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Hotspur 1st December 2011 10:17 PM

So, what's up with the diamond shape in the counterguard?
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Hi guys

I know I lurk here more than post but many topics seem to bring out the possibilities of collective thought. Mentioned in a few threads here and elsewhere are the shape found in what seems to be predominantly British made sword with a bow counterguard. Does anyone have the definitive explanation for these? Attached are a Woolley and a Thurkle. I know I see enough of them that it seems commonplace enough that there must be something to it aside from an architectural standpoint or just something to fill the space. Why this instead of a circle? Or indeed any number of other shapes?



Jim McDougall 2nd December 2011 05:40 PM

Personally I have always regarded a number of the interesting hilt design elements of British officers swords of these latter 18th century type, especially these raised openwork guards on the 'spadroon' type swords, to have possible Masonic associations. Naturally such a distinctly speculative idea cannot be proven at this point and even authors such as Brian Robson in discussions on similar topic have suggested that aesthetic effect is most likely the motivation (pers. comm.).
Other motifs in these guards seem to fall into that category with baroque or neoclassic design rather than simple geometric element such as this with distinct symbolic associations ( cf. example,Aylward, 1945, p.80, design by E. Tookey 1793).

Jeff D 3rd December 2011 12:27 AM

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Hi Glen,

As you know this came up before, so I will repost the the only contribution that I can on this topic so that any new readers can review the information. I have not seen this pattern enough to form an educated opinion myself.

In Andrew Mowbray's The American Eagle-Pommel Sword 1988 on Pg 58;

"Figure 1.A
Naval Officers' Sword ca. 1795 (Francis Thurkle)

One of the more commonly encountered Thurkle hiltings featuring a counter guard containing a pierced diamond see detail." (attached below)

All the Best

Hotspur 3rd December 2011 02:38 AM

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Thanks Jeff and JIm

Yes, the Thurkle plate is well known to me and the Woolley marked spadroon as well as the Thurkle shown are in hand here. Since we do see anchors and even American eagles in these counterguards, there are also a good number with no addition at all with just free air in the bow. Other fretwork in more complex forms do often repeat the artillery, grenadier and naval motifs. Those are pretty cclar to define as having a true meaning.

If it were a true square, I might certainly entertain something Masonic but these are not squares. Rather these look more like heraldic mullets (aka stars).

We see hearts as addition as well and that is probably another whole can of wax ro open but do relate some to this as some of what I study on swords and armour are the heart as religion, pentacles/stars as commerce/industry/wealth (ya, I know five vs four ;) Spades/swords the military and clubs/wands as the working class.

A winged hussar helmet pierced with dozens of hearts makes perfect Catholic sense to me in the time of the Holy Roman Empire and in my own mind probably do dismiss all heart adoration as associated with Catholic vs Protestant. What makes me think of that recently is a sword looking all the world like a hybrid between a British heavy cavalry dress sword with a heart as the strap ring on a boat shell and an American general officer sword of the 1830s. Anyway, a whole different observation but in my mind perhaps connected to modernism of tarot talisman/lore/belief carrying over to arms and armour.

Could the design be a mullet, could the mullet then be a trade mark, even local guild mark of commerce or other thoughts of material goodness? Here are some more and some complimentary more easily defined.

Is this other spadroon a heart or a spade (hard to show that one unless enlarged)? ;) The one with the pie crusted crinkle bow,

Obviously there are also fretwork and scrolling that is purely decorative and some none at all The British 1803 hilts were especially suited to lots of meaningful fretwork but we see none of these diamonds/squares/mullets but rather curlies, cannon and anchors. I've more pictures on other examples and the predominance is on spadroon blades, while the Thurkle sabres almost seem to stand alone. Before Mowbray, Peterson acually lists the big bird of Thurkle as likely American but we know better know.

That charred and blackened mess got cleaned up a bit and is hard gilt on the pommel and guard.



