HISTORIC AND BEAUTIFUL SWORD OF GENERAL AND PRESIDENT FRANKLIN PIERCE

$9,500.00

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Item Code: 1096-01

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This beautiful sword descended directly in the family of Brigadier General Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire (1804-1869,) 14th President of the United States. It comes with a notarized letter from the collector who purchased it in 1964 from well-known New Hampshire antique dealer Joe Copley who had acquired  it from family descendants along with Pierce’s uniform coat, coatee, and valise bearing the painted designation "Brig. Gen. Franklin Pierce/ U. S. Army/ 1847” and a shipping label for “F.H. Pierce, / Concord, N.H.”

The sword is a gilt brass eagle-pommel spadroon with tri-color etched blade and black leather scabbard with gilt brass mounts. Pierce is best known as Colonel of the 9th US Infantry and brigadier general in the Mexican War, but he had long service in the New Hampshire militia, including service to Governor Dinsmoor, head of the state’s military forces, as aide-de-camp from 1831. In overall form the sword is typical of those popular from 1795-1830, many or most of which were supplied by the Birmingham trade. The articulation of the guard as three mock chain-links and the beautiful treatment of the langets as sculpted leaves, however, points to a date in the 1820s-1830s (Ames, for instance, made this form well into the 1830s,) fitting with his service in the state forces and perhaps his early service in the Mexican War.

The hilt preserves 90 percent or better gilt finish. The eagle head is cast and chased with open beak, similar to an Ames “screaming eagle,” but with the mouth filled in, and has the knuckleguard anchored under its chin. The pommel extends in a backstrap anchored at the guard by a ferrule with channel bordered by stippled ridges. The grip is white bone carved to create a series of wide and narrow channels and bands both diagonally and vertically. The knuckleguard is hexagonal at top and bottom. The middle flattens and widens to create three chain-links with stippled interiors with raised four-leaf petals inside and exterior leaves top and bottom at the juncture of the links. The crossguard and quillon are flat. The langets are beautifully cast and chased with a sculptural quality, conveying a leaf outline with curling edges and raised dot grape-cluster design at the center with wing-like leaf extensions and dotted rays.

The blade is spadroon in form: straight, single-edged with central fuller and short false edge. The back edge of the blade is gilt for a short distance from the guard. The blade is tri-color: blued, gilt, and bright-etched, with three blued and gilt panels spaced out by two bright-etched panels on either side. Both sides of the blade have a gilt half-circle with vertical lines at the ricasso that extend beyond the langets and emphasize their rounded edges. A narrow band above that is topped with a cloudlike border. On the obverse this is etched “warranted,” a frequent indicator of a Birmingham blade, and from it a leafy spray and vine extend upward along an entwined pole topped with a Liberty Cap. The second panel is bright etched with scrolling vines on a frosty background. The blue with gilt picks up above that with a tall American eagle with long tail feathers and upraised wings, clutching arrows and olive branch, with an E Pluribus Unum scroll overhead. This is followed by second bright etched foliate panel and a third blue panel with gilt floral motifs that terminates with floral scrolls.

The reverse bears the same sequence of blue and gilt panels separated by bright etched panels that are given clipped or concave ends. The lower gilt panel has a trophy of arms with drum, cannon, cannonballs, and flag, with a leafy vine rising up from it and a floral scroll above. The middle blue and gilt panel has a floral scroll at bottom leading to a figure in profile seated on a rock that mixes a classical lady liberty with the Indian princess (America) motif occasionally used on sword pommels. Her feathered headdress is very evident, she appears to have a quiver on her back and bow in her hand.

The black leather scabbard is mounted with two carrying rings and a frog stud. The leather has good color and surface with just light age craquelure, and a tight seam on the reverse. The brass mounts preserve much of their gilt finish with just a tad more wear from handling than the hilt, which is natural. The reverse of the mounts is plain. The face of the mounts have matching edge contours. The drag and middle mount have a beautifully engraved eight-pointed stars with rays that have a leafy aspect linking them with other motifs on the sword. These are engraved within ovals on stippled background. The upper mount  bears a trophy of arms on a stippled background and a frog stud cast and chased with floral designs.

The sword rates excellent overall. The grip is very good, with just a narrow shaded hairline on the lower obverse extending about two thirds back from the ferrule. The blade color is very good as well. There is a little thin, gray staining on the steel above the bluing on the reverse and some that just comes down to end scrolling terminals of the blue on the obverse, neither of which affects the beauty of the sword.

Pierce had a mixed political record and heritage, to be generous. Grant disagreed with him politically, but respected him as an army officer, thinking him, “a man of courage.” Appointed colonel of the 9th US Infantry in February 1847, Pierce was appointed brigadier general in March. He saw action at Toloma Neuva, National Bridge, Contreras, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and the taking of Mexico City. He was injured at Contreras and the injury combined with sickness made his participation in the later engagements difficult, but he remained with his brigade and was credited in performing well in his early battles, fought while in charge of a 2,500 man force bringing supplies from Vera Cruz to Scott’s army in Mexico.

The valise and coatee that accompanied this sword were offered for sale at Heritage Auctions in 2009. The notarized letter accompanying this sword mentions both, though it attributes the coatee to a brother and calls it a “dragoon jacket,” where the Heritage cataloger attributes it to Pierce himself, noting that it fits regulations for a staff officer. This is more likely correct and it is worth noting Pierce’s earlier service as aide-de-camp to the governor of New Hampshire.

The sword comes with two unrelated tickets for a lecture by “Col. Pierce” with a Civil War battle scene. These are mentioned in the notarized letter by the collector, and were sold by him to relative together with the sword, but are not said to have been in the original group of material acquired from the Pierce family by Copley. The tickets are known to ephemera collectors. Identity of the “Col. Pierce” on the tickets is thought sometimes to be Ebenezer William Pierce, a Massachusetts militia general with some Civil War service, but is more likely John Harwood Pierce, a “frontier showman,” who gave all sorts of lectures and performances, bestowing upon himself the honorific of “colonel” as well as a Civil War military record. The tickets are colorful and we include them with sword, but only as placed with it by the collector as part of a display.

This is a beautiful and historic sword. There are a number of very fancy, high-end swords presented to Pierce after the war in honor of his service. This one is pretty in its own right, and far more likely to have been personally purchased and carried.  [sr]

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