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British Celtic-Hilt Heavy Cavalry Undress Sword - Some Thoughts...

Posted: 24/06/20 (14:27pm)

As most of you know by now, I have a gorgeous Celtic-Hilt heavy cavalry undress sword and here it is.

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The Celtic-Hilt sword was named by Richard Dellar in 1995 and so called because of the circle and swirl patterns on the guard, reminiscent of ancient Celtic symbols and adornments.

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This heavy cavalry officer’s fighting (undress) sword first appeared on the battle fields of the Peninsular around 1812, four years after Britain’s entry into the conflict.

So was their appearance on the battlefields of Portugal and Spain a mere fashion statement, or was it due to dissatisfaction with the regulation pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry officer’s ladder-hilt sword?

The Celtic-Hilted sabre was developed by John Prosser, probably in close consultation with one or more Dragoon officers, as a replacement for the regulation pattern Ladder-Hilt Heavy Cavalry sword. The officers, having first-hand experience of the regulation pattern’s inadequacies may well have been the driving force behind the new blade design.

The hatchet-pointed 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword had proved itself ineffective against French breastplates and officers in the Peninsular must have felt at a disadvantage. They would also have been looking to provide themselves with any possible future advantage. Prosser, for his part used his knowledge of Indo-Persian and Ottoman sabres – blades known to have the capability and reinforced point for piercing armour, to develop his patent quill point to pierce the breast plates of French Heavy Cavalry, the Cuirassiers. The impact of the charge would have driven the reinforced point of the new blade into the enemies cuirass, the quill-point with its recurved edges would then have operated like a can opener, the large recurved yelman lengthening and widening the cut to facilitate entry and as importantly, the withdrawal of the blade.  The double-edged quill point may also have provided an advantage over single-edged blades in a post charge melee.

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The point of my sword is slightly rounded from impact - whether or not this was caused by a French cuirass we will never know. But I believe it to be likely.

It is also worth noting that the sword’s fearsome appearance would have had a mental impact on both the wielder and the intended target. Coming hard on the heels of French complaints about the brutality of the 1796 Light Cavalry sabre and the cuts it inflicted, a new cavalry sword with a vicious-looking point must have caused quite a stir amongst French cavalrymen.

Despite being credited for the design and development of the Celtic-Hilt sword, Prosser was not the only maker to have supplied them, although only individual examples are known from other makers and all post 1812. Just as officers would have had a preferred tailor, so too would some have had a preferred sword maker and this might explain the single examples by other makers.

Known examples that have regimental attribution are all named to the Dragoons; the 4th Dragoons in particular. One example exists in the Edinburgh Castle museum, Scotland, marked to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (although the officer who owned it served with the 4th Dragoons in the Peninsular). Another example held in the Edinburgh Castle museum is marked to the 3rd Dragoons. It is known that the 3rd and 4th Dragoons shipped to Portugal and billeted together throughout the Peninsular Campaign.

So why were so few of these sabres made? The short answer is that we will probably never know for sure, but there are several acceptable explanations and the likelihood is that it will have been a combination of several reasons. Initially, news about the new sword would have been slow to circulate to other branches of the cavalry, perhaps explaining why the sword seems to have been used almost exclusively by the 4th Dragoons. Snobbery and one-upmanship amongst the officers may have also played a part. The 4th dragoons may have felt that it was “their sword.”

In 1821 a new pattern was accepted as regulation for the heavy cavalry and perhaps the lee-way allowed to officers in choosing a sword to take to war was reduced in peacetime, forcing them to adhere to regulations. Maybe the quill point was not as effective as initially hoped? Maybe the sword was just too expensive to make for the enlisted cavalryman? Whatever the reasons, by 1821 the Celtic-Hilted cavalry sword had passed into obscurity and is now extremely rare.

A Comparison Between Peninsular War Artillery Gunner's Short Swords

Posted: 12/05/20 (14:02pm)

Yesterday I added a short sword to the website that I initially identified as being an early Napoleonic Wars period British artilleryman’s hanger. You can view it in the “Newly Added” section of the website. By early I meant that it was made a few years before the Osborn made hanger that I also have on the website and which dates to between 1800 and 1807. At first glance the two swords are very similar.

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    Osborn Artilleryman's Hanger 1800-1807  AH1                              Unmarked Artillery Hanger AH2

After time in the hand, and having studied them closely, I now think that the newly added sword is actually a refinement of the original and not a predecessor. I must admit that the scabbard threw me. But let’s set the scabbard aside for now and come back to that later.

An examination and comparison of the swords themselves suggests that the hanger made by Osborn is the earlier of the two. You can view the Osborn hanger by following the link below.

https://www.bygoneblades.com/buy-british-napoleonic-wars-artillery-gunners-short-sword

The Osborn hanger is dateable to between 1800 and 1807. The second hanger (let’s call it AH2 and the Osborn AH1) was probably made after gun crews gave battlefield feedback.

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AH1 below. AH2 above.

