British Pattern 1896 Cavalry Officer’s Sword for an Officer of the 17th Lancers
The Wilkinson patent solid hilt cavalry officer’s sword of Sir Harold Stansmore Nutting, Captain in the 17th Lancers. This sword has so much going for it, being as a sword one of the best quality cavalry officer’s swords it was possible to purchase when this was made in 1903, service sharpened for active service and with Wilkinson’s famous Patent Solid Hilt. Add to this that the blade is etched with the Death or Glory skull and crossed bones motif of the 17th Lancers and the officer’s initials, it has great provenance.
Sir Harold Stansmore Nutting (photos of him from WW1 here) was born 14 Aug 1882, he was educated Eton and Trinity College Cambridge and attained the rank of Captain with the 17th Lancers. From 1911-13 he was ADC to the Governor-General of Australia. He served in WW1 and was wounded in action. He became 2nd Baronet on the death of his father. He died in 1972.
Blade 34½", by Hamburger Rogers & Co, King St, Covent Garden, London WC, etched on both sides with crowned interlaced VR cypher, in scrolled, fenestrated panels, pierced, scroll pattern, half basket guard, cross hatched pommel and thumbpiece to backstrap, wirebound fishskin grip, 21st Lancers gilt sword knot with French grey stripe, in its steel scabbard with 2 rings.
An Infantry Sword with a Cavalry Blade – French 1882 Variant
This is a rare custom made variant of the 1882 French infantry officers sword. It features a bronze hilt with extra bars on the outside and inside of the guard, and an early example of an 1896 style cavalry blade, with a single fuller and single edge. It is stiff, and narrow, and well suited to thrusting style of combat. I hypothesize it was made for a mounted infantry officer, as it is optimised more for a cavalryman than an infantryman.
This example is 820 grams, and 104.5cm long overall, and was produced by Barre and Fils, Paris, an outfitter who made many custom swords including some very highly decorated presentation swords.
A variant of the P1896, made by Mole and marked to the India Stores Department (ISD).
76.5 cm sharply curved blade stamped ISD beneath an arrow at the forte, MOLE and an I beneath an arrow on the back edge, regulation steel hilt stamped F.W.A 7.00 at the quillon, ribbed iron grip, contained in its brass mounted leather scabbard, stamped 276 on the frog stud and with Ordnance marks to the lower mount.
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.
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.
British Pattern 1896 Mountain Artillery Sword (variant)
The British had maintained permanent mountain artillery batteries in its Indian armies since the 1850s. The Indian gunners of these units were issued swords which were very similar to the famous Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Sword. The curved blades were nearly identical to that of the P1796, and they had brass stirrup guards with or without langets, and ribbed iron grips which were painted black. The scabbards were mounted with a frog stud which resulted in the swords being worn with the blade facing backwards rather than forwards.
When the British Army formed its own mountain artillery batteries it adopted a new sword very similar to the Indian pattern, but with a steel D-shaped guard. The frog stud on the scabbard was mounted in the Indian fashion as can be seen in the magnified photo above. This sword was the Pattern 1896 Mountain Artillery Sword, and given the small number of mountain batteries, it is one of the rarest of the British regulation pattern swords. This pattern was still in use in 1910, but was phased out some time before the beginning of World War One.
My sword, pictured above, varies from the regulation pattern illustrated in the schematic drawing in that it has a small quillon rather than a rounded lobe, and it is identical to two other swords in the collections of the Royal Armouries in Leeds, IX.1298 and IX.1297.
The dimensions of these P1896 Mountain Artillery Sword variants are as follows:
Overall length: approx. 902 mm (35 ½ in.)
Blade length: 755 mm (29 ¾ in.)
Blade width, by hilt: 38 mm (1 ½ in.)
Weight: 1.130 kg (2 lb. 8 oz.)
Although the sword is almost 2.5 lbs., it it quite nimble . The blade has a nice amount of distal taper and is quite thin for the last 8″ or 9″, with most of the weight in the hilt from the iron grip and steel guard.
My example is stamped F.W.A. 10.00, for Fort William Arsenal (Kolkata, India), October 1900. It is stamped ROBT MOLE & SONS / BIRMINGHAM on the spine of the blade, and RBG on the ricasso.
This sword came to me completely covered in black paint. I stripped the paint from the blade and the guard, but I left it on the grip as that was an original feature (I included before and after photos). The blade has a lot of dark staining, and someone must have done some backyard swashbuckling with it as the blade is chewed up at the foible. The sword is in stable condition–all dirt and grime is gone and there is no active rust. However, the sword is still rather decrepit. I find that this condition is acceptable given the rarity of the sword and the fact that it was inexpensive.
Late Victorian Heavy Cavalry Officers Undress Sword, blade by Henry Wilkinson, Pall Mall, London No 37965 etched and polished with crowned VR cypher and Royal arms amidst foliage, and sharpened for field service, regulation steel guard and chequered grip strap, fish skin covered grip with twisted silver wire, in its steel dress scabbard. Blade 88.5cms, overall 107.5cms. Good clean untouched condition. Wilkinsons ledger confirm that this sword was supplied to J.E. Holland, 7th Dragoon Guards in 1900. John Edmund Daniel Holland, 7DG, d.o.b. 15.12.79, 2nd Lt 23.5.00, Lt 13.5.01, Capt 4.7.08, to 5DG 10.6.14, Boer War QM with 5 clasps, WWI MID, MC, DSO 8.1.18.