IMPRESSIVE CIVIL WAR MODEL 1860 STAFF SWORD WITH RARE COUNTERGUARD MOTIF: ONE OF TWO KNOWN

$1,500.00

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Item Code: 988-30

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When John Thillmann wrote US Army Swords, he knew of only one M1860 Staff sword using this impressively detailed, applied three-dimensional eagle motif on the obverse counterguard and regarded it as unique. This is a second example to which his description applies equally well: “Overall the sword has a very pleasing look, with the obverse clamshell counterguard giving the hilt the look of real substance, being much thicker than the normally seen guard. The three-dimensional raised surface eagle, holding a ribbon in its beak, is clutching a bible in its right claw and flag in its left claw. This device has not been seen before and is a handsome design. Even the plain ferrules on each end of the grip sets a handsome tone.” (p.445-446.)

Thillmann omitted mention of the second flag and the mouth of a bugle that are evident both on this sword and on his sword in the photographs, and the bible might well be a bound volume of “the Constitution and the Laws” that sometimes appears in other patriotic contexts, but his remarks apply to both swords. Like that sword, this uses plain ferrules and a plain grip, though his is of dark horn and the grip here is white or cream color, catering to a customer’s preference. The hilt is the standard configuration with lantern pommel with a shield on one face and eagle on the other and the guard bears a central rosetted with arrowhead lightning bolts coiling up and down. The double disk counterguard is fixed on one side and folding on the other. The blades of both are straight and double-edge, but differ slightly: his uses a diamond or arris shape while ours has a narrow central fuller like that on the 1834 officer’s sword.

The blade etching of the two swords also differs in detail, but is similar in concept. Both swords use entwined floral patterns at top and bottom with a U.S. as the central motif on one side and crossed flags on the other. On this, the U.S. is on its own, where his has sunburst rays flanking it, but there are trophies of arms and crossed flags entwined by floral scrolls and vines above and below it on ours, and on the other side the crossed flags used at the central motif have a U.S. shield superimposed on them, where Thillman’s does not.

The scabbard is blued steel with gilt brass throat, and wide upper and middle mounts, and drag. The latter three elements using C-scrolls to form open panels with bands of floral motifs on the edges that extend to form the actual, contoured ends of the mounts. These designs differ from those on Thillmann’s example, but both swords use single ring mounts on both the lower and middle mounts and rather than using a band the base for the ring simply extends from the upper edge of the mount.

The condition of the sword is very good to excellent. The hilt has strong remnants of gilt. The grip has a couple of tight, hairlines, but no chips and is stable. The obverse shows an oval area the shows whiter than the general cream color of the grip. This is not repair, but a natural variation or rubbing from handling since it would be about where one’s palm would rest in grasping the sword. The eagle motif is very good. We just two darker spots that are the pins securing it. The blade has no nicks, a good point, and the etching is vivid against a frosted ground. The scabbard mounts are a muted, aged brass from handling, but the detail is excellent. The scabbard body has no dents or dings and shows as a thin blue with some steel gray and a little freckling coming up from underneath.

True Civil War Model 1860 Staff Swords are scarce. Often called a “M1860 Staff and Field” from Peterson’s mistaken classification, they are sometimes lumped in with the vast number of postwar versions of the Model 1872 Staff and Line Officer’s Sword, which descended from it. This one has the wartime characteristics of a blued-steel scabbard with wide, gilt brass mounts reminiscent of those on its 1850 Staff and Field cousins and a single ring upper mount, in addition to using an 1834 style blade. See Thillmann’s extensive discussion of the pattern in his Civil War Army Swords.

The sword is clearly an import by an American dealer or assembler. We see a partial blade stamp by Walschied, a well known Civil War era Solingen firm and there is a faint “32” on the back edge of the blade near the guard. Virgil Price has been suggested as the retailer, but we rather incline to John Miller, a military goods dealer who operated as Miller & Co. at 9 Maiden Lane in NY City from 1863 to 1869 and would qualify here as an assembler. This is the attribution made by Thillmann for his example and ours shares the characteristic he notes as unique to Miller of mounting his swords with the shield on the lantern pommel on the obverse rather than the reverse.

This is an impressive sword that would add to a Civil War or American edged weapons display.  [sr] [ph:L]

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