Let’s look at some stats:

Sword Dimensions      AH1              AH2          
Total length                  754mm         785mm
Weight                           1020g            775g
Blade length                 635mm         665mm                               
Point of balance          165mm         135mm
Spine thickness
at shoulder                    10mm             8mm
Spine thickness
at midpoint                      6mm             3mm
Blade width
at shoulder                     37mm           37mm
Blade width at
convergence to point     34mm           29mm
Upper false edge           145mm             N/A
 

As you can see, the Osborn made hanger, AH1 is a much heavier sword with a shorter, thicker blade. It is a very blade-heavy and unwieldy weapon. With a sharpened edge it would have been a devastating cleaver but slow to recover to guard, meaning a missed cut would throw the wielder off balance and leave them open to a counter attack by their opponent. It would also have been poor in the thrust. Hanger AH2 by comparison is longer, better balanced and significantly lighter while still having the width and weight to afford a devastating cut. The sharpened spear point is also thin enough to deliver a reasonable thrust – albeit probably not through a thick woollen tunic.

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AH1 below. AH2 above                                                                                                   AH2                        AH1

AH2 is a far better fighting sword, it is lighter and faster in the hand, its shorter point of balance and better distal taper enabling a faster recovery from cut to guard and from cut to thrust. These improvements are almost certainly as a result of feedback from the field.

The fighting style of enlisted gun crews was probably more akin to frantic slashing and hacking than schooled swordsmanship, and the reduced weight and improved balance of AH2 would definitely have afforded them a better chance of surviving a close quarter fight.

In January 1809, after retreating from Napoleon’s Army of Spain, General Sir John Moore’s 35,000 men fought heroically against Marshal Soult at the Portuguese port of Corunna. Despite winning, they suffered heavy losses (including Sir John Moore) and were shipped back to England.

Reinforced and re-equipped, the British army returned to Portugal in May 1809 under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later The Duke of Wellington). I believe that improved Artillery hangers like AH2 would have been issued to gun crews of the returning army.

Artillery hanger AH2 is without maker or military ownership marks, but this is not unusual. The need for equipping the troops for the return to the Peninsular superceeded inspection and acceptance marking. It is also possible that the absence of a Crown ordnance stamp means that the hanger was purchased by one of the volunteer battalions raised at the time and was therefore not the property of the Crown.

So now let’s address the scabbards.

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AH2 Scabbard without brass throat and with an elongated frog stud.

Initially, the construction of the scabbard belonging to AH2 led me to believe that it was an earlier model than AH1. The lack of a metal throat and the elongated frog stud in particular appear to harp back to an earlier age. So could it be the wrong scabbard for the sword? It is certainly possible. But I don’t think so. The fit to blade is excellent so I am pretty sure that the scabbard was made for this hanger. I think the answer lies in the period in which these weapons were made and used.

In Georgian England, a regiments’ commanding officer was responsible for arming and equipping the men under his command. He was given an allowance from the Crown and free reign to choose from whom he purchased. Numerous manufacturers were involved in the fabrication and supply of weapons and each would have had slight variations on patterns and options on quality and price. It was not uncommon for commanding officers to try to reduce costs in order to pocket the difference. Leather scabbards without brass throats with smaller and less ornate chapes would have been by far the cheaper option.

So in conclusion, I now believe that artillery hanger AH2 is of later production than hanger AH1 albeit by only a few years, and that the apparently earlier period scabbard of AH2 is in fact simply a cheaper, while perfectly serviceable option.

AH1 and AH2 are both very rare and were in service during the Peninsular and Waterloo. An ideal opportunity to grab yourselves a piece of history!

Bringing Out the Best

Posted: 13/04/20 (12:43pm)

I hope that you had a happy and safe Easter despite the strange and unsettling situation that we find ourselves in. My heart goes out to anyone who has lost someone, and to those suffering in isolation, old and young alike who live alone and are unable to leave their homes because of existing medical conditions. The isolation, worry and boredom must be terrible.

While the current global pandemic has brought out the worst in some people, these people are a very small minority. The rest of the world seem to have rallied brilliantly and with a "can do" attitude, are making the best of the situation.

Whether it’s clapping on the doorstep to show support for our health workers, singing from balconies or just placing a rainbow in the window, shared adversity really does seem to unify and bring out the best in people.

I stood at the kitchen window yesterday morning and listened to the birds singing. It was amazing how many I heard and how loud they are now that there is no traffic or sounds of industry to drown them out. It was an absolute joy. I recommend it to everyone.

I first experienced this a few days ago (on my 51st birthday actually) and now make it a daily thing to enjoy the bird song for 5 minutes each morning.

While I was listening to the birds, my neighbour was in his garden hiding Easter eggs. Later, his grandchildren and their parents (who also live in the village) shared an exciting and enjoyable time tracking them down while their grandparents (my neighbours) watched safely from their conservatory. Despite not being able to spend physical time together, the grandchildren’s Easter egg hunt was a resounding success.

The show must, and does go on.