Jim McDougall 3rd December 2011 04:30 AM

Great entries Glen and good observations, the heraldic mullet idea makes pretty good sense, and it seems quite possible the lozenge might associate with makers marks or perhaps even hallmarks.
I think with these officers swords in this period there was a great deal of rather subtle symbolism employed in these designs, but of course most of these kinds of things were rather arcane in contemporary social protocol but not really recorded for posterity.
Jeff, excellent references and its great to have you in discussion here, its been a while!!!
Thanks very much guys!!

All the best,

* just recalled that the mullet in heraldry is a star, not a diamond :)

Jim McDougall 7th December 2011 05:01 AM

Glen in looking into this further I'm glad you share some of the interest in these unusual and possibly symbolic devices.These have always intrugued me in the swords of this period. As I mentioned there are always potentially Masonic elements which might have been significant to officers who were likely involved in this or other 'orders' during these times. Clearly not only officers who custom ordered swords, but the makers who specialized in thier production may have been colleagues in these groups.

While I discovered a number of basket hilt English swords which used openwork lozenge designs (Mazansky) I also found some interesting other possible connections which could relate. At first I was thinking of the funerary 'hatchment' as used from 17th century with a lozenge shape enclosing achievements of the deceased, but although used in Masonic regalia in thier 'Memento Mori' theme, did not seem pertinant.

There was a compelling connection however in a 'secret organization' which evolved from a group of Freemasons and Protestant militia which clashed with Catholic forces in North Ireland 21 Sept 1795 in what became known as 'The Battle of the Diamond'. The meeting place of the group was at one of the mens home at Diamond Crossroads near Loughall, and called subsequently 'Diamond House'.
While admittedly tenuous speculation, the fact that varying devices of apparant significance seem to have been situated in this openwork bow on the guards of officers swords of this type in this 1790s period suggests that deliberately ambiguous associations may have been at hand. The examples of multiplicity such as several of these lozenges (diamonds) may have been to render the device as simple motif.

This seems to be the case often in Scottish basket hilts, where certain cryptic Jacobite secret symbols became openwork motif in these much as in other Highland material culture. These kinds of possibilities have only been suggested in Whitelaw et al......and in personal discussions with Blair, Mazansky and others but as yet of course, have not been developed.

As always, 'more research to be done' :)


Hotspur 7th December 2011 03:46 PM

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Hi JIm,

I appreciate the thoughts and time to look at the Masonic influences but in terms of specifically for those against the crown, I would remain entirely skeptical that such were special order from the big English cutlers. The diamond in the bow from these cutlers mentioned would have been a standard option of decoration (even if less common).

To me, the tarot implications seem to make more and more sense as finding now three of four suits with cups (church/royalty), swords (military), pentacles (industry/guilds) and wands (labor/force), the struggles of the masses.

With (in my mind) cups, swords and pentacles accounted for in my hypothesis, I'd like to add another for consideration in one decoration that became almost ubiquitous as found on second quarter 19th century eaglehead pommel swords but a repeated pattern that has been pointed out as found on cutlery back at least to the 17th century.

In considerations though, the tarot class associations do bear fruit if looking at the base of the pyramids beginning with tilling the earth (a tough row to hoe) in preparation and building to the pinnacle. With modern fraternal efforts also born out of the guild's structure, the base of believing in a supreme being does culminate at the top of the pyramid with royalty and the church.

Attached are a picture of a very common pattern found on Solingen eagles that must have been made as rolls of metal to make the thousands of ferrules. Your take on these oak leaves and wands may be something to consider.

Also a steel/iron hilted sabre I have here that has had the bow removed but who knows what was bracing it; whether heart, spade or other device. The brass bow easily broken, it may well be that so many were removed as damaged but could they have been removed purposefully (more reasons an opposition might make sense?).

My sweetheart hussar was deemed Swedish by Jeff Forgeng of the Higgins. The broken infantry sized one undoubtedly British manufacture and and a random example of the oak leaves with wands that adorn these ferrules. The last a matter of the volume of them surviving and the mass production of Solingen.



