EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
I have been going through Aylward ("The Smallsword in England", 1945) in order to find any references to the London Cutlers Co. While most references attend to the rather ancient history of this organization which began in 1365 (p.32) noting that every cutler must record his mark, it seems that in the period discussed there was far less structure. On the same page Aylward notes that by 1680 there were very few cutlers belonging to the company and the Company lacked the power to check importing of blades.
On p.34, it is noted that a manuscript book of cutlers marks of 17th century was made, but incomplete, and the last attempt to control sword blade trade was in 1719, thus through the 18th century no accurate data was apparently kept. Still the Company existed as a nominal entity, and there is discussion of a mark of a flaming sword used as late as 1780 by varying cutlers (p.18-19).
Most telling is on p.19 where Aylward notes, "...in the 18th century the bladesmiths art was at a low ebb, and the demand for fine blades was met by bulk importations from Solingen". Further, "...these bulk importations of blades too, might be one of the reasons for the absence of signatures on blades mounted by 18th century sword cutlers" . Apparantly the craft of sword cutler' was a multiple faceted trade as they also acted as hatters, and general outfitters.
In these capacities these men acted essentially as 'hilters' using imported blades, and in the latter 17th into 18th century they situated around particular business districts where at certain coffee houses etc. they woud bid on parcels of imported blades. On p.35 it is noted that by 1767 there were only three bladesmiths in Birmingham, then the seat of the English blade trade, and there had been certain prejudices against English made blades well through the 18th century, with German producers holding an unchallenged monopoly .
Howard Blackmore ("Hunting Weapons", 1971,p.42) stating that by 1760-90 the universal practice for the sword cutler ( calling him the 'hilter' in actuality) to order the 'white' blade from recognized centers (Solingen) and basically assemble the swords.
It would seem that there is no record of a fleur de lis being specific to the London Cutlers Co. as makers of sword blades. As noted, it appears that blades were indeed imported from Germany, and these blades with this mark of the fleur de lis appear not only in England, but on the Continent, with the examples in America having come from British sources. As Solingen often added particular names, slogans and markings on their blades for consignments to certain markets, perhaps these were among such and over a period c.1720s into 1750s.
I checked through Bezdek and found no indication of the fleur de lis for any maker listed. As noted no particular makers marks using fleur de lis are mentioned in the text of Aylward for the Cutlers Co nor any particular maker in England, and he is usually keen on such detail.
I would suggest that perhaps this fleur de lis is a kind of 'brand' for these blades destined for English clients in the manner of the 'Andrea Ferara' blades to Scotland and 'Sahagun' blades to North Europe. The fleur de lis was a popular device in England among several others, though it may seem curious. Actually there was a Fleur de Lis street in these business districts in England where cutlers conducted business, so it is tempting to consider association along that venue. These areas were also well populated with French artisans and businessmen, so that furthers possibilities for a key import circumstance.
This may be the explanation for this device found commonly on these blades from this period .