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Cathey 11th December 2017 04:21 AM

Folding Guard or Attack Hilt Sword
1 Attachment(s)
Hi Guys

I am attempting to put together an article on this unusual pattern for our local collecting newsletter and I am having difficulty finding out much to work with.

The majority of the examples I have found are French, although a friend of mine has a fabulous blue and gilt example that appears to be English. Mine posted here is a typically French one that were used by both the navy and mounted infantry or cavalry.

Any information and or additional examples will be most welcome. The references I have found thus far are:
May and Annis Swords for Sea Service Plate 97 and referenced on Pages 143-144
Sim Comfort’s book Naval Swords and Dirks Page 380-381
SOUTHWICK Leslie The Price Guide to Antique Edged Weapons Pp 98 No 254

Officer’s Mounted Folding Guard Sabre
Nationality: French
Date: Circa 1780 Described as Pre-revolutionary period
Maker/Retailer: n/a
Overall Length: 33” (84 cm)
Blade length: 27.3/4” (70.5 cm)
Blade widest point: 1 3/8” (3.4 cm)
Hilt widest point: 4 7/8” (12.4 cm)
Inside grip length: 4 ¼” (10.7 cm)
Marks, etc.: n/a

French Officer’s Mounted Folding Guard Sabre (Possibly Naval).
These swords were prominently used by the French Infantry, but also by the French Navy in the French revolution-Napoleonic era. Brass folding hilt with a steel button mechanism. The folding guard moves smooth & the mechanism perfect. Backstrap in brass, as is the knuckle guard & pommel. Grip bound in tight twisted brass wire & in 100% perfect condition. The hilt, backstrap & wire binding are just about pristine perfect, save for a tiny hairline crack in the top of the guard, hardly noticable the crack not passing all the way through the brass. A diamond shaped pommel also in brass. The blade has a wide shallow fuller for most of the blades length as well as a narrow fuller running along the back of the blade. No markings or engravings. No scabbard.

Cheers Cathey and Rex

fernando 11th December 2017 06:33 PM

8 Attachment(s)
Nice sword Cathey,
Well known by its French name SABRE A GARDE TOURNANTE, a term with which you may find several examples an data in the internet. You may even find websites assuring that this model is only French; yet what may only be French is a determined model variation, as the folding system may be found elsewhere, as also possibly the one of your friend.
I once had some pictures of these swords sent from a local collector, when about to buy him some pieces.
I will here upload some of those pictures; not good ones, as the fellow was a lousy photographer; but this is to confirm that a few variants existed, namely the French lion head, which several sources name as Volunteer Officer version (#1+2+3), the Portuguese Navy model, with a finger guard (#4+5+6), and even the Walloon hilt type (#6+8).
Other members will certainly give you better info on this subject.


Madnumforce 12th December 2017 12:35 AM

It can also be described as a "petit Montmorency" (especially since it has a Montemorency blade), and can be refered to as "sabre de mineur", "sabre de Volontaire", "sabre de Garde Nationale", etc... a slew of such sabers has been produced around the revolutionary period, without any specific pattern but a limited set of types and designs, mostly easy to manufacture (the hilt of this one is just pieces of sheet metal shaped only through cutting, brazing, drilling and filing, so techniques that only require very minimal tooling and formation). Most of the time they aren't marked, and they can't be positively attributed to any specific corps or unit, unless specifically stated on the blade, and all the above mentioned terminology is basically arbitrary and purely conventional, as far as I know. Not sure about "gardes tournantes" being such a great design feature, and by 1800 the trend had significantly slowed down if not stopped, probably for a reason, but they are cool looking.

M ELEY 13th December 2017 09:11 PM

Here's one I used to own...

fernando 26th December 2017 06:00 PM

Hello Cathey. I notice that you haven't given us any feedback on comments posted so far; were they useful ?

Les-M 26th December 2017 10:05 PM

Folding Guard Sword
Hi Guys

My apologies for not getting back to you sooner, but I don't spend as much time on the forums as I should. Rex generally looks ever day (being retired) unlike me who is still working full time to pay for swords. Thank you so much for the information it is certainly extremely helpful.

Cheers Cathey

Cathey 26th December 2017 11:47 PM

Folding Guard Swords
Hi Guys

My apologies for not getting back to this post. Yes the information is definitely helpful and much appreciated. I have been experiencing difficulties posting replies, so today I am trying another browser.

