Circa 1575 Shell Guard Cutlass or Riding Sword
This sword had been in a close friend’s collection for many years until I purchased it from estate at Auction where it had been described as an early Riding Sword. The look and feel of the thing screams cutlass or sabre to me and I would be interested in your thoughts.
Date: Circa 1575-1625 (16th Century)
Overall Length: 86.1 cm (33.9 inches)
Blade length: 73 cm (28.7 inches)
Blade widest point: 3.011 cm (1.2 inches) near hilt, 3.115 swollen tip (1.2 inches)
Hilt widest point: 11.6 cm (4.6 inches)
Inside grip length: 7.5 cm (3 inches)
Marks, etc: So called ‘Passau Wolf’ mark 16th Century, anchor marks
Shell Guard Riding Sword c1575
The steel hilt has a very large upturned guard, styled as a sea shell, and a smaller shell with thumb ring for the reverse guard. The knuckle guard and quillion are of equal length and create a most graceful sweep through the cross guard. The pommel is of a large globular shape with pronounced tang cap. The grip is turned wood covered tightly bound brass wire that is now extremely smooth to the touch and black with age in patches. Steel ferrules are fitted at the top and base of the grip. The curved single edged blade has a single fuller running two thirds of its length and is marked with the 16th century version of the Passau Wolf and early German anchor marks. The blade swells slightly towards the tip.
Sim Comfort has suggested that this style of sword may have a naval connection. The sword bears a strong resemblance to the ne in the early etching of the Pirate Francis Lolonois.
COMFORT (S.) NAVAL SWORDS AND DIRKS: A STUDY OF BRITISH, FRENCH AND AMERICAN NAVAL SWORDS, CUTLASSES AND DIRKS DUR-ING THE AGE OF FIGHTING SAIL. EW5 Pages 5-7.
DUFTY, Arthur Richard EUROPEAN SWORDS AND DAGGERS IN THE TOWER OF LONDON plate 35 d
ESQUEMELING John The Buccaneers of America. First published in Dutch in 1684, and then subsequently in London and New York and currently in print via Naval Institute Press.
OAKESHOTT, Ewart EUROPEAN WEAPONS AND ARMOUR pp155
PETERSON Harold L. Arms and Armor in Colonial America (1526 - 1783) Bramhall House, New York, 1956.
SOUTHWICK Leslie The Price Guide to Antique Edged Weapons, pub Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1982.
VALENTINE Eric Rapiers, pub Arms and Armour Press, London, 1968.
WALLACE COLLECTION Catalogue of European Arms and Armour, pub by the Wallace Collection, London, 1962.
Cheers Cathey and Rex
Wow! An excellent example of a Dutch clamshell saber from the 17th century, indeed used and favored by the buccaneers and seamen of that era. i don't believe despite its size that it was used as a cavalry piece. There is much similarity with the so called Sinclaire sabers and I know we're discussed this type before. Jim is an excellent source of info on these, if we can drag him in!
indeed a beautiful Dutch hanger but not 1575 but 150-200 years later , from the 18th Century.
for examples see
I also looked at the Dutch Hanger in Sim Comfort’s book but the shell and pommel configuration of this particular sword appear earlier to me. It actually compares more closely to the one featured on page 5 EW5 and this blade is also of German manufacture.
Personally, given the blade on this sword I struggle to accept that the cutlass is as late as the 18th century. The sword does not appear to be a marriage of earlier blade with a later hilt; they appear to have been together for a very long time. The balance is wonderful it is simply a pleasure to hold.
Does anyone know how long these Dutch Clam shell cutlass’s where around, and when they first started to appear. There is a lot of variation out there in the shell design and some of the other Dutch ones I have seen are far cruder than this one. The ones featured in the link do not look to be as old as this one. I actually have a Rapier with a similar shell guard, so it looks like the design was utilised across Europe for an extensive period.
The book where the etching of Francis the pirate comes from, is a book in the Dutch language published in 1678 in Amsterdam.
it is quite possible and also common because most artists were not sword specialists, that a Dutch sword is used from around the period in which he made the work, but Francis has never used and seen this type of sword.
on the other hand Francis was active as a pirate in the 1660, so that would match this type of sword.
the first shellguards are from the last quarter of the 16th century.
see eg different dussage types.
The blade of EW 5 is a type of blade often used on Dutch Swords and often made by clemens Horn in Solingen
I think my example is also one that has clearly employed a Solingen blade, hence my initial thoughts in agreement with that of the previous owner is a date being late circa 1500s or early 1600s. The particular wolf mark and anchor marks support this and as suggested the hilt appears consistent with the blade. No issue with it being Dutch though, until I looked through Sim Comfort’s book I was unaware of the Dutch cutlasses with shell guards.
