VERY ELEGANT AND VERY UNUSUAL BIRD’S HEAD POMMEL U.S. OFFICER SABER WITH SERPENT AND APPLE LANGETS

$2,200.00

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Item Code: 766-1736

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This saber has a silver washed brass hilt and scabbard, and very pretty tri-color blade etched with gilt-filled motifs on a blue ground alternating with bright-etched panels. The pommel is a modified birds-head, made with integral backstrap, and is deeply cast and chased with a scroll at the join with the knucklebow, from which acanthus leaves spread out part way down the backstrap. The reverse-P knucklebow is plain, slotted for a sword knot and crosses the blade to form a simple quillon with down-turned disk finial. The grip is bone, carved with simple straight and slanted lines that form diamond and arrowhead patterns. The base of the grip has silver washed ferrule, deeply channeled, with multiple beaded rims top and bottom.

Most unusual are the langets, which have a border of raised dots around a serpent that coils over its own tail to take bite from a fruit surrounded by leaves. It is no great leap of imagination to see it as the serpent and apple in Garden of Eden. There are no maker or dealer markings on the sword, but the blade motifs are clearly for the U.S. market. We can think of no parallels for it on an American sword, but it might suggest a German maker or something in the Pennsylvania German taste, where Adam, Eve, the serpent and the apple frequently show up in folk-art, on birth and marriage certificates, etc. It would certainly be a reminder to the owner of the perils of temptation the need for moral behavior.

The blade motifs are more conventional and specifically aimed at the American market. On the reverse they start at bottom with gilt on blue arms followed by a bright etched floral panel, gilt/blue floral sprig, bright etched trophy of arms with Liberty Cap on pole at center, a gilt eagle on blue with U.S. fifteen-star shield on its chest and EPU ribbon overhead, followed by bright etched cartouche with floral sprays and, lastly, a gilt on blue leafy tendril. The obverse starts with large gilt leaf and tendril on blue, bright etched floral scroll and leafy branches, gilt on blue arms with Liberty Cap on pole, bright-etched vase and flowers, a gilt on blue seated Indian with feathered headdress and bow, a bright-etched cartouche with arms, helmet and wreath of victory at top, finished off by a similar gilt on blue leafy tendril. Both sides have the blue ending in leafy scrolls.

The blade is smooth metal with good edge and point. The blade above the etched panels is a muted silver with a few dark gray spots on the obverse. The blue overall shows some rubbing, but is quite strong, as are all the panels. There is just a bit gray spotting on the victory wreath on the upper obverse. The blade shows remnants of thin gilt borders along the upper and lower edges that seem to have extended to uppermost etched motifs, though not to the end of the bluing, but their absence or partial rubbing does not detract from the overall impressive look of the blade.

The silver wash is likewise strong on the hilt. The bone grip shows a little chipping under the pommel, but is solid. The scabbard has no dents and lots of the original silver on it, showing just a little rubbing to the edges from handling and natural age tarnishing to the silver wash, but with the screw fastened throat in place, along with carrying rings and bands, and narrow-bladed drag.

This is a very elegant sword that we would date about 1815-1820. The silver wash would indicate an officer of infantry or dragoons by standard service colors of the period, but all bets are off with militia units, who adopted uniforms and service colors largely at their pleasure. We can’t think of another off hand with this langet design. There are a few silver birdshead pommels with leaf decoration illustrated by Hartzler in the volume on the Lattimer collection.   [sr] [ph:L]

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