EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Good points about the 'japanning' method of protection on hilts. Actually the use of brass on naval hilts was of course suggested as being favored for its rust resistance, but then the steel guards of the cutlasses would seem to have had to be japanned black.
It is known that the Scots actually either russeted (brown) their basket hilts or japanned them, so that the images of glistening basket hilts seems a bit unlikely. The damp Scottish weather was certainly a challenge for steel.
I would imagine that sea service hilts as Mark notes may well have been blackened, as these were of course more exposed to the elements. While military swords may often have been russeted or blackened, the civilian swords such as the regular smallswords or these 'walking or town swords' thier predecessors, may not have typically been so modified. It would seem the exception would have been the mourning swords discussed, and for these somber purposes.
It would be hard to be sure though, as there were certain styles, especially oriental which came into fashion in the 'shakudo' type hilts of 18th century smallswords with black overall and dramatic gold or ornate motif. While these were 'dark' in appearance they were of course not somber, but the attraction for the darker effect can be seen.
All the best,