I think, when my friend (sadly now deceased so I can't ask him) originally dated this sword he used Dufty as his reference (see attached exerts from Dufty and Peterson). It certainly looks strikingly similar and has a very similar German blade. I have been looking for a reference book on early Dutch arms but all I have found in one on Firearms at this stage. I will start collecting examples for my data base and as I am currently scanning every book in my Arms and Armour library perhaps I will come across other examples in the process.
So at this stage we agree it is not a riding sword and it is a Cutlass, age still up for further debate I think. I am leaning toward 17th century but can’t convince myself it’s as late as the 18th with that blade.
Cheers Cathey and Rex
J P Puype produced various books on Dutch Arms and worked for various museums in the Netherlands - he always had a keen interest in naval weapons. His website here, with some early cutlasses on the front page -http://www.adviesoudewapens.nl/index.html - should give you some idea of the books available.
Maybe of some help.
thankyou for the link, I have now purchased one of his books and downloaded another. Still not a lot in print about these cutlasses that I can find as yet.
Cheers Cathey and Rex
Other similar hilts in the Gravensteen Gent Belgium and also one sold in Czerny's
Email from Jan Piet Puype
Hi Cerjak andCC
Thanks for the additional picture Cerjak. After visiting J P Puype’s website kindly provided by CC I decided to send him an email to find out if he could shed any more light on these swords as this is his specialty. His reponse was extremely interesting so I thought I should post it here:
“Dear Cathy and Rex,
Thank you for your message and for the interesting attachments.
The problem with this type of sword is that so far there has never been written a proper monography on them and that opinions on them are practically always unsubstantiated by evidence. The other problem is that they are often seen as naval but there is more evidence to tell us that they were army swords.
I think that I may be the first arms historian who identified these swords as cavary swords, but I have to admit that in publications prior to 1998 I (too) identified them exclusively as shipbard cutlasses.
In the 1990s I became increasingly ivolved in writing publications and doing museum exhibitions on Prince Maurice and the new Dutch so-called States Army of the 1590s. In the course of this involvement I analysed the pictures by Jacob de Gheyn made during the 1590s of the infantry drill and cavalry drills. These infantry pictures were published in a book in 1607, although we know that its manuscript was already in existence c. 1595-c.1597, but was withheld by Prince Maurice for reasons of security.
Simultaneously, a book on the cavalry exercise was conceived, but its publication was permanently withheld by Maurice, partly for sucurity reasons, partly also because Prince Maurice in 1597 or 1598 abolished the lancers. That's why of this cavalry work only a few isolated examples were printed (until the 1620s) which are very rare nowadays.
Among the cavalry prints the heavy cavalry has as its chief weapon the lance (it was abolished in 1597 or 1598 in favor of the wheellock pistol, and the lancers became 'pistoliers'). However, the light cavalry is armed with swords with shell-guard hilts. I am attaching two pictures from the 1597 cavalry exercise showing this sword type in use.
So we can only prove that the seashell-hilted sword apparently originated in the cavalry. The earliest proof that I have of its maritime use is after 1700. I do not know how to explain the picture of the French privateer Lolonois of 1684 (the year of appearance of the original Dutch edition) who is armed with a seashell-hilted cutlass with a curved blade with clipped point.
One other of the very few other 17th C pictures I know in which appear what seem to be shell-hilted cutlasses is on the title-page of a book published in 1673 (see the attachment). There is a heap of apparently seashell-hilted cutlasses in the foreground but it is clear that the hilts are rendered in a wrong version. The blades, however, are curved and with clipped point.
In or before 1978 the wreck of a flatboat was found in the lake what once was the Zuyderzee. This boat was full of arms and military equipment, destined for what were army outposts on islands against a possible French invasion in 1672. Among the cargo were four swords with seashell guards and straight blades. In the attachment are two archaeological drawings.
All this does not bring us definitive answers to the probrem when we view the portrait of the French privateer l'Olonnais (spelled as Lolonois) in which he is holding a seashell-hilited cutlass with curved blade with clipped point. I do not know of the actual existence of such a sword - nowhere in the world. I dare not go so far as to suggest that swords of this type may be artists' impressions only but somehow it does feel that way!
Please excuse me for giving you such an elaborate reply, but it was also good for me, i.e. for my own documentation, to have a succint story on this type of sword.
With best wishes,
Jan Piet Puype.”
I have included the attachments Jan kindly sent me as well.
Cheers Cathey and Rex
JP Puype is one of the last authorities with a real knowledge of Dutch arms, and also always willing to help out with questions about Dutch weapons.
please give him my personal greetings when you speak to him.
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