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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
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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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Old 7th August 2010, 05:01 AM   #8
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Thanks guys, this is pretty interesting and Ive been doing some checking. Great example Dmitry, these seem to be kind of an untapped sector of collecting, at least to me....pretty esoteric.

Apparantly these are lighter, simple hilt swords that developed around the opening years of the 17th century that were in favor of the developing French school of fencing. The Italian and Spanish schools were much more conservative, and these were lighter, faster swords.
Because they were intended to be worn about town (as noted by Dmitry) they were essentially considered in a self defense type view, with the idea that as such they could easily be grasped from the bedside. There was apparantly a reference c.1655 to these type swords called 'walking swords', but the pillow thing seems to be an expression from about mid 18th century (Aylward, p.13).

Aylward also mentions on p.54 there was a strict convention for wearing of black in mid 18th century, with some cheaper blades and blackened steel hilts for expressing grief....it is noted that these were not necessarily just for mourning. It makes sense that a sword just for mourning would be a bit extravagant, unless there were really a lot of funerals!!

This is what I could find so far, and I really appreciate you guys input, and hope we can discover more. Excellent example there Dmitry!!!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 7th August 2010, 06:08 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Aylward also mentions on p.54 there was a strict convention for wearing of black in mid 18th century, with some cheaper blades and blackened steel hilts for expressing grief....it is noted that these were not necessarily just for mourning. It makes sense that a sword just for mourning would be a bit extravagant, unless there were really a lot of funerals!!


As I see it, an 18th century gentleman of means[or debts] had several small-swords for different occasions, which, in today's parlance, might be equated to a closet rack of ties. Some of us have only one or two, some have 20+.

I, too, would be interested in seeing a 'bonified' mourning sword. Again, let's not forget that japanning was a preferred method of protecting steel from rusting, often applied to military swords and long-arms.

This, according to the Mount Vernon Museum, was George Washington's mourning sword. It does have a black grip [very uncommon to see a bone or ebony grips on small-swords, aside from some French martial examples], but the rest of the hilt is actually pretty festive, and reminiscent of the French model 1767 officer's swords.
http://emuseum.mountvernon.org/code...urrentrecord=86
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Old 7th August 2010, 09:02 AM   #10
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I've noticed in some of the old artworks of sea captains that blackened steel 'japanned' smallswords were popular. At first, I wrote this off as perhaps nothing more than a "prop" given to the subject being painted for artistic purposes, but Annis comments that smallswords were indeed popular among the maritime folks. I was wondering aloud if the blackened steel was more rust-resistant, as other naval swords that were painted or tarred black. Here's a sea captain (with an interesting history) whose pic is in the National Maritime Museum. Note the blackened hilt. Click on his pic for a bigger view.

http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/ex....cfm?ID=BHC2928
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Old 7th August 2010, 09:28 AM   #11
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Good points about the 'japanning' method of protection on hilts. Actually the use of brass on naval hilts was of course suggested as being favored for its rust resistance, but then the steel guards of the cutlasses would seem to have had to be japanned black.

It is known that the Scots actually either russeted (brown) their basket hilts or japanned them, so that the images of glistening basket hilts seems a bit unlikely. The damp Scottish weather was certainly a challenge for steel.

I would imagine that sea service hilts as Mark notes may well have been blackened, as these were of course more exposed to the elements. While military swords may often have been russeted or blackened, the civilian swords such as the regular smallswords or these 'walking or town swords' thier predecessors, may not have typically been so modified. It would seem the exception would have been the mourning swords discussed, and for these somber purposes.
It would be hard to be sure though, as there were certain styles, especially oriental which came into fashion in the 'shakudo' type hilts of 18th century smallswords with black overall and dramatic gold or ornate motif. While these were 'dark' in appearance they were of course not somber, but the attraction for the darker effect can be seen.

