EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
I decided to continue my research with what resources I have at hand here as this topic is pretty fascinating. My greatest regret as we left on this trip is that I don't have at hand Southwick; Annis & May and some of the other pertinent books, so I will continue as best as possible.
The assertion that these blades must be English seems based on some entries, such as the V&A example showing the FDL (=fluer de lys) as used by Joseph Reason c.1730 and the number of British swords bearing blades with this mark through the 18th century 1720s into 70s. The specific note that this mark was used by the London Cutlers Co. I also questioned.
Did the London Cutlers Co. make blades? or were most, if not even nearly all, imported from Germany? Did any particular English smith or cutler use this FDL as his mark? Was the mark indeed for London Cutlers Co.?
In Stuart Mowbrays new (and fantastic!) new book ("British Military Swords 1600-1660) there is good discussion on the Cutlers Company, and while of course the periods covered predate the swords we are focused on here, the context of this organization and English swords and blades is well placed .
On p.27, he notes, citing a reference in the early 1700s, "...the sword cutler frequently deals in knives and cutlery but consider him here as concerned in mounting swords, making scabbards etc. The blades come mostly from abroad, and none of them are made by the sword cutler". In another reference (p34) it is noted (cited from "History of the Cutlers Co., C.Welch) that "...it wasn't practical for London cutlers to make their own blades"
It seems that "...imported blades were not seen as a bad thing. Most British military men seem to have been of the opinion that Dutch/German blades were superior to British blades" (p.31, Mowbray) . I believe this was cited from "The Mark of the Sword: A Narrative History of the Cutlers Co. 1189-1975" Tom Girtin.
In "Boarders Away" (Gilkerson, 1991, p.89) it is noted that "...many of the blades sold by England to America were deemed too inferior for local consumption and so were foisted off on the colonists. German blades crossed the ocean as well, usually via England".
It would seem that these comments would support the idea that at least some blades were indeed made by makers in England, but seemed that they were far from being comparable to German blades. The German blades which went to America would be my guess to have belonged to British forces rather than for sale to colonists, as noted for English blades.
We know that German swordsmiths had come to England in the early 17th century to Hounslow, and that they had been joined by English smiths as well as the enterprise grew. By 1673, the King had declared that ' sword blades ought to be made in England' (Aylward, 1945, p.31). The end of the Hounslow enterprise seems to have dissipated just after the Civil War but another similar enterprise based on German swordsmiths ( some believed from Hounslow) was formed at Shotley Bridge. The numbers of actual German smiths and English became rather clouded as many Germans had Anglicized their names, but it seems that even after the demise of this enterprise as well (c.1703) there were indeed English smiths making blades.
On p.35 (Aylward, 1945, op.cit) in a comment attributed to Charles Ffoulkes (1932), ..the effort to acclimatize the swordsmiths art in England was unsuccessful, and it is not even likely that the prime object of the promoters goal was attained viz. the training of English apprentices in German methods".
On p.33 Aylward had also noted, regarding at least with the later Shotley Bridge venture, it appeared that they were importing forgings from Solingen which were ground, tempered and finished at Shotley. While the mill had closed in 1703, it was apparently reopened by Hermann Mohll and later sold to Robrt Oley in 1724.
By the 1767, according to Aylward (p.35) ".there were only three bladesmiths in Birmingham , then the seat of the English sword blade trade" In 1783, the Government sought to import sword blades without payment of duties due to the 'disrepute' of English blades. This would suggest there must have been far more than listed in the Birmingham records, and it is stated that by 1814 it was well populated with smiths, so those numbers must have rapidly increased.
This effort toward removal of duties as well as large orders of blades by EIC (competing German vs. English smiths) led to the 'sword scandals' spearheaded by Thomas Gill,Birmingham.
In Gyngell ("Armourers Marks, 1959) there are many gunsmiths marks shown which are comprised with a sort of half FDL or vestigial bottom half and consistently over the smiths initials. These devices are not at all similar to the European versions as seen on these blades. A gunsmith named Ralph Barras (1721), uses a rather gangly looking FDL with only a single stem below the trefoil.
There are no swordsmiths or cutlers shown with the FDL.
I would suggest that these blades were likely to have been imported from Germany as previously suggested, and probably 'outfitted' by cutlers in England by mounting in locally made hilts. As the Cutlers Co. was far more limited in its scope and powers in my view at least, it is doubtful this FDL had anything to do with that organization as a universal mark. The mark used by them in the 17th century was a dagger (more of a sword) which was to accompany the registered cutlers mark.
With Solingen innovation, I believe that the FDL (fleur de lis) as an accommodation toward marks using this device well established by then in England. With then strong ties between English and French gentry and possibly even more esoteric connections it seems possible that the mark had even deeper connotations.