of the handkerchiefs that he claimed were for the Mauser rifle closely resemble those of the Remington infantry pattern.  Could he have simply not been familiar with the differences in the two firearms?  Did he make an understandable, but mistaken, assumption as to the weapon the handkerchiefs were intended to represent?  After the passing of over one hundred years there may be no way to answer those questions.  The current evidence leads to the conclusion that Spanish Mauser instructional handkerchiefs did not exist.  However, until an extant example is documented or a more unimpeachable period source is discovered, the question will remain open.

Modern copies of two patterns of the Spanish instructional handkerchiefs have been manufactured.  The Spanish Patent office sells a copy of the cavalry pattern.  It differs from the original in that it is printed on silk and not cotton.  In 2018 a reproduction of the infantry pattern was made in Europe.  It is marked in small letters at the corners of the central decorative border :REPRODUCTION: and "2018."  It is also about 20 % smaller in size compared to an original.

All material is Copyright 2018 by William K. Combs.  No portion may be used without permission.