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Old 24th July 2021, 12:15 AM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Oval Ring in Scottish Basket hilts

In the mid 18th century, various forms of Scottish basket hilts were produced for Scots in the British army units. These were produced in the 'garrison' towns in Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh etc. and some in London and Birmingham.

It seems this oval aperture appeared around 1735-40, and prevailed until c.1780. The blades could range from 33" to as long as 39" and it is generally held that the aperture was for holding the reins during discharge of pistol in action or whatever was required in the moment.

This example (I will add dimensions later) has a very long blade and the hilt is in the 'Glasgow' style by the character of the designs and structure. One very similar is shown in "The British Basket Hilted Cavalry Sword" A.D.Darling, 'Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting', Vol.7, #3.

Darling believes the oval ring appeared c. 1735-40, but John Wallace ("Scottish Swords and Dirks", 1970) shows an example by Thomas Gemmill somewhat earlier possibly, also Glasgow hilt.

In Wallace (#41) another example c. 1750 has the feature and shown carried by trooper of 2nd Regiment of Horse in a painting of that date by David Morier.

There are of course many variations of British basket hilt cavalry swords of the 18th century, but these holding to Scottish styling in many cases, with others being more rudimentary.

Would welcome comments, examples as always, but just thought this characteristic unusual and wanted top share this example from c. 1750. The blade is unmarked, but probably German and backsword (SE).
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Old 24th July 2021, 11:41 PM   #2
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The blade is indeed 39" as apparently ordered for British cavalry after 1750.
While British cavalry swords were typically with single edged blades, there were always exceptions of course.
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Old 25th July 2021, 01:52 AM   #3
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Jim the example on the right has a pommel very similar to a Georgian cavalry sword that just sold at Tony Cribbs auction. I noticed it because I have a sister sword virtually identical but with markings and the name of Wyatt on the blade.
Your example and the Tony Cribb sword are the only other swords I have seen with the same pommel profile.
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Old 25th July 2021, 03:11 AM   #4
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Hello Jim and what a great basket this is! I read in Neumann's that both infantry and cavalry baskets had broadsword blades in the earlier periods (I'm assuming mid-18th?). This lengthy blade has to be cavalry! Likewise, the oval would indeed allow for holding a rein while riding. Another point is this basket doesn't have the wrist guard, which would have been more practical on an infantry piece where two enemies might have engaged in hand-to-hand (the wrist guard having been around since the 1690's onwards to prevent the deadly Scottish practice of slicing an opponent's hand in the open basket). Cavalry baskets were used just to mow down their opponets on foot! Of note is the fact that the bars of the saltires are joined by the pommel ring as opposed to just sliding under it. I think these oval-open baskets were later, so with all the factoring, perhaps a mid-18th c. piece? This is a great sword!
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Old 25th July 2021, 08:45 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by M ELEY View Post
Hello Jim and what a great basket this is! I read in Neumann's that both infantry and cavalry baskets had broadsword blades in the earlier periods (I'm assuming mid-18th?). This lengthy blade has to be cavalry! Likewise, the oval would indeed allow for holding a rein while riding. Another point is this basket doesn't have the wrist guard, which would have been more practical on an infantry piece where two enemies might have engaged in hand-to-hand (the wrist guard having been around since the 1690's onwards to prevent the deadly Scottish practice of slicing an opponent's hand in the open basket). Cavalry baskets were used just to mow down their opponets on foot! Of note is the fact that the bars of the saltires are joined by the pommel ring as opposed to just sliding under it. I think these oval-open baskets were later, so with all the factoring, perhaps a mid-18th c. piece? This is a great sword!

Capn, thank you so much for your comments!! well observed as always.
There has always been a good deal of consternation over finding a pragmatic purpose for these oval rings. In most cases it remains held these were for holding the hilt and reins to free the other hand, thus obviously a feature for horsemen and British rather than definitively "Scottish' as intended for use in British mounted units.

While these may have appeared around 1730s, they do seem more prevalent in 1750s+ After 1750s the blade lengths were increased as well, to up to 39" as seen here.
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Old 25th July 2021, 09:00 PM   #6
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Jim the example on the right has a pommel very similar to a Georgian cavalry sword that just sold at Tony Cribbs auction. I noticed it because I have a sister sword virtually identical but with markings and the name of Wyatt on the blade.
Your example and the Tony Cribb sword are the only other swords I have seen with the same pommel profile.

Will thank you very much for coming in on this, and especially for reminding me of the 'Wyatt' saber. Its amazing how long we've been discussing that most interesting sword.
Even more amazing is the case of this pommel which is 'bun' shaped with the unusually tall capstan.
It seems that these tall capstans occur on hilts c.1770s but on the pommels that I call 'olive' but Mazansky calls 'sugar loaf' (?) (XIV type).

