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Old 26th January 2021, 01:33 AM   #1
M ELEY
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Default A simple but interesting smallsword

Here's one I picked up a number of years ago on the cheap. Classic form bilobate guard, simple knuckle bow, large pas d'an, trefoil blade. Note the lack of decoration to guard, pommel, knucklebow. I think this is a so-called 'mourning sword', a non-dress pattern. I'm told the name comes from these being worn to funerals?? I know that they were still carried in self-defense and I remember mention that sergeants and night watchmen carried such types? When I got it, the copper wrap was brand new and too 'blingy' for the piece, so I darkened it, but have little doubt that this probably was what the original had (wire wrap). Based on construction, I'm assuming perhaps mid-18th?
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Old 26th January 2021, 01:35 AM   #2
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Default Two more...

Note that the pitted blade at one time had etched foliage and possibly a name? Saying? Too lost to tell-
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Old 26th January 2021, 09:44 AM   #3
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I have a similar probably French piece, completey black hilt with a blackerned wire grip and a portrait of a noble man with allonge wig, probably a mildly said not too exact portrait of Louis XV.
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Old 26th January 2021, 03:58 PM   #4
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Thank you so much, Corrado, for responding and posting your smallsword. Nice to know a country of origin! In looking at the tracing on the blade, I believe I see remnants of the wig and possible profile. Thanks again!
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Old 15th February 2021, 05:44 PM   #5
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Hi,
Here are a couple of smallswords I picked up in a lot with other bits. Some nice person thought it would be a good idea to plate them blades and all. I've managed to get the plating off the blade of the plain one but it is a laborious job but on the other hand not a lot to do in lockdown! Regarding the plain one, I read some time ago I don't know where that this very rudimentary type may be French N.C.O. issue but who knows.
Regards,
Norman.
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Old 15th February 2021, 06:08 PM   #6
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Very nice sword pair, Norman! particularly like the example with the colichemarde blade! I had also read somewhere that the plain smallswords, many blackened, were NCO or 'sergeant' swords? I've had trouble relocating the source I had read from, though. Thanks for posting these!
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Old 15th February 2021, 06:29 PM   #7
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Hi Mark,
Yeah I wish I could remember where I read the military connection re these type of smallswords. Be nice to think that they had some military history. The one with the colichmarde blade must have been pretty stylish in its day but unfortunately it's pretty badly damaged but interesting nonetheless.
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Old 15th February 2021, 10:06 PM   #8
Jim McDougall
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I think it was probably Aylward (1945) who noted these were of military dress type, but of course evolved from civilian dueling swords with apocryphal connections to John Phillip, a flamboyant Swedish soldier of fortune (aka Count von Konogsmark). Sword lore has 'colichemarde' as the French corruption of this name and presuming he designed the blade toward his penchant and fame for dueling.

It seems possible that 'the Count' was in London c. 1661 and proposed a blade broad at the hilt about half way down the blade, putting most of the weight near the hand, with the rest dramatically narrowed to the point for speed and dexterity. The early blades were of flat hexagon section ground down to achieve that profile.
Later versions seem to have moved to the triangular section blades on these small swords but keeping the broad blade heel to the center and narrowing to a point. Eventually the reduction to the point became gradual, forte to point.


While the colichemarde fell out of fashion for civilians c. 1730, the changes were not sudden, and the military through conservativism, tradition and awareness of the blade character, kept it . Officers had these options.

I think George Washington had a colichemarde, and others have been known with hilt designs of 1790s +

The black pallor on these did not necessary confine them to mourning events but were considered high dress and often accenting the embellshments.

Just some stuff I had found as I had been looking into these swords recently, and these are fantastic!
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Old 16th February 2021, 12:26 AM   #9
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Thank you, Jim, for shedding light on the topic. I also know that (believe it or not! ), smallswords went to sea. Spanish naval officers were reported to wear these as dress and while they probably didn't wear them on deck, they would have been kept in their quarters for fancy occasions ashore, diplomatic missions, visits to other ports, etc.
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Old 16th February 2021, 02:09 AM   #10
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Absolutely Mark!
Officers, no matter in what units they were in, had their share of small swords. At sea , the officers were not expected to participate in melee or combat, but to direct. As you aptly point out, these distinctive swords were elements of fashion and status, and as discussed, extremely deadly, not just embellished baubles.

Officers in those times were almost invariably well heeled and from all ranks of gentry to high peerage and nobility. While the sword was of course very much the weapon of choice as firearms encroached, but with their inherent issues and limitations ,its advantage was it was always immediate and at the ready.

On campaign, officers of the army would of course leave behind the dressier swords, and often used a select dress sword, but small swords were for civil or dress wear. At sea, the officers had these with them as occasion arose.

In the "golden age" of piracy, on the Spanish vessels the captains and officers, had rapiers earlier, but were hardly wielding them a'la Flynn and Fairbanks. The small sword became the very suitable replacement for the ungainly rapiers.