All the best,
Jim
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Old 10th August 2010, 01:47 PM   #12
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This is what a japanned small-sword hilt looks like. It's a French sergeants hanger from the mid-1700s.
No officer or otherwise a person of means would have a sword like this, as Jim writes, the darkened appearance of the hilt was done by other, way more expensive means than the asphaltum-based paint [i.e. japanning] - blueing and russeting.
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Old 13th August 2010, 04:15 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

Apparantly these are lighter, simple hilt swords that developed around the opening years of the 17th century that were in favor of the developing French school of fencing. The Italian and Spanish schools were much more conservative, and these were lighter, faster swords.
Because they were intended to be worn about town (as noted by Dmitry) they were essentially considered in a self defense type view, with the idea that as such they could easily be grasped from the bedside. There was apparantly a reference c.1655 to these type swords called 'walking swords', but the pillow thing seems to be an expression from about mid 18th century (Aylward, p.13).



Here are some chiseled steel pommels from around the same time< or just a tad earlier, than the one on my town-sword. Some of them are classified as French.


Jut to awaken the "pillow sword" nomenclature, Claude Blaire in his European and American Arms" put the term to rest [no pun intended].
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Old 13th August 2010, 07:39 PM   #14
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Outstanding Dmitry! and thank you for the great illustrations as well. The information you and Mark have presented on japanning really puts that in perspective, and this on the 'pillow sword' term is great information.

It's amazing how literary notes can become collectors terms, and I found some other material that the the late Mr. Blair likely had at hand also from Aylward (1945). Here Aylward describes a 1748 reference by Smollett, citing an earlier tale of men giving up the habit of putting thier swords by the pillow (headboard) at night.
The late AVB Norman noted similar references but added the note on 'scarf sword' (p.184) which you noted earlier. On the same page Norman cited a 1970 reference from RBF van der Sloot who states that c.1655 these swords were called 'walking swords'....which nicely concurs with the 'town sword' term you have considered for these light self defense swords.
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Old 14th August 2010, 03:22 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
On the same page Norman cited a 1970 reference from RBF van der Sloot who states that c.1655 these swords were called 'walking swords'....which nicely concurs with the 'town sword' term you have considered for these light self defense swords.


Jim, I just found out that the German term for them is "Promenierdegen", i.e. a "promenade sword" .
http://www.myseum.de/index.php?opti...vlimitstart=190

It all falls in place nicely. Town sword, scarf sword, epee de ville, promenierdegen, all of these terms basically tell us that these swords were essentially lightweight alternatives to the more cumbersome rapiers, and brought along while on leisurely strolls in one's town.
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Old 15th August 2010, 02:39 AM   #16
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That does fit nicely and good work on finding the information! My final question, though, is if they still served a purpose for self-defence if attacked or strictly for presence? My "mourning sword" has a wicked edge and sharp tip. Seems like it would detract others from attack...

I like the pommel examples you sent, Dmitry, especially the so-called Blackamoor styling.
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Old 15th August 2010, 04:50 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
My final question, though, is if they still served a purpose for self-defence if attacked or strictly for presence? My "mourning sword" has a wicked edge and sharp tip. Seems like it would detract others from attack...


Ever watched the 'Return of the Living Dead' ?
Those 18th c. mourners clearly knew what was going on!
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Old 15th August 2010, 05:08 AM   #18
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Old 15th August 2010, 02:28 PM   #19
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The 'mourning sword' topic has continued to really intrigue me, and Marks question about functionality or simply dress on these led to trying to discover more.
In extracts from "Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History". Lou Taylor , 1983, I found that mourning was not simply a brief event and attending of a funeral, but a protracted, expensive and very status oriented affair. This was particularly the case in the 17th century, and a person had virtually all elements of somber clothing and in mens case, accoutrements, specially in place for these sometimes long occasions. From what I have understood, depending on the protocol or etiquette according to the stature of the deceased, this could be weeks or even months.

In mens fashion of the times, it was unthought of in the 17th and 18th centuries for a man to go unarmed without his sword, and while this was decidedly a matter of fashion, it was clearly a matter of a very real potential for need of self defense. In a bit of my own speculation, in the case of mourning, such a drawn out affair in which a person was clearly visible with respect to the matter, it would seem that a man would be in a sensitive situation. Perhaps a misplaced remark or slight toward the person being mourned might lead to altercation, and an effective weapon would be far more than just a dress affectation.

