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Old 15th October 2020, 04:00 PM   #1
shayde78
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Default Cuphilt sword for comment

Well, I took another swing on an unnoticed (or dismissed) piece. I'm not sure this can properly be called a rapier, but it seems to fit the style/proportions for bilbo swords circulating among the Spanish colonies. It is well worn and, to me, this lends it a character that more pristine examples lack (not to say I wouldn't happily take any 'extra' pristine beauties anyone might have lying about!). I know many of you agree.

So, given my track record, I acknowledge there is a good chance this is not an authentic period piece. I will offer the elements that convinced me to take a chance, as well as those that give me pause.

First, dimensions:
Overall Length - 43.5"
Blade length (point to guard) - 36"
Width of quillions - 8.25"
Cup diameter - 4.75"

The point of balance is right where it should be. The blade's original length appears to be intact.

What seems correct to me:
The blade appears correct and consistent with these mounts.
The quillions/quillion block appear correct. The fact that the knuckle guard is missing and the damaged remnants remain present suggests authenticity.
The grip appears correct, although missing the 'posts'. However, the detail of the grooves in the grip into which these posts would have fit is another detail that seems to indicate authenticity.
It also has what I think is termed 'guardo polvo', although this seems to strengthen the guard and would do little to protect against dust. Indeed, there is a good amount of dust from the previous owner evident in the pictures Given the damage to the guard, this extra bit of reinforcement makes a lot of sense in a proper fighting weapon.

What gives me pause:
Looking at the ricasso, it is out of alignment with the grip. This could be the function of less than perfect colonial assembly. It could be dislocated due to hard use. Or, it is poor marriage of composite parts at a much more recent date.
The pommel doesn't seem quite right. Everything balances correctly, but the shape seems 'off'.
The ferrules at either end of the grip have little oxidation. The do seem to fulfill the appropriate purpose of holding the [missing] posts to the grip, but they don't seem to have aged consistently with the rest of the piece. Still, if a later addition, why add them at all?

So, for the most part, I think I did well here. As always I welcome your comments, and value your insights.
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Old 15th October 2020, 04:48 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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This is beautiful!!! and as you say, this kind of rugged charm is outstanding, a working weapon.
This is effectively a 'rapier' (obviously by the cup hilt form semantically associated in true rapiers). It is actually an 'arming sword' and typically used by Spanish colonial forces in the Caribbean regions and 'Spanish Main' (Central and South America off Gulf).

It is most definitely 18th century, probably earlier in century, and as with colonial weapons, refurbished over long working lives.
The wire wrap and posts are missing, and as you have noted this was an affectation typically on the 'bilbo' which was basically a 1728 'pattern' (though in use before through the century).

The guardopolvo (=dust cover) does not exist in these, they were a decorative plate at the blade junction inside the cup.

These were typically carried by infantry forces in the colonies and existed concurrently with the bilbo. As these colonial forces were remote they seldom had stringent regulation, and swords were more tradition than weapon as a rule.

Outstanding weapon!! and these are not often seen available, even less than bilbos.
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Last edited by Jim McDougall : 15th October 2020 at 04:59 PM.
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Old 16th October 2020, 04:05 AM   #3
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Great piece with terrific character!! Not much more to add than what Jim has already succinctly covered. They were indeed from the Spanish Main during the later era of piracy and have naval connotation in that they were carried aboard the Treasure Fleets by Spanish soldiers defending the gold. Although a cut/thrust weapon, they definitely saw use at sea. They really define the adventurous era of the West Indies in the New World. Congrats!
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Old 16th October 2020, 08:41 AM   #4
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Nice sword! It looks like it could have been at sea. The blade looks a bit like the ĒNO ME SAQUES RAZON / NE ME EMBAINES SIN HONOR,Ē (DO NOT DRAW ME WITHOUT REASON, DO NOT SHEATH ME WITHOUT HONOR) type popular at the time (see attached pics of bilbo). The ricasso is inline with the sword but the grip with guard is a bit off in terms of positioning. Maybe the wood has shifted due to age/submerged in seawater? Sometimes the ricasso has a makerís mark. You can investigate using a small mirror to see better. The ferrules may be from a metal that donít oxidate as much, e.g. pewter? The pommel has an unusual mushroom shape, and may be a replacement. It seems to be screwed on to the tang? Jimís example is peened to the tang.
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Old 16th October 2020, 10:33 AM   #5
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Victrix, you bring up an excellent point and it is possible that we are looking at saltwater errosion here. While many of these types were made from various odds and ends the smiths could come by in New Spain, this pommel I feel is authentic to the blade. The caribbean type rapiers distinguish themselves from their European counterparts by having these traits (no rompe-puntas, mushroom pommels, plain unpierced/undecorated guards, flat horn/wood grips often square in crosscut, and sometimes braised elements to the arms of the hilt/pas de' ann). Here's pics of mine-
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Old 18th October 2020, 04:43 PM   #6
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Capn, that is a SUPERB example!!!! Beautiful ebony grip, nicely turned quillon terminals and the edge around the cup a nice touch. I think one of the best examples of these I've seen.
Mine I am sure has been reworked of course as the ivory spacers reveal a circumstance in refurbishing, and as noted the hilt has been peened.
Still traces of japanning and must have had a long working life.