Cheers Cathey

fernando 27th December 2017 10:22 AM


Cathey 28th December 2017 04:34 AM

Folding Hilt
Hi Fernando

I think I know where my posts have been going. I set up an account for a friend who struggles with computers and it looks like I have accidentally replied under his name, that will confuse people.

Anyway back to the Folding Guard. Your reference to its French name SABRE A GARDE TOURNANTE is most helpful and has provided a number of excellent examples. I was wondering if Sim Comfort is correct when he suggest that that the original attack hilt (Folding Guard) design originated from a Parisian sword maker named Coullier in the 1780s. I haven't been able to find out anything about Coullier so it is difficult to know how Sim has come up with this view.

Cheers Cathey and Rex

fernando 29th December 2017 12:33 PM

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Originally Posted by Cathey
... I think I know where my posts have been going. I set up an account for a friend who struggles with computers and it looks like I have accidentally replied under his name, that will confuse people...

I thought something like that has occurred and deleted all double posts in the cutlass thread. I only left above post #6 in this thread as it contains an unrepeated paragraph referring your options on what concerns affording swords :) :cool:

Originally Posted by Cathey
... I was wondering if Sim Comfort is correct when he suggest that that the original attack hilt (Folding Guard) design originated from a Parisian sword maker named Coullier in the 1780s. I haven't been able to find out anything about Coullier so it is difficult to know how Sim has come up with this view.

Well, there is no smoke without fire ... but it is indeed hard to find references on Coullier. He did certainly exist as a 'fourbisseur' (french for sword smith). I have read of him HERE but i spotted no trace of his possible (probable) garde tournante invention. Madnumforce is visibly well documented on French armoury; maybe he could come up with some data...


Madnumforce 29th December 2017 03:10 PM

I'm not much versed into specific manufacturers, but after a brief search on Google, Coullier, successeur de Monsieur Pichon à Paris, doesn't seems to have any connection with sabers at all, only relatively classy smallswords, that's why he bothers mentioning on the blade he's the swordsmith of the count of Artois. The sabres à garde tournante are about as opposite as one can get to the type of smallsword he (and his workshop) was making.

an exemple of a Coullier smallsword on an auction website
another exemple from the Wallace Collection

I don't see how one could positively conclude that this fourbisseur created the garde tournante. I'd be rather curious to know how Mr. Comfort came to that conclusion.

Cathey 30th December 2017 12:13 AM

Origin of the Folding Guard
Hi Guys

The exact extract from Sim Comfort's book is "So where does this attack hilt come from? It appears that the original attack hilt design originated from a Parisian sword maker named Coullier in the 1780s. In 1791 a special military guard was established for the king and another special guard for the protection of the Assemblee Nationale. This type of movable guard hilt was used for the swords for these two special guards. As this particular sword bears the inscription 'LA PATRIE LA LOI LE ROI', it seems most likely that it formed part of the king's guard and, who knows, it may well have been recycled and, like Captain L'Heritier's attack hilt fighting sword, found its way to sea."

It looks like the only option remaining is to Contact Sim and ask him what he has based his view of the origin of the Attack Hilt on. I think I still have his email address somewhere from previous correspondence so I will drop him a line and let you know if he responds.

In the meantime does anyone out there have a view as to when and where these odd hilts first surfaced and who invented them?

Cheers Cathey and Rex

Madnumforce 30th December 2017 01:54 AM

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Mmmhhh...... I'm quite sceptical.

It's a bit difficult to know exactly with he means as he's using vague terms for things which are very specific, but what he's talking about sounds like it could either be the Garde Constitutionnelle du Roi (personal guard of the king during the constitutional monarchy era, and obviously stopped with it), or what was successively called "Garde de l'Assemblée Nationale", then "Gendarmes Nationaux", then "Grenadier Gendarmes près la Convention" aka "Garde de la Convention", as it was at the center of the intense political turmoil of the period. The very political turmoil makes it a period quite difficult to sort things through, especially things that anecdotic. But anyway, I did my research, and I don't happen to fall on Mr. Comfort conclusion AT ALL.

