Occasionally we find antique military swords with leather covers on parts or all of their hilts. Here we look at a British example with a blade from the 1860s, a hilt from the 1890s, and applied leather over its entire guard on inside and out.
Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Style Officer’s Sword for a British Officer in India
An unusual 1821 pattern Indian light cavalry sword, with silver koftghari decorated guard, the deeply curved 80 cm blade by Garden, single wide fuller, perhaps a trooper’s blade the back edge being struck ‘Garden’ but not numbered and completely undecorated, regulation three-bar guard the inside and outside decorated overall with a repeat floral pattern in fine silver koftghari inside the guard near the slot for the sword-knot can found a BUDH or ‘magic square’ plain domed pommel with elongated tang-button, plain eared back-strap, ribbed hardwood grip.
Garden, Army Accoutrement Makers & Sword-Cutlers. Between 1862 and 1877 the gunmaking side of the business was carried on under the name of Garden, Robert Spring, and the accoutrement side under that of Garden & Son, they were located at 200 Piccadilly, circa 1824-1891.
There were two patterns of sword used by British cavalry officers during the Victorian era; one pattern for heavy cavalry officers and one pattern for light cavalry officers.
The Pattern 1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword was the regulation sword for combat for officers of heavy cavalry regiments from 1821 to 1912. Heavy cavalry regiments included the three regiments of Household Cavalry, seven regiments of Dragoon Guards, and three regiments of Dragoons for a total of thirteen heavy cavalry regiments. The Household Cavalry regiments had their own unique patterns, but occasionally their officers opted for the standard P1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword, so we could potentially narrow down the number of regiments using the P1821 Heavy Cavalry Sword to nine regiments.
Above: a Pattern 1821 Heavy Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1850-1860
The Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword was the regulation sword for combat for officers of light cavalry regiments from 1821-1896. There were seventeen light cavalry regiments during our period. In addition to those seventeen regiments in the regular army, there were dozens (39 in 1880) of Yeomanry (essentially militia cavalry) regiments, the vast majority of which were light cavalry. Based on numbers of regiments alone, once can see that there were far more light cavalry officers than heavy cavalry officers, and therefore more P1821 Light Cavalry Officers’ Swords than P1821 Heavy Cavalry Officers’ Swords. Officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery also carried the P1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword, thereby adding to the already large numbers of P1821s manufactured in the 19th century.
Above: a Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1850-1860
In 1896 the powers that be decided that the light cavalry officer’s sword had insufficient hand protection and decided that officers of light cavalry regiments should adopt the P1821 Heavy Cavalry hilt. At that point officers had a few options–they could re-hilt their current swords with the heavy cavalry pattern hilt, or they could buy completely new swords. It is likely some officers ignored the new regulation and kept their three-bar light cavalry hilts, but most officers would make sure their swords conformed to regulations. With the new regulations of 1896 requiring all cavalry officers to adopt the heavy cavalry hilt, heavy cavalry pattern swords became much more plentiful than they had been prior to 1896. For modern day collectors, this means that post-1896 heavy cavalry officers’ swords are much easier to find on the market than pre-1896 heavy cavalry officers’ swords. Post-1896 cavalry swords are often called the Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword or Pattern 1896 Universal Cavalry Officer’s Sword. Although this pattern was replaced by the Pattern 1912 Cavalry Officer’s Sword, a number of officers chose the P1896 which was still being made throughout the period of the Great War.
It is important to note that throughout the Victorian era, especially in last two or three decades, officers’ swords began to subtly change–most notably grips and blades became straighter. Below is an example of a World War One era Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword.
Above: a Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword c.1914
These images of Winston Churchill illustrate the change to the regulations. As a newly commissioned officer in 1895, young Winston is wearing a Pattern 1821 Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword. In 1896 Churchill is pictured wearing a Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword.
Victorian Royal Horse Artillery Officer’s Sword c.1846 by Henry Wilkinson Pall Mall London, un-numbered, straight un-fullered single edge blade with gold proof stamp, etched with crowned royal arms, cipher, regimental badge, thunderflash within ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY all within tight foliage, together with owner’s crest, regulation triple bar guard, silver wire bound fish skin covered grip. Blade 90.5cm, overall 105cm. Crest and motto of 2nd Lieut. Alexander John MacDougall, commissioned 6.8.1846, 1st Lieut. 7.5.1847, Second Captain 30.5.1854.
British Pattern 1821 Artillery Officer’s Sword of the 1st Elgin Artillery Volunteers, 19th century
The single fuller etched with foliate designs and ‘1st Elgin Artillery Volunteers’, the opposite side etched with a flaming grenade and artillery piece, etched to the recasso ’S. Hobson & Son Artillery Place Woolwich’, contained in its metal scabbard with twin suspender rings, together with an Officer’s blue cloth helmet of the Artillery Volunteers, the blue cloth skull with white metal fittings including fluted spike finial on cross base, QC regimental helmet plate, rose bosses, chin chain, leather liner, with makers label for ‘Gardiner & Co, Contractors, Argyll Street, Glasgow’, contained within its tin hat box.