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19th Century Eagle-Head Sword - I could use more details, please !


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I plucked this sword out of the Virginia woodwork yesterday. It has been in private (non-collector/non-dealer) hands for a very long time!  I have tentatively identified it as an early 19th century (circa 1820 - 1840) U.S. artillery officer's sword, but I would appreciate more information and/or confirmation from fellow forum members with more experience than I when it comes to American edged weapons.

 

Is it possible that this sword is NAVY-related?  Interested in your feedback.  Thanks in advance!

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  • 2 weeks later...

You are on the right track. Probably made by Frederick Widmann of Philadelphia. This type was used from around 1821 up until the 1850's. The guard and the scabbard are very tarnished but can you see any silver plating? If it was silver plated then it would be for an infantry officer instead of artillery. An artillery sword would have been gold plated. If naval, I would expect the etching to incorporate an anchor, can you make out any of the etching?

 

Here's one very close to yours for sale at Shiloh Relics, but it has a plain scabbard while yours has an upgraded engraved scabbard, very nice:

http://shilohrelics.com/cgi-bin/display_Item.asp?124698

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On 11/22/2020 at 5:00 PM, R.Johnston said:

Here's one very close to yours for sale at Shiloh Relics, but it has a plain scabbard while yours has an upgraded engraved scabbard, very nice:

http://shilohrelics.com/cgi-bin/display_Item.asp?124698

 

Thanks for the link!  Very useful and most appropriate.  As you correctly stated, my sword is indeed quite similar.

 

There is so much patina on this edged weapon that my tired old eyes have trouble distinguishing silver tones and/or gold tones.  I am inclined to say that overall the color of the hilt and scabbard is gold-ish, even if very dull, giving it the appearance of dirty brass.

 

Likewise, the heavy patina on the blade makes it difficult to make out any significant details in the etching.  I don't think that there are any anchors on there...  :( 

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Great find, and there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well.  Did you get any family history with it?

Looking for older Virginia Military Institute items: insignia, uniforms, cadet sabers, documents, and groupings belonging to VMI alumni.

Also interested in Virginia Reserve Militia (VRM) uniforms and insignia, or other items of general Virginia interest.

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4 hours ago, VMI88 said:

Great find, and there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well.  Did you get any family history with it?

 

Sadly, my source knew precious little about the history of the items he sold to me.  To complicate matters, his family name is "Smith" (really!) - thus making any type of research into possible Confederate ownership very tricky.  (F.Y.I. - my disparate purchase from Mr. Smith included this 19th century U.S. sword, a WW1 German sword (Prussian M1889), a WW2 German K98 bayonet & frog, plus a WW2 Japanese pistol (early Nambu) & leather holster!)  The only item that the seller knew anything about was the Japanese pistol & holster combo.  The provenance of everything else was a mystery to him...

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1840s-1850s .  German manufacture.  Mistakenly often associated with Widmann and Horstmann.  There may be a mark, or letters at the base of the blade under the shell guard.

 

While earlier and similar swords of the type were found for naval officers before the regulation 1841 Ames pattern, the use of these for militia and other military associations persist into the 20th century.   Are there traces at all on the scabbard or sword hilt of any silver wash?  Or gold on the brass?  The earlier naval swords of this type would have had an anchor on the shell guard.

 

This bird is somewhat a spoof of the Widmann type VI, which is continued by Horstmann after Widmann's death in 1848.

 

There is no reasoning at all to believe "there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well" except to also realize that any weapon made before the conflict might have seen Confederate use.  No provenance = 0 actual relationship.  It is what I would regard as a generic militia sword of the 1840s-1850s.  The post ACW Ames Sword Co catalog reprint show trend for eagle and princess pommel swords marketed for the military associations that lasts through that century.

 

Cheers

GC

 

an edit to add that the blank wear side of the knuckle guard was once considered a Widmann trait but I assure you, we have come a long way since the 1954 Harold Peterson old testament

 

A second edit to say that (imo) the generic ferrule being used upside down (to me) nails it down to the 1850s.

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4 hours ago, Horseclover said:

There is no reasoning at all to believe "there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well" except to also realize that any weapon made before the conflict might have seen Confederate use. 

 

And that was exactly my point.  As I'm sure you're aware, the Confederacy pressed many earlier weapons into service.  I didn't say it "probably" had Confederate usage, or that it was worth more money, but you can't deny that with a pre-War sword found in Virginia "there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well".  Heck, you can't even say a 1943 dated cartidge belt without provenance was used in WW2, but it fills that spot in a collection.

Looking for older Virginia Military Institute items: insignia, uniforms, cadet sabers, documents, and groupings belonging to VMI alumni.

Also interested in Virginia Reserve Militia (VRM) uniforms and insignia, or other items of general Virginia interest.

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2 hours ago, VMI88 said:

 

And that was exactly my point.  As I'm sure you're aware, the Confederacy pressed many earlier weapons into service.  I didn't say it "probably" had Confederate usage, or that it was worth more money, but you can't deny that with a pre-War sword found in Virginia "there's a good chance it has Confederate usage as well".  Heck, you can't even say a 1943 dated cartidge belt without provenance was used in WW2, but it fills that spot in a collection.

Sorry but I feel that is exactly my counter in pointing out that any assumption of Confederate use begins with true provenance.  Filling a collection  by  adding a story may only suit the collector.  There is as much a chance it was used by someone from the north.  Without the provenance, we go back to known factors, not suppositions.  In other words, a sword likely predating the ACW.  Imo, nothing more than that.

 

In the case of this sword, let us look first of the chain of ownership.

 

"it has been in private (non-collector/non-dealer) hands for a very long time!"

 

How long is that?  Where was it acquired?  How was it acquired?  All we have so far is that the poster lists his location as Virginia.

 

I have amassed dozens of swords that predate the ACW and I list very few in association with the war aside from photographic evidence of swords of a given type.  Even my unmarked "wristbreaker" I simply list as a sword of the type, not that there is a good chance it was an ACW sword, let alone Confederate use. Simply a sword of the type.

 

To each their own but I would love more detail on the chain of ownership.

 

Cheers

GC

 

 

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On 11/27/2020 at 10:31 PM, Horseclover said:

Sorry but I feel that is exactly my counter in pointing out that any assumption of Confederate use begins with true provenance.

 

Please show me where I made an "assumption of Confederate usage".

Looking for older Virginia Military Institute items: insignia, uniforms, cadet sabers, documents, and groupings belonging to VMI alumni.

Also interested in Virginia Reserve Militia (VRM) uniforms and insignia, or other items of general Virginia interest.

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27 minutes ago, VMI88 said:

 

Please show me where I made an "assumption of Confederate usage".

It is not really worth debating semantics but "a good chance" reads to me as "any assumption"

 

What can you share in opinion about the sword itself?

 

Here is one of my eagle pommel clipboards/work sheets.  You might even find a couple of period photos.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1t0vFzYxfv_G4OplLHNsshskOdVC8YHdP?usp=sharing

 

Cheers

GC

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