U.S. MILITIA OFFICER’S SWORD 1820-1850

$1,750.00

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Item Code: 870-673

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This is a good example of a popular sword among U.S. militia officers from the 1820s into the 1840s. Peterson dates the general form to the U.S. 1821 regulations specifying a straight-bladed infantry officer’s sword. The popularity of this particular form, though, may derive from its use on very high-end presentation swords awarded about that time to various War of 1812 heroes, a pattern itself derived from some French senior officer’s swords of about 1815. In any case, it remained popular for several decades. Peterson gives it an upper date of 1850, but says it saw use by militia officers “into the opening years of the Civil War,” though that would seem the exception rather than the rule.

The sword uses a straight blade, bright-etched, and a gilt brass hilt decoratively cast and chased, with an embellished downturned counterguard, and a gilt brass engraved scabbard. The design of the pommel and the cast motifs varied and might be mixed. This one uses a Roman or classical helmet, with floral motifs on the knuckleguard, and a downturned counterguard bearing a cast, chased, and gilt American eagle superimposed on rays of the sun. The grips are composed of two mother-of-pearl plaques, with gilt brass bands covering the join top and bottom, the whole bound together by twisted gilt brass wire running along grooves spaced along the mother-of-pearl and the brass bands, and has a ferrule with raised designs at the base. The knucklebow has a scroll at the upper end at the pommel and the lower end where it joins the flat crossguard, which is scrolled at the quillon tip. The downturned counterguard has an American eagle with U.S. shield on its breast superimposed on sun rays and is giving a narrow border terminating in scrolls as well.

The blade is single edged with a flat back and wide central fuller a little more than half its length when the fuller runs out and the blade becomes oval in cross-section with a long false edge leading back from the spearpoint tip. The blade is bright etched to the extent of the fuller. The obverse has loose, flowering tendrils along the bottom and top with a central long-necked spreadwinged U.S. eagle flourishing a banner scroll overhead from its beak with stars and rays above. The reverse has the same floral elements, but the central motif is a stand of flags with spearpoint and ribboned staffs, with a Liberty cap on a pole jutting up at center with stars and glory overhead as with the eagle on the obverse.

The scabbard is set up with carrying rings fixed directly to the edge and a frog stud. The reverse is plain. The obverse is engraved its full length with a dot and semi-circle swag border, with engraved floral and geometric motifs at the rings and frog stud, and a longer panel of floral engraving at the bottom, which ends in a button finial rather than drag with blade.

The condition is very good. The scabbard and hilt show mostly an aged brass patina, with little gilt on the scabbard, but noticeable traces on the hilt in recessed areas. There is one small, shallow dent to the upper reverse of the scabbard, but no bend or breaks. The hilt is very good. The mother-of-pearl is very good, with no chips or cracks. The blade is bright and the etching quite visible, though with some gray spotting on the reverse above the Liberty Cap and stars, just touching the sunburst rays.

This is a nice example of an officer’s sword from the “elegant elite” period of the militia, when uniformed volunteer companies competed with one another in drill and their attire. For some parallels see Flayderman/Medicus plates 59-61, but also Peterson Number 69, which uses an Indian princess pommel and different designs, but with same architecture in terms of grip, guard, blade form, etc.  [sr] [ph:m]

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