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Old 4th August 2010, 03:22 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Smallswords, why the terms pillow and mourning swords?

It seems we have talked many times through the years on collectors terms, many seem the products of period literature as much as later collectors imaginations...maybe both.

The most puzzling seem to have been with certain smallswords, an area of sword collecting, an esoteric field in itself. ...and the so called 'pillow' swords, as well as mourning swords. Was it really necessary to have a special sword to be worn during mourning? and though it seems obvious that the pillow reference may have to do with 'hanging it on the bedpost at night' ...was that really the case?

I thought it would be interesting to discover more on these legends of sword lore.

Lets talk !!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 4th August 2010, 06:58 PM   #2
Dmitry
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
and though it seems obvious that the pillow reference may have to do with 'hanging it on the bedpost at night' ...was that really the case?



The term 'pillow sword', to me, is an invention of some 20th century romantic historian.
The first mention of them that I've encountered was by Bashford Dean, but I can't be sure whether he invented the term or quoted someone else.
19th c. authors refer to the type as epee de ville, or a town sword, as opposed to the epee d'armes.
A.V.B. Norman writes that the so-called pillow swords were known at the time as scarf swords, spada corta, or spada di banda, because they were worn tucked in the waste sash.
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Old 4th August 2010, 10:19 PM   #3
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Thanks Dmitry, thats a pretty good start. It seems I'd heard the scarf term too, another weird one! Norman would have been my first guess at first sources, but the Dean book is excellent (hard to find).
Need to find some examples.
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Old 6th August 2010, 04:24 AM   #4
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Excellent post, gents. One I am definately interested in hearing about, although not very knowledgible in. A question that I have always had concerning mourning swords is whether they were originally carried as side pieces and then later blackened for the occasion. I presently have a blackened smallsword in my collection and it seems quite functional as a true working piece vs just an adornment for funerary occasions. As smallswords were known to be carried by some naval officers, I kept it as a representation piece.
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Old 6th August 2010, 04:32 AM   #5
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Blackened hilt does not mean a mourning sword.Specifically, small-swords [or hangers, as they were called then] with simple, bilobate shell guards, mostly unadorned [save for scalloped borders], were, IMHO, sergeant's swords from the early to mid-1700s.
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Old 6th August 2010, 04:55 AM   #6
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Here's a sword from my collection, ca.1660, that would be called a pillow sword by some, or a town sword my yours truly.
Sword is feather-weight. Even in this condition one can see that the quality of the cast and hand-chased steel hilt is quite good. Blade is inscribed on both sides, one side worn more than the other. It reads something like NULLA LA ...BELLO. Blade is 69.5 cm.
Any help with reading the inscription would be greatly appreciated, of course.
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Old 7th August 2010, 04:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dmitry
Blackened hilt does not mean a mourning sword.Specifically, small-swords [or hangers, as they were called then] with simple, bilobate shell guards, mostly unadorned [save for scalloped borders], were, IMHO, sergeant's swords from the early to mid-1700s.


Thanks for that valuable information, Dmitry. I assumed the blackened forms represented the death of the one whose funeral it was. Does anyone have a picture of a so-called mourning sword, or is this title just a misnomer?

BTW, very nice town sword! I especially love the crossguard, with its Dutch designs...
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