The pommel on my basket hilt seems to align with the earlier Scottish forms except for the tall capstan. As the 'olive' pommels were beginning c. 1750s it does seem possible that the feature of the tall capstan might be in effect transitional. I had no idea the pommel would be so unusual so your observation of its apparent rarity is most interesting.

Are there images of the sword sold at Cribb?
These pommels seem atypical to both the slotted hilts and basket hilts.
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Old 29th July 2021, 08:19 PM   #7
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There was some discussion quite a while since among collectors regarding the oval ring, the thinking being that it was there in order for a horseman to be able to quickly pass the sword temporarily to his left hand where his fingers could safely grip it through the ring till the user needed to take it back ready to use in his right hand. I really can't remember if anyone put forward any provenance.
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Old 29th July 2021, 09:35 PM   #8
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There was some discussion quite a while since among collectors regarding the oval ring, the thinking being that it was there in order for a horseman to be able to quickly pass the sword temporarily to his left hand where his fingers could safely grip it through the ring till the user needed to take it back ready to use in his right hand. I really can't remember if anyone put forward any provenance.
Thank you very much Mel for responding. This was one of the suggested possible purposes mentioned in some of the literature, it seems Ive seen it mentioned a couple of times. I dont think this aperture can be deemed for any specific purpose by design, but would serve well in this as well as to hold reins. As with many of these questions on certain elements found in sword design and structurally in hilts, there is often no recorded support historically, but its always good to have these things in discourse where material is compiled.
Again, thank you for this entry!!!
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Old 30th July 2021, 12:50 AM   #9
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I've often seen people post this theory for years. Since I don't ride horses nor have a Scottish basket hilt pre-1800 (), I have no idea.
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Old 30th July 2021, 03:17 AM   #10
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I've often seen people post this theory for years. Since I don't ride horses nor have a Scottish basket hilt pre-1800 (), I have no idea.
No problem Jose, I find myself in the same situation in discussions on the edged weapons of SE Asia, Indonesia and the Phillipines. Its all in areas with which we are most familiar. To many, the question on these features is moot, but for those of us with inate curiosity, it simply seems to need answering.
Even the 'experts' dont know for sure, but just present the most plausible answers.
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Old 30th July 2021, 04:26 AM   #11
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I personally think the ring is so you can hold the basket and your fingers can still hold your pewter shot of Drambuie
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Old 30th July 2021, 06:16 AM   #12
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I personally think the ring is so you can hold the basket and your fingers can still hold your pewter shot of Drambuie

LOL!!!! Aye!!!!! Capn!!!
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Old 30th July 2021, 12:08 PM   #13
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I can just imagine what's going to happen to your shot of Drambuie as you're charging at the enemy!
Back to the subject - I have a basket hilt horseman's broadsword (with a good broad German blade) of the Royal Regiment of Horseguards, c1750. By trial and error I reckon that it is easier to transfer the sword to the left, reins, hand, inserting the left thumb through the oval thus enabling you to draw your pistol with the right hand rather than trying (and fumbling) to insert the reins into the right-hand fingers through the oval, thus freeing the left hand to draw a pistol. Haven't tried this on horseback so might be on a wild goose chase.
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Old 30th July 2021, 06:55 PM   #14
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I can just imagine what's going to happen to your shot of Drambuie as you're charging at the enemy!
Back to the subject - I have a basket hilt horseman's broadsword (with a good broad German blade) of the Royal Regiment of Horseguards, c1750. By trial and error I reckon that it is easier to transfer the sword to the left, reins, hand, inserting the left thumb through the oval thus enabling you to draw your pistol with the right hand rather than trying (and fumbling) to insert the reins into the right-hand fingers through the oval, thus freeing the left hand to draw a pistol. Haven't tried this on horseback so might be on a wild goose chase.
Neil

Yup Neil, not a good idea to be imbibing while charging. I can tell you however the effect Drambuie has on judgement from the night of 'spirited' music ( I think Aerosmith) and Drambuie in my den.....I playfully picked up a tulwar to give it a swing........oh oh! forgot the ceiling fan! thunk!!!

I think the number of possible uses of this distinct feature would be numerous, but mostly intended for the handling of the sword in various awkward or pressing circumstances....I doubt any single use would be universal among the men using these swords.

I always find the rather structured use of sword 'cuts' as used in the numbered training exercises being applied in the heat of battle almost humorous. A dragoon at Balaklava was upset at a cossack who when he struck at him with a cut so and so, he responded with a cut so and so, out of sequence thus knocking the dragoon off his horse!
Completely against the rules!!!!
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