First, what seems to be a fine exemple of the Garde Constitutionnelle sword... marked on both sides from the fourbisseur Coullier!!! Its authenticity leaves no doubt:
the sword

Then, an officer sword of that ever-changing parliament guard with a thousand names, and small size scans of an article in the Gazette des Armes depicting what is clearly the same type/model:
the sword
the article

Of course, none of this has nothing to do with gardes tournantes, and the very explanation Mr. Comfort gives in regard to its origins contradicts everything I read from the French collector community (also that emphasis on naval use, which makes no sense: it was just so commonplace in both the infantry and light cavarly that it could have end up anywhere, much like a briquet).

Pétard and Ariès, in a leaflet dedicated to fantaisie sabers from the second half of the 18th century (in cahier XXII from 1974), show various gardes tournantes, but the early ones are more like split branches, like those we can see on Walloons and such. But they also give the following drawings in attachment. We can clearly see the beaded branch style (garde perlée) of germanic/eastern influence, and the well formed garde tournante mechanism. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly the decade during which this style was fashionable in France, but it surely was by the 1780's, and not so much by the 1790's. The other saber is more 1790's-ish.

But there also is a variety of other petits Montomrency à garde tournante, or other infantry or cavalry sabers with a garde tournante (and I mean that specific kind garde tournante, with the leaf lock and all) that can be dated to the late years of the monarchy, i.e. late 1780's, because they're otherwise similar in every other aspect to similar sabers of the period.

I don't think we will ever figure out who invented the garde tournante, if there ever was such a person, but we can safely assume that it evolved from previous designs (like those on the Walloons), and during a brief and intense period of time, a bit before the Revolution and during it (and you can read in periods accounts that people were really smelling something huge was in the air even before anything "serious" had really started), with an amazing technological coincidence as hilt fashion turned the way it had (many parts fashioned from sheet metal), making it extremely compatible with that specific garde tournante system, it rapidly gained a very significant popularity, and also fell in about a decade as the political situation changed as well as fashion in hilt designs. Not that it's only French, of course, but it's typically French, and I really think this can't be taken out of the equation.

Cathey 30th December 2017 06:44 AM

Tournantes Guard sword
Hi Madnumforce

Thank you for your input and at this point I think I share your scepticism. However, I am hoping that Sim has had access to some reference material that will shed light of his view and the connection with Coullier in the 1780s, so I have flicked him an email to ask what he has based this view on. He gives references at the end of each item he discusses, but these do not appear to address the connection with Coullier either.

I also find the Naval connection rather wishful, I scanned every Tournantes Guard sword reference in my copy of LHOSTE Jean, & RESEK Patrick LES SABRES PORTÉS PAR L'ARMÉE FRANÇAISE, then translated the text to English via Google and the majority of these swords appear to be Cavalry or Infantry, a small number attributed to Navy only. At times like this I wished I could read French, thank goodness for Google translations (although they can be rather strange at times). I used to steer away from Sword books not written in English, but I am over than now.

The other thing I was wondering is where the term Attack hilt came from. When you speak with English and Australian collectors this is the term they appear to favour for these folding guard swords, but I can find not definitive reference to its use.

I will let you know if I hear back from Sim on this subject.

With regard to the great illustration you have posted is there some text to go with it that you could post the describes the various figures?

Cheers Cathey

Cathey 30th December 2017 11:21 PM

Reference to Origin of the Attack hilt
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Hi Guys

Sim Comfort has kindly responded to my Query and his reference for the origin of the Attack hilt is Des Sabres et Des Epees, Vol Ill, by Michel Petard, pub Canonnier, Nantes, 2005 indicating that Petard believed the original design comes Coullier. I don't have Petards book so impossible for me to cross reference back. Perhaps if someone has the book they could look it up. Sim did mention he had difficulty getting translations of the text. I have attached the scanned pages Sim has sent me.

Cheers Cathey

Madnumforce 31st December 2017 01:00 AM

Oh damn. That's really just a case of a complete absence of a translation, or complete misunderstanding. The paragraph numbered 303, mentioning Coullier, describes the sword numbered as picture 14, exactly the same kind as the one I gave a link to Mr. Malvaux antiques website in my previous post. There is absolute unmistakable certainty about it: it talks about a cock's head with feather chiseled on the grip all the way to the crossguard/crosspiece. The previous "model", which was designed for the Gardes Françaises (when it was still the "plain" monarchy), was also designed and made by Coullier... and that it was an eagle head instead of a cock.

