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U620. AMERICAN ETCHED (WAR OF 1812): - ENGLISH P-1796 LIGHT CAVALRY OFFICERS' SABER: In 1796 the British War Department adopted a newly designed saber for use by the Light Cavalry based upon John Gaspard Le Merchant military experiences in the field. Le Merchant saw the inadequacies in the British cavalry saber design while he was serving as a brigade major with the British Cavalry in Flanders, during the Low Countries campaign in the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1795). Upon returning to England, he enlisted the aid of English cutler and sword maker Henry Osborn and between them was born the Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Saber. The saber had a curved blade with relatively short slashing tip, referred to as a “hatchet” tip. The blade was typically between 32 ½” and 33” long and had a simple stirrup shaped iron guard with languets on either side of the guard. The grip had a grooved wood core wrapped with braided cord and then wrapped with leather. A pair of iron ears extended from the back-strap on either side of the grip’s center, and a transverse pin reinforced the grip to the back-strap attachment; strengthening it and keeping the grip from wobbling or working itself loose from the hilt. The design was strictly for hacking and slashing, and not for thrusting designed as a standard fighting saber for the use of the light cavalry troopers and no “officers” pattern were made. While the British War Department often created specific, official “officers’” pattern swords for wear with dress uniforms, etc. no specific officers’ light cavalry saber was authorized or codified. As such, a variety of enhanced variants of the Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Saber were produced for use and wear by officers. Some were little more than lightened versions of the trooper saber with wire wrap on the grip and some level of ornamentation on the blade, varying from simple acid etching to fire blued blades with gold gilt decorations. Heavily ornamented hilts were available as well. The popularity of Le Merchant’s design is also seen in the number of American sabers (often called “Bird’s Head” pommels) that are known from the era of the late 1790s through the early 1820s, often utilizing the same stirrup guard (often called “D” or “P” guards) in both brass and iron. The form seems to have been quite popular with mounted American militia officers during the Federal Era, and variants are known with connection to infantry, cavalry and artillery officers. As many American swords and sabers in the post-Revolutionary War through pre-War of 1812 era originated with the cutlers and swords makers in England, it is not surprising that current British military patterns were frequently imported by American retailers. Some American retailers acquired only their blades from England and hilted the swords themselves, but other retailers purchased completed swords from the English for sale in America.