With the famed Blackbeard saga, Lt. Maynard must have had a run of the mill smallsword as its blade broke in his initial contact with Teach.
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Old 16th February 2021, 05:18 PM   #11
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Hi Guys,
I like smallswords and they are deadly little items. It's alright slashing and bashing away with a cutter but one little poke in the right place with one of these and it's all over. An interesting thread as always.
My Regards,
Norman.
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Old 17th February 2021, 07:11 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Norman McCormick
Hi Guys,
I like smallswords and they are deadly little items. It's alright slashing and bashing away with a cutter but one little poke in the right place with one of these and it's all over. An interesting thread as always.
My Regards,
Norman.
The trick being actually poking them 'in the right place'. I recall a certain Mr. J. Bowie (not related to the singer) who got into a bit of a barney with a few people, one of whom ran him thru the lung with a swordstick, very 'smallsword-ish', and James B. proceeded to gut him like a fish with a chef's knife; JB recovered. Slicing 'in the right place' can quickly disable someone without killing them. LEOs tend to frown on having to deal with dead bodies. Too much paperwork. Sadly, Mr. Fillet of Fish didn't survive. JB went on to make a film with John Wayne in San Antonio if I recall correctly. The details in my mind are a bit fuzzy tho.

p.s. - I know the right places
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Old 17th February 2021, 11:00 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
... Based on construction, I'm assuming perhaps mid-18th?...
I would say so as well, Mark. This pattern was in use both in civilan as also military swords of the last quarter XVIII century. These later inspired model 1806 pattern Portuguese officers sword. In this period officers had to buy their sword from own pocket, and it was possible to mount them with ancestors blades, either for sentimental or economic reasons; only they had to be two edged. One of mine had a Solingen blade; the other, a Tomas Aiala ... certainly spurious.
And if i may, Mark ...

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Old 17th February 2021, 03:33 PM   #14
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Absolutely beautiful examples, Fernando! True works of art in their design! I find it fascinating to see the divergence in forms, not only in function (rapier versus much lighter smallsword) but in décor. Thank you for posting these here-
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Old 17th February 2021, 03:41 PM   #15
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You're welcome, Captain,
I guess i could have shown you my (ex) other one ...


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Old 17th February 2021, 08:00 PM   #16
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Very fine example! Now would you say this Portuguese smallsword was decorated based on French 1st Empire style? I'm guessing that this styling, having affected so many other countries, inspired the intricate designs and gadrooned pommel.
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Old 18th February 2021, 05:18 PM   #17
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Dear Mark, the article author desn't mention that these swords were 'copied' from those of other nations but that they have 'characteristics in common'. You may take your guess.
Here you have in detail how these swords were mounted and which variants were determined for the different ranks.
To add that there are rare examples were the hilt is solid silver, with respective period hallmarks.
A pity none of these served in the Navy; well ... you never know
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Old 18th February 2021, 05:58 PM   #18
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UK Naval swords also had slight variations on the engravings of scabbard fittings and blade etchings, getting more elaborate for the more senior ranks and Admirals.
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Old 19th February 2021, 02:11 AM   #19
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These military officers swords were designed 'after' the styling of the civilian smallsword in general at the end of the 18th century,and carrying forth the traditional styling as favored by the gentry and high station men who used them. While the popularity of the small sword which endured through the 18th century had effectively ended, the nature of military conservativism lent to their keeping these designs for dress type swords.

These were clearly not designed for the kind of use employed with the small sword, though the blade was light, the hilt was not structured for any sort of 'fast' sword play. They were certainly not intended for combat, and if I recall the British heavy cavalry officers sword (M1796) of this 'type' was taken to the Peninsula by many officers, who absolutely hated them.

Still for formal occasions, levees and parade, these stylish swords served well.

The observation by Mark on possible influence from French styling is quite possible, if not likely in some degree. French edged weapon styles carried heavy sway toward designs of a number of countries, and while not necessarily 'copied' the influenced elements were often present even if subtly.
The one occasion can think of that was converse was with the British officers spadroon of c. 1780s which had a neoclassic hilt with five ball motiif. This design was indeed copied in degree by French hilt makers, who called the design l'Anglaise (the English).

As for going to sea, there is nothing that would preclude any officer from taking these as their favored weapon on any voyage. Choice of weapons were an officers perogative.