Yours is a fine example which likely would have been an officers aboard a vessel. Outstanding.

Victrix- great call on the 'Spanish motto' blade!!
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Old 18th October 2020, 10:33 PM   #7
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Thanks, Jim. I was lucky enough to win this one on an eBay auction quite a while back. I had never thought about the subtle nuances in the decoration to this item. The 'refinements' do stand out from others I've seen. I like your thinking that perhaps it was an officer's grade rapier! I also truly like Shayde's rough and tumble example with saltwater-corroded blade. It just screams "Spanish Main" to me!
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Old 19th October 2020, 03:16 PM   #8
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Thanks everyone for the great feedback!
I knew I could expect the three of you to appreciate the well-worn nature of this piece. Jim frequently cautions about polishing off the history of these old warriors, and I take that to heart. I also thought of Mark since, like Vitrix,I wondered if this had been exposed to saltwater. I didn't want to prejudice the comments by suggesting this outright, but am heartened to hear others share this impression.

One thing that amazes me is how, after hundreds of years, these retain their edge. This one shows some clear nicks that look to be caused by another sharp edge. I will try to upload pictures of these details soon.

Also, I wanted to clarify - this sword DOES have the guardo polvo. YOu can make it out in the 4th picture of the original post. It is a simple diamond shape, and you can see on the exterior of the cup the large rivets holding it in place (transverse of the rivets securing the pas d-ans). Does this narrow down age attribution, or does this muddy things more?

I have a question about the flexibility of the blades on these and other side/arming swords from this time period. Unlike swords of earlier periods, those of this era were being issued to soldiers that were not part of a knightly class, and therefore (possibly) were not as proficient in their use. Was the flex tempered into these blades designed to allow them to withstand poorly executed thrusts and cuts? Or, was this a feature even well trained swordsmen would have favored. After all, if one thrust and contacted a steel breastplate, you might want a degree of flex to ensure the blade didn't fail.

Finally, for now, what would be carried in the off/left hand. This is not the most responsive weapon in terms of providing both an effective offense and defense. If indeed these were carried at sea, I could see a stout pistol serving this purpose. Or any nondescript knife. I'm asking simply to see if there was a convention, or one used whatever was at hand.

Thanks again for you insights! To be honest, I love when you give me good news, but it is always educational
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Old 19th October 2020, 05:41 PM   #9
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It has been a great discussion and wonderful to see these wonderful cup hilts together! Thank you Shayde for recognizing my position on maintaining as much of the well earned patina on the 'old warriors', as to me it profoundly heralds the charm and rugged character of the times they have seen.

With regard to these 'going to sea', it was virtually inevitable that many of them did in one way or another. The constant traffic to the 'New World' meant that these among many other forms of sword, particularly 'cutlasses' became present there with men off the vessels.

By the 'dictum' from "Pirates of the Caribbean', there were no 'rules' ......but 'guidelines' as far as swords, their use, etc.

Aboard ships of the line of course, the average sailors were not officially armed with edged weapons, but these were distributed out of arms lockers in the event of potential combat. With the ever present merchant ships, there was certainly more latitude depending on the owners and staff of the vessels, but still there would certainly be the option of having a sword or cutlass for various levels of staff aboard.

With the 'brotherhood' of 'pirates' of course, a broad spectrum indeed, it would seem these vessels were of course autonomous and the members of the ships crew would choose thier own arms.

From what I have understood, combat aboard the decks of vessels was not as common as portrayed in movies via popular literature, and swords and cutlasses were far more employed ashore by the crews at locations of destination or replenishing. In this respect the cutlass was more a 'machete' and used in that utilitariian sense.
The swords (i.e. cuphilts, bilbo's etc) were there in case of combat, whether defensive or offensive.

Well noted that most crews, sailors or other members aboard ships were certainly not typically trained in swordsmanship, while officers usually were in some degree. This factor would lead to the more instinctive use of the 'blade' in more a 'hacking' manner, and call for much stouter blades, as would be expected in most combat circumstances. Naturally, blades are designed for optimum conditions presuming they will be used properly so flexibility is always a consideration. Without it, a blade will inevitably fail at some point.