This is awonderful example of a British Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Officers’ Sword that was clearly intended for the American market. The saber appears to be a slightly lighter version of the common trooper’s saber with the exception that the grip has no reinforcing ears, and the leather-covered grip has an additional wire wrap. However, when the blade is drawn from the iron scabbard, the acid etched blade with American military motifs is immediately apparent. Approximately 15” of the 29 ½” long curved blade is etched with a variety of martial images. The obverse starts with floral splays and an arched bridge near the ricasso, with the word WARRENTED etched over the bridge. This is followed by a martial panoply of drums, canons, flags and pole arms, with the central pole arm being tipped with the “liberty cap”. Next is another floral splay that is topped with a spread-winged American eagle. The eagle clutches the usual olive branch in it left talon and 3 arrows in its right, and has a banner bearing the de facto motto of the United States E. Pluribus Unum (out of many, one), secured in its beak. The breast of the eagle is an American flag shield with 11 vertical stripes on the lower portion and 16 stars on the upper portion. The number of stars is interesting; suggesting the saber dates to between 1796 and 1803, although it could date as late as 1820. In 1796 Tennessee entered the union as the 16th state, the first since the adoption of the 15-star flag in 1795. The 17th state, Ohio, entered the union in 1803, and was followed by Louisiana (#18) in 1812, Indiana (#19) in 1816 and Mississippi (#20) in 1817. However, the 15-star flag remained the official American flag until 1820, when it was replaced with a new 20-star flag. This does not mean that flags with different star counts were not used during the time, and for a period a 16-star and 16-stripe flag was used unofficially, circa 1797-1803. Above the American eagle is another floral splay. The reverse of the saber starts with the same style of floral decoration and arched bridge near the ricasso, and continued with floral splays up the blade. The central image is another martial panoply featuring a drum, a canon, pole arms (with the central one again tipped with a “Liberty Cap”) and a shield with an American flag motif. Again the shield has 11-vertical stripes on the lower portion and 16-stars on the upper portion. Above the martial display is another floral splay. The curved blade is 29 ½” in length and 1 1/8” wide at the ricasso and the spine is a ¼” wide at that location as well. A single, wide fuller extends from the ricasso approximately 21 ½” towards the tip of the saber. The stirrup hilt and back strap are of iron, as they would be for any but the highest end English P-1796 officer’s saber. The hilt is 4 ½” long and the overall length of the saber is about 34 ½”. The rear of the guard is slotted for a saber knot and a pair of 15/16” long iron languets, the same width as the blade, extend form the front of the guard. The top of the guard extends 1 ½” above the blade and is tipped with a flat, round quillon. The wooden grip is grooved with an obvious palm-swell and covered in thin dark brown leather. Seven wraps of bronze or copper wire are present in the grooves. The wire has a wound center strand, flanked by two plain strands of wire, quite similar to the wire found on US Model 1833 Dragoon sabers. Interestingly the 1833 Dragoon was based upon the replacement for the Pattern 1796 saber, the Pattern 1821 saber. Other than the word “WARRENTED” no other identifying mark can be found on the saber other than a very tiny letter stamped on the spine, which may be a “C” or “G”. If it is a “G”, it may suggest Thomas Gill made the saber for the American market. The saber is in about FINE overall condition. The frosted etching on both sides of the blade is very clear and crisp and is about 90%+ present. The highly polished blade retains about 85%+ of its original bright polish as well. The etched panels show only some minor discoloration from freckled surface oxidation and some scattered flecks of discoloration. The last 8” of the blade, from the end of the fuller to the tip has been very lightly cleaned, and some minor surface scratches are visible in the polished steel. The blade is free of any significant dings or nicks, but a few tiny impact marks can be felt along the cutting edge if you carefully run your thumb along it. This is typical of any old sword that probably saw some light use, and then some additional action as a family heirloom "toy" reenacting the deeds of grandpa or great-grandpa. The iron stirrup hilt and back strap have an untouched mottled gray and brown patina with a mostly dark brown even coloration along the back strap, and some small areas of scattered minor surface oxidation scattered over the hilt. The leather wrap is original and is about 80%+ present, with largest single area of loss being at the obverse rear of the grip, where it has flaked away and another piece of leather has lifted and may flake off soon as well. The other areas of loss are some small wear spots on the reverse of the grip. The wire all appears to be original, and remains relatively tight and secure, with only some minor looseness noted at the obverse rear where the leather wrap has started to flake. The saber is accompanied by its original iron scabbard, and fits it perfectly. The scabbard retains both original iron suspension rings and is complete, including its throat. The scabbard was painted black a very long time ago, possibly during the period of use or immediately thereafter as a means of protecting a family heirloom. The scabbard was then decorated on the obverse with gold paint in a floral motif between the mounts. Only about 30%-40% of this paint remains, having worn off the scabbard from handling, storage and use over the years. The scabbard remains solid with the only condition issues worth noting being a tiny seam crack, about ½” long, 3 ¼” below the lower drag, and pair of deep dents between the mounts on the reverse. The upper dent is the deeper and larger of the two. A smaller, thumb-sized dent is also present on the obverse just below the upper mount. The scabbard matches the saber well and the old painted decorations really add to the overall eye appeal of the saber.

While it is impossible to know the exact date of manufacture and the exact period of use of this sword, it is almost certainly c1800 and most likely pre-War of 1812. The number of stars in the etched panels and the overall pattern are typical of earlier, rather than later Federal Era officer’s swords, which tend to be more heavily embellished. This sword, with its relatively short 29 ½” blade was almost certainly an infantry officer’s or artillery officer’s saber and the iron scabbard suggest use while mounted. This is a very attractive sword with a wonderful blade and lovely etching. It would be a wonderful addition to any collection of early American swords. This is a scarce pattern, and I have only seen a handful of these English P-1796 officer type swords etched with American martial motifs. It is a sword you will no doubt be very glad to add to your collection and to display on your wall.$1950.00 SALE PRICE $1700.00




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