It is great to see these Portuguese examples of these swords, as most resources I have access to include these versions, which I agree with Mark, are outstanding.
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Old 19th February 2021, 11:40 AM   #20
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Thank you Jim, for confirming my previous notes (#13) in that these swords followed end XVIII century characteristics. It is obvious that they were not developed for combat purposes, as they were not meant for that, but to complement a uniform regulation plan. Certainly if a superior officer had in mind to dismount from his horse in battle and participate in a fight, he would have brought his 'spare' combat sword to the field.
On the other hand, and quoting Norman in that one little poke in the right place with one of these and it's all over, i would add that some of these small swords (espadins, floretes) could do more than just a little poke. They (pattern 1806) had to have per rule a double edged blade 820 mm. long and 26 mm. wide; and considering existing examples with good forging steel (Solingen and Toledo), they wouldn't engage in battles but could well serve for defence purposes, if needed. I have owned two of them and they sure looked fit for the job.
By courtesy of José A. Faria e Silva, specialist in Peninsular War armament, the first page of his (bilingual) article.


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Old 19th February 2021, 01:15 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Thank you Jim, for confirming my previous notes (#13) in that these swords followed end XVIII century characteristics. It is obvious that they were not developed for combat purposes, as they were not meant for that, but to complement a uniform regulation plan. Certainly if a superior officer had in mind to dismount from his horse in battle and participate in a fight, he would have brought his 'spare' combat sword to the field.
On the other hand, and quoting Norman in that one little poke in the right place with one of these and it's all over, i would add that some of these small swords (espadins, floretes) could do more than just a little poke. They (pattern 1806) had to have per rule a double edged blade 820 mm. long and 26 mm. wide; and considering existing examples with good forging steel (Solingen and Toledo), they wouldn't engage in battles but could well serve for defence purposes, if needed. I have owned two of them and they sure looked fit for the job.
By courtesy of José A. Faria e Silva, specialist in Peninsular War armament, the first page of his (bilingual) article.


.

Very true Fernando. It is often perceived that the highly embellished swords worn in the courts and dress events of those days were inadequate for any sort of defense. However, as you well note, in the hands of even a nominally trained swordsman, these were highly deadly.
As always, the quality of the blade was always a factor, and often examples, which were assembled by cutlers who were more jewellers and artisans n precious metals, the focus was on the decoration. Corners were sometimes cut with cheaper blades, but even in such cases, if it was a matter of simple thrust rather than any sort of combat, the purpose was well met.
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Old 20th February 2021, 02:39 PM   #22
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Hi,
I think these three photographs clearly show the hilt evolution of the smallsword type throughout the 18thC from a useful Pas-de-Ane to a vestige to none at all. The blade types have changed also from the trefoil to the single edge type. So my question is when is a smallsword not a smallsword? If there is no useful Pas-de-Ane does this then preclude the definition or is the lack of a trefoil blade a more important defining attribute or is it both. I would perhaps define one of these swords as an obvious smallsword, one as a smallsword hilted spadroon type or maybe not as the hilt has no useable Pas-de-Ane, the 1796 N.C.O. sword is to me obviously not a smallsword but has smallsword heritage in its makeup.
Just some thoughts.
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Old 20th February 2021, 05:18 PM   #23
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The 1796 Infantry Officer's sword and the 5 ball hilted swords are 'spadroons' - designed to bot cut and thrust, they are not as good as swords designed specifically for one or the other, but are adequate for both. The infantry one's hilt was emulating the smallswords of the time. It was not universally liked. The leg side portion of the guard plate folded on some to hang better, but the mechanism frequently failed to lock, many were brazed up by their owner's armourer.

The spadroon also comes in 'hanger' size without the 5 balls...The Naval officers liked these for actual combat aboard ship... Warrant Officers usually had black hilts, commissioned officers usually had white.

Upper: UK Infantry 1796 spadroon
Middle: 1803 American 5 ball Spadroon
Lower: UK Spadroon hanger.
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Old 20th February 2021, 05:42 PM   #24
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Hi Wayne,
The sword with the silk has a cut and thrust blade but a smallsword type hilt without a working Pas-de Ane. The 1796 N.C.O. sword is a plain version of the officers 1796 albeit with a substantial blade unlike most of the officer versions. One of the swords I show can more easily be defined as a smallsword. and one as a spadroon type, according to the definition that a spadroon has a cut and thrust blade, but the other one has elements of both albeit the useful smallsword part i.e. the Pas-de Ane is not workable therefore does this not negate using a smallsword reference to this type of hilt, maybe maybe not?
My Regards,
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Old 20th February 2021, 06:07 PM   #25
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True, just thought some illustrations of the more 'standard' swords mentioned would help. The 5-ball UK spadroons would have had a pommel more similar to my hanger at the bottom. The vestigal 'pas' was dropped on the Official UK 1796 Officers sword, tho I'd bet a lot of officers still wanted their own variations for a while. the 'pas' does help align the edge better for a cut, but not strictly needed for a thrust - which is why I assume they eventually morphed out of existance.
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Old 21st February 2021, 05:41 AM   #26
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Thank you both for posting these great contributions to this thread. I particularly like the naval pattern spadroons, of which I haven't yet added to my maritime collection. I've always been drawn to them and I think I'll keep an eye open for one! I have seen a few 'balled hilts' that were naval as well, but I know it was a popular model with infantry.
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