The long working lives of these swords, particularly the blades ,which often ended up being remounted or repurposed, is the most fascinating factor of them. The Spanish 'dragoon' blades were widely used in the colonies for other weapons beyond simple replacement on the bilbo's and cup hilts, and became present on the 'common' espada anchas in many cases, typically cut down.

There is so much history in these rugged Caribbean forms that its hard to not go on and on but Shayde, VERY well placed questions, and I hope any of this rambling wiill be useful.

On the hilt elements, the 'guardopolvo'is essentially a 'dust guard', though its actual purpose was more to firmly secure the tang of the blade in the cup.
My example has 'ivory' (?) placers wedged in from whateever refurbishing was done on it.

The 'rompepuntas' is the rolled edge around the cup, and theoretically was to foul the point of a rapier in a thrust attack, which of course falls into the sword catcher theory well known in arms descriptions. Personally it seems to me more a refinement in construction and execution of hilt design.

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 19th October 2020 at 07:23 PM.
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Old 19th October 2020, 05:45 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Thanks, Jim. I was lucky enough to win this one on an eBay auction quite a while back. I had never thought about the subtle nuances in the decoration to this item. The 'refinements' do stand out from others I've seen. I like your thinking that perhaps it was an officer's grade rapier! I also truly like Shayde's rough and tumble example with saltwater-corroded blade. It just screams "Spanish Main" to me!



The styling, fine rim on the cup, and grip especially, suggest more officers grade. While of course there will be argument that these were used in the Continent, it was officers FROM the Continent who were aboard the vessels in so many cases. The cup hilt remained the favored Spanish form sword especially in the colonies well beyond its cessation of regular use in Europe.
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Old 19th October 2020, 06:27 PM   #11
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This thread has pushed me over the edge! I've always thought of possibly adding one of these swords to my collection, though I've procrastinated in an effort to keep my collecting focused.
Just what I need another branching off in my collecting!
It is all very interesting.
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Old 19th October 2020, 07:28 PM   #12
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...and i'm derelict in mentioning how beautiful the other examples posted are. I'd love to bring them all together and let them share stories like a function at a VFW hall.

I do suspect there could be an inscription in the fuller, but I don't believe it could be uncovered without severely altering this blade, and with no guarantee that any inscription would still be present (if it ever existed).

Jim, as for the rompepuntas, not that my example has this feature, but I believe these were a very pragmatic refinement. I know sport fencing doesn't have a lot of bearing on how historical weapons were used, but if I may digress, as an epee fencer I often made use of a technique of glancing my tip on the edge of my opponent's bell and scoring a touch on the hand since there was nothing to stop the point from sliding off the guard and striking the fingers/wrist behind. I have to imagine that this was something that occurred frequently enough when using live blades that rolling the edge of a cup guard to 'catch' the tip made good sense. I don't presume that this allowed tips to be snapped off, or served as 'sword catchers', but still useful.

Also, regarding the guardopolvo - I didn't know this term until I started researching my new acquisition. Initially, I couldn't figure out why something deep in the guard would be called a dust protector. However, I may have come to a conclusion that is plausible - Given the frequency with which guards, hilts, and blades were swapped and interchanged, these components wouldn't be crafted to tight specifications, but rather with some tolerances to allow for greater compatibility. The ivory wedges used as shims on Jim's piece shows the need to marry parts that don't exactly fit perfectly.

For a cup guard, the guard itself is not the easiest component to manufacture. It doesn't take a master, per se, but still, it takes time that could be spent elsewhere. So, if one wanted to make a guard that could be used on multiple blades, or one has a guard that doesn't fit snugly to the blade, the smith could craft a simply plate that both serves as a spacer, AND closes any gaps between the blade and the guard. Functionally, this would prevent dust and debris from falling into the cup and then making their way through the gap along the blade into the sword's sheath. Cup hilts would have been particularly susceptible to this problem because the cup is essentially a funnel for all matter of gunk. I can't think of another hilt design that would allow for so much debris to be channeled right into the scabbard when sheathed. Hence, the name 'dust guard' for a simple plate that serves as a spacer/shim, reinforcement for the guard, and yes, a dust protector.

I fully expect that others already knew this, but one thing I love about collecting is that I get to hold in my hand something not only artistic, but intended to be fully functional. For utilitarian pieces such as these, each element served a purpose. I enjoy reverse engineering to try to reach into the past and understand the mind of the craftspeople who made them and the people who used them to defend their own lives.

Will, now that I have my own, and won't need to compete with you as a bidder, by all means, take the plunge! It seems your collection is focused on American colonial/Revolutionary period items. I feel like one of these would fit right in

Last edited by shayde78 : 20th October 2020 at 01:46 AM.
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Old 19th October 2020, 08:50 PM   #13
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Shayde, that is an absolutely thorough and fascinating look into this topic, and especially interesting on the rompepuntas from a fencing perspective. Thank you for going into this detail as I find these aspects really intriguing.
\
Very good points on the dust guard situation also, its always good to hear these insights from a swordsman.

