Pay Corps Officer's Uniform, 1918

--Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer
---John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

Pay Corps Service Dress Blue Coat
On 11 July 1919, the Pay Corps was renamed the Supply Corps. Founded in 1795, the Supply Corps is a special branch of the Navy that is in charge of logistics, acquisition, and financial management of the Navy’s assets both afloat and ashore.  This week’s artifact is a United States Navy Pay Corps officer's cap and service dress blue coat dated just before the corps was renamed after the First World War.

The uniform was worn by Ensign James C. Flynn, a native of Providence, Rhode Island. Flynn served during the First World War and was stationed in Newport for a time. On 5 February 1918 Flynn enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force. He was quickly promoted to chief petty officer and was ordered to the newly-organized Officer Material School at Princeton University to take an Assistant Paymaster Study Course. In December he was appointed an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. His service did not last long and on 7 February 1919, Flynn was honorably discharged from active service. 

Ensign J. Flynn, Providence, c.1918.
The service dress blue uniform coat differs drastically from the sack coat which preceded it and the double-breasted roll-collared suit jacket that replaced it in 1919. The coat is dark blue, single-breasted, and tailored like a military tunic with a high stand-up collar and falls just below the waist. The buttons are concealed by a fly-front and the coat is trimmed around the collar, front, bottom, and the side seams with lustrous black braid. The sleeves bear one line of gold braid signifiying the rank of ensign. Above the braid is the embroidered Pay/Supply Corps device: the sprig of three oak leaves and three acorns. The collar also bears the device superimposed over a fouled anchor.

Flynn’s service coat is both rare and impressive both for it remarkable condition and because, so-modified, this type of coat was in use for only four months (16 November 1918 and 17 March 1919)! The single-breasted tunic was introduced by the Navy in 1877 and saw service through the Spanish-American War and the First World War. Originally issued with lustrous black braid on the sleeves to denote rank, the more familiar gold braid was added to the sleeves in 1897.  The 1897 modification also introduced colored cloth (white for pay corps) in between the braids to denote the corps of the staff officer.  On 16 November 1918, less than a week after the armistice ending World War I was signed, the Navy authorized two changes to the service coat. Instead of just a corp device on the collar, the post-war coat featured the corps device superimposed on a fouled anchor. Secondly, the corps device was now placed above the cuff braiding (as is still done today) to replace the colored cloth in between stripes. On 17 March 1919, just four months later, the Navy discontinued the single-breasted service coat altogether and replaced it with the double-breasted suit coat with rolling turn-down collar modeled after the style adopted by the British Royal Navy. This style coat is still in use today. Flynn was commissioned a month after the 1918 regulation and was discharged one month before the coat was discontinued, explaining the near-perfect condition of this amazing artifact.

Detail of sleeve showing Pay Corps
oak sprig device over gold braiding.
 Detail of collar showing Pay Corps
 oak sprig device over fouled anchor.

A gift of Ms. Virginia Flynn                                                                                  1982.04

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum


  1. Very interesting uniform! Those coats with that type of insignia could be worn for more than four months, however. Though the new double-breasted coat was authorized in March 1919, there was a wear-out period and officers were allowed to wear their old-style coats till July 1921.

  2. Thanks for the comment and for the clarification. If you have any further information or resources to provide I will be happy to add it to the artifact record. You can submit by clicking the following link to access the form

  3. Nothing to add, the description above is very thorough. Here is a link to a photo showing Medical Corps officers during the transition with a mix of old and new blue service dress:

    Thanks especially for posting the detailed photos above.

    --J. T. Broderick

  4. Hello I just found and bought one of these uniforms from a antique mall, I collect militaria, and am finding it very hard to find information on this Tunic. It is virtually the same as the pictures, not as good condition and no hat, but it is from 1919, any Idea as to the worth of this item, and as to how rare they are?

  5. William, unfortunately we are unable to provide appraisals or estimates for items that we collect. The reason is that it can be perceived as a conflict of interest since we also collect these kinds of items, and presumably we would want people to consider donating them to us rather than selling them. If you would like, I can send you a list of appraisers that specialize in maritime/military.


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