While it seems that many smallswords of the 18th century were fashioned with 'blackened steel', as noted in Bashford Dean's "Catalog of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords" (1929), there was only one listed specifically as a 'mourning sword'....#105, English, 1805. There were no particular details, but it appeared mostly of the cut steel fashion of the times. (attached below, left)

It was noted in the previous work mentioned that along with a mans cloak for mourning and other somber clothing in black, black sword 'covers' and belts were purchased during the 17th into early 18th century. As the 18th century progressed, the strict elements of the mourning seem to have gradually relaxed, and eventually a black armband became widely accepted for men, while the women still followed more strictly somber fashion in dress.

George Washington, whose mourning sword was earlier mentioned as such, apparantly wore his to funerals, and was worn by him in Stuarts full length portrait of him. It was referred to as his 'Spanish Dress sword' and on its blade was 'recte face ice' (do what is right) and obverse , 'nemine timens' (fear no man). It would seem reflective of the standards of mourning in place even in high station by the 1790s, and that 'mourning' swords were by this time simply dress swords, with the term used more traditionally. (attached below, right).

I have seen very light dress swords of the mid to later 19th century from Europe which were termed 'coffin carriers swords', and seem to have had blackened steel hilts of simple hanger style. These are believed to have come from a royal house, but details are unclear, and just seemed worthy of note.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 17th August 2010, 02:16 AM   #20
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The pillow sword nomenclature goes back at least as early as the Wallace catalog of 190-(1?).

While doing some other work and while having that site open I came across

The insignia include two swords, a cap of maintenance, four serjeants' maces, chains and badges for the mayor and sheriff, and an oar for the water bailiff. The charter of 1483 provided for a sword to be carried before the mayor in the same manner as in other boroughs and cities. (fn. 39) A sword had presumably been acquired by 1486, when the office of sword bearer was mentioned, (fn. 40) and the city had two swords by 1560. The principal sword, which was redecorated to mark the visit of Elizabeth I in 1574, (fn. 41) was lost in the 19th century. (fn. 42) The other sword, perhaps the first acquired, was known as the mourning sword in 1584. (fn. 43) It is 3 ft. 11˝ in. long and has been painted black, retaining the original blade and hilt with curved quillons. A third sword, made for the corporation in 1567 and given a red scabbard, (fn. 44) had become the principal sword by the mid 17th century and was depicted on the monument to John Jones (d. 1630). (fn. 45) It is 4 ft. 3˝ in long and retains its original blade and hilt. With the scabbard it was altered in London in 1652 to carry the Commonwealth arms. In 1660 those were replaced by Charles II's arms and the scabbard was partly redecorated, some royal badges being reinstated soon afterwards. (fn. 46) A cap of maintenance, recorded on the arms granted to the borough in 1538, (fn. 47) was replaced several times. (fn. 48) It was identified, questionably, as the sword bearer's hat by the mid 19th century and until 1933 when W. L. Edwards, the mayor, gave the city a new cap of maintenance. (fn. 49)

'Gloucester: Arms, seals, insignia and plate', A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4: The City of Gloucester (1988), pp. 368-371

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=281

"Was known as the mourning sword in 1584" seems more than just speculative and a later descriptive.

In other searches for pillow sword, I agree that does seem to arise as a descriptive in the 19th century but in plowing through some other book searches (ie Google and the site linked above) mourning swords in the context of smallsword types is referenced in a 2006 journal I see only a snippet of but

Society for Army Historical Research (London, England) - 2006 - Snippet view
MOURNING SWORD. I have just completed a translation of Charles Wesley's Journal 1736-38, but there are still a few remaining unanswered questions. One concerns the expression 'mourning sword'. Here is the context: 'April 24...

the context listed 1736 in that snippet view of the said journal.

I have only passing knowledge of the prevalence for mourning swords in Victorian England but the trend seems to have continued not to just blacken swords for the purpose but swords made specifically for the purpose. Some looking quite toy like with the hilts black as made that way and the beaded chain guards.


Cheers

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Old 17th August 2010, 02:22 AM   #21
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Another quick one from UK online Lots of information to peruse in many sources there for many topics.

Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 29: 1714-1715

Henry Ockley, sword cutler, for a purple sword and scabbard, a crimson sword and scabbard and another for the Order of St. George, at 6l. 9s. each, and for a mourning sword in June 1715 1l. 1s. 6d

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=944

Just like Google books, articles/books can be shelved there once registered (I need to dust my off my assortment there).

Cheers

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Old 17th August 2010, 02:28 AM   #22
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The Manuscripts of Lincoln, Bury St. Edmunds etc.: Fourteenth report, Appendix; part VIII

III.—CHAMBERLAINS' ROLLS.

The Chamberlains' parchment Rolls of Account unfortunately only commence at the year 1685–6, (fn. 1) but from that date, with the exception of the two years next following, they are nearly complete up to the time of the Municipal Reform Act.

1685–6.—For the cover of the new velvet hat, 5s.

For new velvet for a new scabbard for the mourning sword, and for gilding the handle of the said sword, embroidering the scabbard, and carriage down, 50s. 6d.

For the making of a new ducking stool, 55s. 8d.

For a new chair for the ducking stool, 4s.


A ducking stool and chair more expensive than the sword refurb

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=726

Cheers

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Old 17th August 2010, 02:36 AM   #23
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Old and New London: Volume 1

There are four swords belonging to the City of London. The "Pearl" sword, presented by Queen Elizabeth when she opened the first Royal Exchange, in 1571, and so named from its being richly set with pearls. This sword is carried before the Lord Mayor on all occasions of rejoicing and festivity. The "Sword of State," borne before the Lord Mayor as an emblem of his authority. The "Black" sword, used on fast days, in Lent, and at the death of any of the royal family. And the fourth is that placed before the Lord Mayor's chair at the Central Criminal Court.

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=339

and on There was a reference as early as the 14th century in one source or another. The memento mori trends of objects and other references certainly way old too.

Cheers

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Old 17th August 2010, 02:38 AM   #24
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Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820


!n 1751 Aris's Birmingham Gazette, and no doubt other provincial papers too, published Orders from the Lord Chamberlains office concerning mourning for the Prince of Wales. Ladies were to wear black BOMBAZINE with HOODs made of CRAPE and crape FANs, while a gentleman's wear was to be made of black cloth with a crape HATBAND and black SWORD and BUCKLEs. Such announcements of royal deaths, particularly if unexpected, could spell both peril and profit for retailers. Disaster might befall those unfortunates who had just filled their shops with the new season's fashionable textiles that might well be out of date before the period of mourning was over. Conversely, some retailers made a steady profit on stocking black goods to supply the needs of their customers when death struck near home [Diaries (Turner)]; [Newspapers (1760)].


http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=739

And so on

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Old 19th August 2010, 10:29 PM   #25
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Absolutely masterful research and detail on these terms Glen!!! Thank you for taking the time to add all this and cite references and details. Its great to see a compendium of material on these terms for those who get as curious as I do about them.
Thank you very much,
All the best,
Jim
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Old 20th August 2010, 09:16 AM   #26
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Sorry I forgot to comment back on this thread. Thank you, Glen for the added information. I'm going to try and post a pic of my plain black-hilted smallsword when I can find the time, for the sake of argument...
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Old 8th October 2017, 12:09 AM   #27
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stumbled on this thread while researching. thought i'd post a photo or two of my cut steel grip mourning sword. it was listed as 19c when i got it, but it appears from the above discusiion it may be earlier. 95cm blade, appears to once have had a chain from the guard to the pommel in lieu of a knuckle bow. sadly no scabbard. i gather the black finish was rather polished to reflect from the steel bobbles jewel-like rather than a dull matte finish.
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Old 8th October 2017, 07:49 AM   #28
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I red these posts with great attention because I have in my collection a small sword totally blackened and I didn't know what could have been the reason for this surface treating. On the blade there is a portrait or perhaps a caricature of a person whose meaning is also unknown to me. The sword has a length of 880mm and a total weight of 295g what is very light.
It could be French as well as English.
Thanks for comments
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Old 15th November 2017, 11:24 AM   #29
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Mentioned earlier By Jim at #19 George Washington's portrait and wearing a sword... as below.
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Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 15th November 2017 at 12:24 PM.
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Old 15th November 2017, 12:26 PM   #30
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