Trench Art: Historic Souvenirs from World War I

 Trench Art: Historic Souvenirs from World War I
2006.005.012 - World War I trench art model submarine. This model submarine is made of cartridge shells by a German prisoner of war during WWI.

Have you ever kept a memento from an impactful experience, or a significant place you visited? Like a piece of history, or a souvenir? Trench art is that but so much more. These items, made by soldiers, civilians, and prisoners of war, hold memories and reminders of conflict. They are made from the refuse and debris of war. This could include shell casings, shrapnel, pieces of destroyed buildings, downed planes, and spent bullets. Trench Art is usually from World War I; however, it can be found on a lesser scale from other wars and conflicts.

Soldiers and prisoners of war probably made trench art to pass the time, for entertainment, or as a memento of a place or battle. Civilians, however, made trench art as a way to make a living in war torn areas. The trench art in this display were made by prisoners of war and soldiers.

 Trench Art: Historic Souvenirs from World War I
2006.005.013 - World War I trench art letter opener. Letter opener made from a cartridge shell and a German pfennig (coin). Made by a German prisoner of war during WWI.

John McCullough served as president of the Hutchings-Sealy National Bank and served on the board of directors for many Galveston organizations, including the Rosenberg Library. He collected trench art while serving in the U.S. Army of Occupation. These items were made by German prisoners of war. The objects include an ashtray (RL 2006.005.011) which was made of marble with a Prussian Pickelhaube (spiked helmet) and a rifle decoration, a letter opener (RL 2006.005.013) made from a cartridge shell and German pfennig (coin), and a model submarine (2006.005.012) also made of cartridge shells.

One of the lighters displayed (RL 87.024.3) is made of two brass roundels, which are distinctive round logos or markings, found on Imperial German military uniform belts. It has a flint wheel and the motto “Gott Mit Uns” engraved on it which means “God with us” - a common phrase used by the German military. Captain Herbert Allaire Robertson, Jr. sent the lighter to his sister Ms. Z. L. White. Captain Robertson worked at Hutchings Sealy & Co. and was a member of the Artillery Club and the Galveston Quartet Society.

The second lighter (RL 88.004.1) belonged to Robert N. Spoor, the first official coach of athletics at Ball High School. It is made out of brass and copper and looks like a book. It has an engraved decoration on the front with the letters RNS US AS. On the back it says Verdun 1918. This is probably in reference to the Battle of Verdun fought on the Western Front in France. The battle lasted from February 21 to December 18, 1916, making it the longest battle of World War I.

 Trench Art: Historic Souvenirs from World War I
88.004.1 - Trench art cigarette lighter. This lighter is made out of brass and copper in the shape of a book. It is hinged to one corner and swings out from the inside the "cover".

Trench Art is special. It holds the memories of what would have been a painful, emotional, and trying time. Few items can show beauty while functioning as a painful reminder, or warning, of war.

The Treasure of the month is located on the 2nd floor of Rosenberg Library near the reference desk. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday, Friday, and Saturday and 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM Tuesday through Thursday. For museum questions, call 409.763.8854 Ext. 133 or email For press inquiries, contact the Communications Coordinator.

Past Treasures