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Old 6th October 2020, 02:59 AM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Cavalry saber from Deccan late 18th c. EIC?

This anomaly is an unusual style tulwar hilt from India's Deccan(Central regions) mounted with in steel shamshir form with Indo-Persian type quillon terminals and langet, as well as knuckle bow in Persian style.
What is unusual is that the blade is a British model 1788 light cavalry type and of the montmorency section typically made by James Wooley of Birmingham, but this appears unmarked.
The blade has had 'koftgari' gold inlay placed at the forte.

This may be from the late 18th c. probably after the defeat of Tipu Sultan at Seringpatam with the East India Company's occupation of these regions.

Without getting into this very complex and dramatic history, what is unique about this saber is that it is a virtual representation of Kipling's "East and West" but joined together.

It is known that in India, there were many cases of European blades being mounted in Indian swords, and this could very well be one. But with the koftgari decoration there is strong suggestion this could have had perhaps diplomatic assertions. Whatever the case, it is a high end saber possibly for an East India Company officer.

While of course Indian in style it is quite possibly a British East India Company officers saber.

As always, more research,
Any thoughts or similar examples ?
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Last edited by Jim McDougall : 6th October 2020 at 03:13 AM.
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Old 8th October 2020, 10:50 AM   #2
colin henshaw
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I've occasionally seen this phenomena in the past, but usually the other way round, ie. native blade, European hilt. There was an article written on the subject sometime back but I don't have it to hand. Examples I can recall use a Khyber knife blade also African blades with European hilts.

Presumably the European hilt would be preferred as Indian or other native hilts were designed for a more slender hand. I also read that for example tulwar blades were considered superior to European blades, so perhaps that was a reason for the mix/match. Or maybe it was just to create an exotic show ? Don't know if it was permissible under military regulations ? Not a subject I have studied however.
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Old 8th October 2020, 08:08 PM   #3
Will M
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Interesting sword, have you compared it directly to a Wooley blade?
"I also read that for example tulwar blades were considered superior to European blades," Not sure where you read this Colin, Indians preferred British blades being more a spring steel. The 1796 LC blades were re hilted by them being superior steel.
The steel in Tulwar swords are softer and are not a steel that retains original shape after being bent. Tulwars were sharp which was the only advantage and were not housed in steel scabbards that made blades dull over time while riding on horseback.
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Old 8th October 2020, 09:06 PM   #4
Jim McDougall
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Thank you much guys for the observations! I was afraid this was kind of esoteric and might not draw much interest.

Colin, there have been articles in the past on British or European hilts on Indian or Middle Eastern blades, and the 'phenomenon' seems to be more a matter of diplomatic gestures as well as personal flamboyance more than anything pragmatic.
In India during the 'Raj' British officers commanding native regiments took to designing uniforms after Indian costume and styles, even wearing turbans with their jodhpur pants and riding boots, etc. Naturally it was pretty flashy to have a really exotic blade of middle east or Indian style. I have a M1796 officers saber with yelman (compared to Indian tulwars with that feature, as well as Ottoman pala/kilij).

Indian figures of prominence in princely states also very much favored British blades as signature connection diplomatically or gesture of solidarity perhaps. I have a tulwar with a gilt 'warranted' motif (possibly Osborne? or one of the makers of this period using the term on blades) M1796 blade.

During the Sikh wars in India c. 1830s the British were amazed by the deadly swordsmanship of these warriors. They were stunned and dismayed when they discovered that the 'secret' of the deadly sabers was simply highly honed blades and that these were actually discarded old M1796 blades!
These were constantly sharpened , oiled and kept in wood scabbards.

The issue with Indian blades, particularly wootz, is that while having superior strength and beauty in most cases, could often be equally opposite, brittle and less than durable. As noted, the spring steel in English blades was profoundly favored (despite detractions).

The Khyber knife examples mentioned were actually tribal blades mounted in European style Afghan hilts for tribal levys in post Afghan war Afghanistan c. 1880s.

Very valid point about the hand size, in fact British sword hilts for native forces were designed with the same regulation form but smaller (this was with the M1908). Other earlier examples also reflected this.

There is virtually a whole book in studying these cross cultural hybrids, and I hope you guys dont mind my elaborating on what you already noted. Its been sort of a pet area for me over years, and I get excited

Kinda hoping that maybe others out there might have examples or seen them, just as you both shared here. Thank you again!
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