But it seems that of the four descriptions, the 303 is the only one fitting one of these nine pictures, so it's probably a bit of a mess to spot which description matches with which picture in the book.

You can tell Mr. Comfort that next time he needs a translation from French, he can ask me. I can't let this kind of thing ever happen again.

Cathey 31st December 2017 01:43 AM

Problems with translations
Hi Madnumforce

I agree, when I translated 303 even Google did not produce a reference to Coullier as the originator of the attack hilt. In Sims English notes on the French Swords, which he also kindly sent me he still has this reference. Sim did say that the Dutch wife of a friend did the translating so this might be where things went wrong. I might have to get a copy of Petards book myself anyway, looks like a good reference source, although I note it is Volume 3 of a set.

I may also take you up on the offer of translating from time to time, if you don't mind as I am starting to buy references in French as well as English.

I am still curios as to where the term Attack hilt came from? I think we will never really know who came up with the idea of the folding guard and to what purpose.

Cheers Cathey and Rex

Madnumforce 31st December 2017 02:28 AM

No problem if you have French text to translate. Best is doing it here on the forum so that everybody can benefit from it.

Actually, I have to admit that my only reference "book" is the complete 30 booklets set of Pétard and Ariès, Les Armes Blanches Françaises. I stumbled upon it in a flea market, maybe 8 years ago, and it's the most precious book I have. It is extremely interesting and detailed, but not really monographic enough, in the sense that you will only have the information bits by bits, scattered with the various weapons it come as a comment on. But every time I free some cash, I find something else to buy. Books aren't as sexy as steel, though the knowledge they bring lasts forever.

Now as to where the term "attack hilt" comes from, I have no idea. I reminds me slightly of the French term "garde de bataille", but this term describes something completely different, a sort of half basket figuring a shell, found almost exclusively on heavy cavalry sabers as far as I know.

fernando 31st December 2017 05:42 PM

The attack name
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To start with ...
It doesn't seem that the retracting of the these hilt bars is that of providing a better leaning of the sword against the hip, like in the case of inner folding guards of some swords, as these gardes tournantes hilt bars open towards the outer part.
But then ...
What would be the primary purpose for articulating the guard ; fold it or unfold it ?
Could then the term 'attack' be allusive to its 'offensive' posture, in a manner used in medieval times when sword guards (and pommels) could be used as weapons, when fighting in close quarters ?
This is certainly nonsense; just forget it :shrug:.


Cathey 7th January 2018 04:03 AM

Folding Guard
Hi Fernando

I agree, no idea what prompted some one to come up with this system of folding guard. When folded out and locked into place it is quite robust, but the only advantage I can see is it would be easy to pack being flat.

Cheers Cathey and Rex

fernando 7th January 2018 11:02 AM

Hi Cathy,

I remain with the idea that such reciprocate mechanism was more intended to unfold that to fold... pass the preciosity.
As if i was wandering on a fantasy when trying to decipher the attribution of the term "attack", HERE you have an interesting French description of the "garde tournante" in that, even not dominating the language, one may catch a pretty good idea of how english speaking collectors arrived at such term ... attack = combat.

Roughly translating ...

"The brass guard has two parts, from which one, swiveling, passes from normal position to combat position, by a simple 90º rotation".

E.B. Erickson 13th January 2018 12:29 PM

2 Attachment(s)
1796 Light Cavalry Officer's Sword with folding sideguard.

Blade is normal 1796 dimensions, and retains considerable bluing and gilding. Blade is signed "Osborn's Warranted".

Scabbard has lost most of the gilding on it's mounts. Top chape is detached and has had the hanging ring broken off; is signed "Henry Osborn, Bordesly near Birmingham"

Hilt is of gilt copper, pretty worn. The quillon is a restoration (and a little too straight). Original leather covered grip with wire wrap.
The interesting feature is the hinged sideguard, ala the French "attack" guards. The facetted ferrule at the grip base has a knob protruding on the right side. The knob is connected to a blade that engages a slot on the hinged sideguard to lock it in place when extended. The spring inside the ferrule that activated the knob/blade is either broken or jammed, and the blade no longer engages the slot, so you can't lock the sideguard now.


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