As this is an edged weaponry website and my blogs are usually about these things, I feel that I should at least mention something pointy.

At the beginning of lockdown I bought a very rare and exciting Napoleonic Wars period Celtic hilted heavy cavalry sabre. I haven’t had the pleasure of holding it or even seeing it in person yet as I followed government advice and bid remotely. The day after I bought it, the auction house closed its doors, having first made sure that I and everyone else had paid their invoices!

I am eagerly awaiting its arrival, which will not be until after the lockdown is lifted but it gives me something else to look forward to and get excited about.

Earlier I listed a beautiful British Indian army Mountain Battery sabre on the website. There often seems to be some confusion regarding this sword. I have seen dealers failing to differentiate between the British mountain artillery sabre (described by Robson as the rarest British regulation pattern sword) and the British Indian army version. There is really only one difference between the two but it is easily noticeable. The guard on the India pattern sabre is a brass stirrup while the guard on the British pattern is a steel, broad D-guard. I have owned and sold both patterns over the years. The British pattern can be viewed on page 20 of the sold products section for comparison. 

The British Indian army issued sabre can be viewed in the “Newly Added” section of the website. The British pattern sabre is, as described by Robson, extremely rare. The India pattern is not nearly as hard to come by but is still a scarce sword. Both sabres have the same blade and scabbard, the blades being almost identical to the century earlier 1796 light cavalry sabre. They are beautiful swords.

Worrying Times and International Deliveries

Posted: 06/04/20 (11:34am)

These are unprecedented and worrying times for everyone. I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are keeping safe and well.

International customers will have noticed that there has been no movement on their deliveries and that the tracking information has not been updated. I have been in touch with the courier company that I use and at present, international deliveries are being collected and prepared for export but are then being held in a transit warehouse until cargo flights resume. As such, I have decided to hold all new international parcels here until normal services resume.

I am confident that the international deliveries that have already been sent will reach their respective destinations in due course but as they are not currently being moved and a backlog is building up I feel that any new international sales/parcels will be better off staying here with me for the time being.

I hope that this situation will soon be resolved. In the meantime, stay safe and well.

Well Past Due

Posted: 03/03/20 (15:44pm)

At least one person reads my blog and he emailed me today to ask why I hadn’t written for so long? The answer is the same as always – I am very busy. I mean to write, I plan to write. I even tell myself which day I am going to do it on. But then something comes up. And so the story goes.

But he is right. My next blog is way past due.

I was thinking about what to tell you? What would be of interest to you?

I could tell you about the restorations I have been doing for a local Masonic Lodge. But then they are rather secretive (or so I believe) and might not appreciate their business being discussed.

I have told you about auctions I have attended several times in the past and despite my blogs being few and far between, I wouldn’t want to bore you by going over the same ground.

So, what should I tell you?

Budapest has a fantastic museum. It is one of the best I have visited anywhere. Sue and I spent Christmas and New Year in Hungary’s beautiful capital city and about six hours of it in the National museum.

I totally lucked out because at the time of our visit they had an amazing exhibition called “Steel and Heart: 1000 Years of Weaponry.” It was an incredible display of swords and side arms mainly from the Ottoman and Austro Hungarian Empires.

I walked through the rooms drooling! I tried taking some photos but was very soon jumped on by one of the ever present and watchful members of staff, who helpfully pointed out that if I wanted to pay for a permit I could take as many photos as I wished.

Needless to say, I rushed back to the entrance lobby and joined the throng at the ticket office. Ten minutes later, proudly displaying my newly purchased permit, I re-entered the exhibition and, phone in hand, proceeded to photograph just about everything – much to the security staff’s amusement.

I can’t possibly share with you all the photos I took, but here are some of my favourite swords in the exhibition – Ottoman Empire Killij.

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I don’t know how long this particular exhibition will be on but if you are in Budapest, I whole heartedly recommend a visit to the museum. As well as the additional exhibitions, their regular exhibits include a couple of rooms full of incredibly well preserved Bronze Age and Iron Age weaponry as well as several rooms of all things Roman. In fact, the Roman exhibits were among my favourites – “Terrific race the Romans!” 

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And what, you might ask, was the very patient and long suffering Sue doing while I was running around like a kid in a sweet shop? 

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So now I have told you about a marvellous exhibition in Budapest and shown you a few pictures of some items we will never get to handle let alone own, I will leave you with a couple of photos of swords that I have just bought and which one day could be yours…

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Honourable East India Company Naval Officer's Sword with Prosser blade circa 1829.

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1796 light Cavalry officer's sabre by Thomas Gill circa 1800.

Happy Christmas

Posted: 24/12/19 (10:47am)

The end of another year is rapidly approaching. It has been a year of highs and lows - such is life. I am very grateful for the continued support of all my repeat customers and delighted to welcome all my new customers and everyone who enjoys looking at and reading my listings. Thank you, and a very happy festive season and New Year to you all.
I look forward to continuing our relationship in 2020.
All the very best,
Richard 
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Keywords

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