Hotspur 7th December 2011 05:15 PM

In the process of thought, I had meant to offer a couple of readings that have somewhat piqued my own interests of association.. The first in some years ago looking at the first charter of the British Odd Fellows, which was brought out as an opportunity for those barred from the public (do note public) Free Masons brought forth in the early 18th century. With the Odd Fellows, the distinction between classes of society are then blended further than freemasonry at the time.

A good look at the guilds and structure, including Edward III buying his ticket in the linen armourers' guild.

Then, a good look at the tarot in context with the secret society and an essay from quite some time ago I have read and re-read. Both links actually have helped guide my own thoughts as the hilt decoration being as much simple guild class structuring as meaning to be less convincing it is masonic but rather that the masons and other groups have/had adopted the structure of the guilds back to the first instances of political and religious structure in Europe.

Arguably, the stone masons guild could be held up as the cornerstone of building all guilds and an example of how to structure society but were they the first? Considering the earlier influences of knowledge going much further back than Europe's stone masons guild, it is rather that these groups including all the medieval the guilds reach back to divine creation and the supreme being.

Kipling's short story of The Man Who Would Be King points out the adoption of the Kabbalistic truths by the Free Masons, not the other way around. Poor Danny's head served up with the crown.

So anyway, the parallels kind of obvious but that goes back to my first question about "what's up with the diamond in the counterguard?" The pentacle changed to a four pointed mullet to satisfy the church? Likewise cups being changed to a heart to satisfy Catholicism? Wands to clubs (see the eaglehead examples)? Swords to spades?

Could the four tarot interpretations then classify (literally) the decorations?



Jim McDougall 8th December 2011 06:06 AM

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Great perspective Glen, and we are really entering esoteric territory which is tremendously complex. I like your ideas about the symbols used in card suits and tarot having potential influence in the selection of some of these design elements in the hilt motif. It seem that evidentially there is little association with the various Tarot symbolism which can be directly associated to anything in Masonic principles or philosophy, however the last decades of the 18th century into the early 19th were times wrought with fascination with esoterica.
While the intrigue surrounding secret societies, arcane philosophies and political and religiously oriented groups seem to have rampant in the society of these times, the Freemasons stood out most predominantly. As has been observed for some time, the makers marks, guild marks and stamps along with trademarks and merchants marks in general have largely seemed to carry some allusion to various kinds of esoterica. Much of this is directly related to cabalistic symbolism and various amuletic values as used talismanically, along with some religious in nature and even alchemical allegory. It is of course quite difficult to separate most of this in trying to identify these kinds of symbolism in items now profoundly out of context, and try to imagine what secretive ideas might have been intended to be conveyed.

As always, in approaching these kinds of investigations, we do not need to believe or follow what ideas are represented, but the difficulty is in finding and trying to understand what the individuals either producing or using the sword or weapon believed or followed.

It would seem that in these times with the preoccupation with neoclassicism and as mentioned, arcane elements, that these symbols which were also present in varying degree in heraldry, might have been quite appealing to the pretensions of the gentry and social elite. It is known that much of the symbolism found in the so called talismanic blade markings of the 18th century began in large degree with hunting swords, which of course were for this level of society. Following in this manner were markings and decoration on court swords and of course officers swords. It is not surprising then that the motif in hilts would adopt such character in designs. With that, it does not seem unreasonable at all that the symbols present in arcane context such as Tarot, esoterica and heraldry might enter favored designs for these rather elegant hilts.

Its good to be able to discuss these ideas on these kinds of motif, and I really appreciate being able to share thoughts with you. I hope maybe others will join in with thier views as well.

I am attaching the four suits of cards and the arm holding a wand (in tarot, corresponding to clubs in playing cards). This symbol is often seen on the 'talismanic' motif on 18th century European sword blades as an arm holding a sword extending from a cloud.

All the best,

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