Book Review: Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual

(Filed: 2 January 2013)

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Title: Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual book

Author: Gary Eastman

Publisher: Eastman Publishing, Ivybridge, Devon, UK

Year of Publication: 2012

Introduced in December 2012 as a limited first edition of 1000 signed and numbered copies, the Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual by Gary Eastman (Eastman Leather Clothing) is the most concise and complete guide to the original A-2 jacket ever assembled. For the first time in a single printed volume can be found examples of every produced jacket and contractor, all the labels, all the snaps and zips, knits and markings, and more. Who made the jackets without the names on the labels? What was the quantity of jackets in each contract? What are the dates of the contracts, and what was the chronological order of all the contracts? The answers to these oft-asked questions are within.

Throughout this well-researched book, and consistent with its vintage look, are photo copies of documents and letters of commercial and military origin which highlight and confirm a whole array of historical details from original makers of the Type A-1, predecessor to the A-2, to the use of hide types other than horsehide in the A-2. While the documentation alone may finally end speculation by showing the use of cowhide in vintage A-2 jackets, Eastman went much further by submitting clippings of A-2 jackets from his personal collection for DNA analysis. In a number of cases sufficient DNA survived the tanning process and the years to be confirmed by a university genetics laboratory as bovine origin. Jacket leather from United Sheeplined, Star Sportswear, Perry Sportswear, and Rough Wear were found to have been of cowhide. Questions of how many jackets were cowhide or what portion of a given contract may have been cowhide will linger indefinitely, but the big question can now be laid to rest.

In the first half of the book are several chapters describing each of the jacket components with details on manufacturers, types of hides used along with their specification numbers and supporting documents, makers and models of zips and snaps, knits, stamps and markings, and several period manufacturer advertisements. In a very impressive spread are photos and descriptions of every zipper used in A-2s along with which contracts they can be found in. Equally good is the photo set of all jacket contract labels. There is also a visually appealing chapter of clippings of many artful letterheads of the day. Reissue A-2 jackets are covered in a chapter describing how some jackets were refurbished for re-use and presents some examples. The first half concludes with a chapter on the A-1 jacket with photos, background, and a few interesting documents.

The second half of the book comprises the set of data plates. The data plates are two-page spreads for each A-2 jacket contract. The left side has a photo of the jacket along with smaller detail photos for the label, zip, snaps, collar clasp, epaulet and pocket reinforcement. On the right side is a checklist of contract and construction details along with additional photos and notes of interest to highlight variations. It is in these pages of the book where the content fully meets its title as an Identification Manual. Armed with these data plates, a reader should be able to not only ID an unlabeled A-2 or a perhaps a jacket in a photo, but can also use the information to grade the authenticity level of reproduction jackets.

Appendices contain collected summaries of all A-2 jacket contracts by list and by photo. A set of tables of all A-2 contracts presents them in chronological order, quantity order, alphabetical order, and order of contract cost, while a final photo spread is a full parade of all jackets paired with their labels.

In keeping with the vintage military motif, the book is labeled as TM 30-1415, where 30-1415 is the original drawing number specification for the A-2, and TM is for Technical Manual. As such, this really is a technical manual with lots of details to browse and absorb, and it is very different from the eye candy as seen, for instance, in the equally terrific flight jacket books from Maguire and Conway. This won't be the place to find lots of artwork or unit patches, but the purpose it serves fills a long held void and it's about time.

With all this book brings to the fore, is there anything missing, anything to wish for? Yes, a few things. The book measures only 10.25 x 7.25 inches (26.2 x 18.5 cm) and 214 pages, and that limits the size of photos. Larger photos overall with full size labels and zips would have been nice for fuller appreciation of details, though certainly at greatly increased cost. Some specifics not really covered are linings, thread, hide color variations, descriptions of set-in vs flat-sewn sleeves, seam widths, and maybe a few others. But given what has been presented, there is little justification to complain. This is a book to savor. Besides, as with a blockbuster movie that is set up for a sequel, this blockbuster of a book is well-positioned for an expanded second edition. Let's hope....

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Copyright © 2013 Marc D. Weinshenker. All rights reserved.