Well noted on these Spanish colonial swords as far as the American Revolution, the Spaniards were far more involved in these matters than is commonly known. While not necessarily involved formally in large degree with forces (except later in a few cases) they were very supportive financially and with supplies, weapons etc. "Swords and Blades of the American Revolution" (Nuemann, 1973) gives revealing insights into the spectrum of European swords that found use. I dont recall cuphilts, but where there were bilbo's, there were cup hilts.
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Old 19th October 2020, 11:52 PM   #14
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Excellent discussion, gentlemen! I have also always been drawn like a moth to the flame with these Spanish colonial pieces. What they may lack in their refinement (compared to their European brethren), they more than make up for in their colorful past! Will, it sounds like you've been bit by the Spanish colonial bug! Welcome to the club! We have our own hats!

Shayne, that is a fascinating approach to collecting! It is interesting, as noted, the differences in these New World pieces versus their more decorative cousins. It would seem that both use in the western hemisphere in the 'backwaters', such frivolities were not needed, so we see a munitions grade piece built for function and not necessarily to impress. As far as time period, as Jim has pointed out, they saw a long life on this side of the pond. Cup hilts probably started coming over as soon as the early 17th century, but the first types were probably the European versions. The true Caribbean models probably developed mid-17th? and used all the way up to the end of the 18th c. Harold Peterson covers their usage in the Americas in his volume "Arms and Armor in Colonial America 1526-1783, and of course there's Brincherhoff's "Swords and Blades in Colonial America" are great resource materials.

My blade has a lot of 'bend' to it when flexed and would work excellently as a thrusting weapon, but its edge could also slash. Although sword dueling on the deck ala Errol Flynn is a fantasy, as Jim states these would have been carried also by soldiers guarding port garrisons like St Augustine and San Juan. They undoubtedly saw sea service in that the Treasure Fleets had soldiers aboard guarding the specie. Strictly speaking, I feel they could have been used quite effectively, but not in overhand slashing (the decks of ships were too tight, the ropes and spars just waiting to catch a swung blade). When ships were about to be attacked and boarded, they almost always put up thick netting like curtains to discourage the boarding parties. The thick cordage attached to the rail and ran up to the upper spars, creating a weblike cover over the exposed deck. The nets often had wire enmeshed in it to add to its toughness. Aggressors clambering up over the side would thus be met with a protective screen with defenders armed with boarding pikes (short spears of 6-7' length) stabbing at them through the rigging. Now imagine these rapiers, with their long blades, thrusting through the gaps to "discourage" the onslaught! Make no mistakes, sea weapons, just like other weapon types (cavalry swords, briquets, gunner's stilettos) had their usages. Boarding axes were fire/deck cleaning tools first and weapons second. A belay pin held the rigging in place, but made an excellent club in combat. I feel the cup hilts could hold their own in these very concentrated, very unique battle settings.
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Old 21st October 2020, 05:36 PM   #15
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Shayde, you mentioned the possibility it is marked? Interesting. Perhaps a very conservative cleaning of the area you suspect??
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Old 22nd October 2020, 07:27 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Shayde, you mentioned the possibility it is marked? Interesting. Perhaps a very conservative cleaning of the area you suspect??


The way the corrosion looks in the fuller suggests there could be font there. However, I cannot get it to photograph in a meaningful way, and I'm not sure how to gently get down to that level of the metal to be able to determine. I'll see if I can play around enough with lighting to get the faint trace I think I see to appear in a photograph. Of course, I may well be chasing a ghost...or a phantom that was never there to begin with

Also, thank you for the details concerning weapons use on the decks of a ship. Following your posts over the years, I know you've built your knowledge and have become something of an expert in this regard. The insights are appreciated!
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Old 22nd October 2020, 10:00 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
The way the corrosion looks in the fuller suggests there could be font there. However, I cannot get it to photograph in a meaningful way, and I'm not sure how to gently get down to that level of the metal to be able to determine. I'll see if I can play around enough with lighting to get the faint trace I think I see to appear in a photograph. Of course, I may well be chasing a ghost...or a phantom that was never there to begin with

Also, thank you for the details concerning weapons use on the decks of a ship. Following your posts over the years, I know you've built your knowledge and have become something of an expert in this regard. The insights are appreciated!


The patina looks quite attractive as it is. Perhaps something appealing about having a look of something salvaged from the salt sea water.

You could try looking at the blade from different angles and direct a torchlight on it. Another trick is to put a blank piece of paper on it and rub a pencil or a charcoal on top, although the surface might be a bit uneven for that.
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