WAR OF 1812 ERA “AMERICAN INFANTRY” BLADE IN A DIPLOMATIC SWORD MOUNTING

$2,500.00

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Item Code: 870-225

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This is a very interesting sword. The hilt is identical to Plate 65b of the Medicus collection, which Flayderman identifies as an American diplomatic sword circa 1830-1850, but which some parallels suggest might be slightly earlier. In any case, the blade on this sword dates 1805-1806, and is overtly military. There seem to be a few possibilities. One is that Flayderman  was too doctrinaire is his categorization of the hilt and/or its dating. Another is that the sword belonged to an American diplomat with prior military service in the War of 1812 who remounted his old military blade, perhaps to tweak some former adversaries.

The hilt and scabbard are gilt brass. The scabbard has two upper and one middle ring. The reverse is plain. The obverse is engraved with floral and geometric designs at the ring mounts and drag. Between the ring mounts is engraved an American eagle with upraised wings, prominently perched on a US shield. The sword pommel is a horizontal oval with a recurved bottom, and front and back panels divided by a band over the top. The reverse panel is cast and chased with scrolls and a palmette, a motif repeated elsewhere on the hilt. The obverse bears an American eagle with US Shield, arrows and olive branch, with seventeen stars overhead. The S-curved knucklebow has deeply cast floral motifs and very British looking lion in the middle on either side. Roundels at the ends of the crossguard are blank on the reverse, but on the obverse have American eagles, mirroring the pommel and scabbard. The ferrules and gripstraps are decorated with fine raised dots, leaves and arches echoing the palmette motifs elsewhere on the hilt. The grips are mother-of-pearl, grooved diagonally. There is some slight chipping along the top edge of the obverse grip slab, and a single piece off the upper edge on the reverse.

The reverse counterguard is narrow and upturned, with simple floral decoration on the top. The obverse counterguard is downturned and prominently features a portrait bust of Washington in a circular wreath, flanked by two horns-of-plenty. Washington is portrayed as a Roman, with bare shoulders and upper chest, suggesting Roman republican virtues in general, but particularly those of Cincinnatus, who laid down his dictatorial powers and returned to his farm once the national emergency had passed rather than seize power. As for the date and use of that motif, Flayderman illustrates an eagle pommel sword with a similar Washington-bust counterguard as Medicus Plate 48b, which he allows might date as early as 1800 (soon after Washington’s death,) and which he labels an “artillery officer’s sword.”

Supporting an early date for this sword is the fact that the blade predates the War of 1812. The blade is smooth metal with no nicks or chips and a good point. Spadroon in form, it bears a thin blue on the lower half that still sets off the gold fill of the loosely rendered drypoint etched motifs on both sides. Among those on the reverse is the maker’s name in two scrolls: “Woolley, Deakin & Co.,” which Bezdek dates 1805-1806. The rest of the motifs are fully in keeping with that date. On both sides the blue panels are bordered at the bottom by a long leaf that seems to spring up in front of a wattle fence, and at the top by a simple floral scroll. On the reverse, an American eagle with raised wings and US shield on its chest clutching arrows and olive branch is at top, with floral scrolls above and below reading not “E Pluribus Unum,” but “United States.” Below that is an American Indian head with feathered headdress and quiver of arrows, personifying America and the New World. Below that in floral scrolls is the maker’s name. On the obverse of the blade, the lower half of the blued section features a trophy of arms consisting of spears, flags, and kettledrums with a liberty cap on a pole rising from the center, and a scroll reading “warranted” below. The upper section shows a female figure in classical dress clutching a branch or perhaps palm of victory, over two floral scrolls reading, “American Infantry.”

Of course, Militia regulations being as loose as they were, it is possible an officer at some point simply wanted this hilt with this blade. If this sword is diplomatic, however, and we note the Washington bust is surrounded by horns-of-plenty, symbolizing the benefits of peace, the use of so overtly an American military blade is somewhat startling and might call for a special explanation. The blade tang shows some roughness that might come from crudely tightening up the sword, or a remounting. From the blade’s form, it might well have been originally mounted in a “five-ball” hilt typical of the War of 1812 even if the overall form of this sword, with its ornamented, downturned counterguard, dates somewhat later. While there is no specific history with the sword, the specific reference to “American Infantry” points to an individual’s service record. It is thus tempting to picture a former soldier of the War of 1812 on a diplomatic posting to Britain deciding to keep at hand the blade of his military sword, whose occasional display might remind his British counterparts of America’s independence and deserved place on the world’s stage.  [sr]

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