Indian 19th Century Foot Artillery Sword
Slightly curved unfullered blade with false edge and spear point. Blade 65.8cm in length, ¼ inch (6.5mm) thick at the shoulder, the sword 78.4cm overall. Steel hilt with forward curving comma-shaped quillon and recurved single bar knucklebow. Full-width tang with slab grips of black hardwood secured by five rivets. Flat teardrop-shaped pommel. No scabbard.
These swords are thought to have been used by one of the princely states of British India during the 19th century. Princely states were protectorates with a degree of autonomy and sometimes considerable wealth, which could raise and equip their own armies or even navies.
The swords are somewhat scarce – supposedly all extant examples were discovered as a group and exported together during the 1980s, presumably as a clearout of an old armoury. If true this suggests that they were a small custom order probably intended for a single unit. No scabbards appear to have survived, if they had one originally.
The outside of the knucklebow is engraved in Hindi with what appears to be ज ४ ०. In the Devanagari script ज is a consonant with the sound ‘ja’ and ४ ० are numerals for ‘4 0’. I therefore believe this is a rack or serial number, essentially equivalent to ‘J40’. All other examples I can find use the ज prefix and two following digits – I have noted ‘2 9’ and ‘5 0’. Were there fewer than 100 examples?
Its design is clearly inspired by standard-issue British Army swords of the 19th century, especially the 1853 Pattern Cavalry Trooper’s sword, which also uses a full-width tang, black slab grips secured by five rivets and a similar shaped quillon. This model in particular seems to have been well regarded in India – the swords used by the cavalry of the Baroda State were also modelled on it. The blade reminds me somewhat of that of the Baker rifle bayonet: a similar length, unfullered, with a prominent false edge. Baker bayonets were often used as sidearms even beyond the life of the Baker rifle itself.
However, some elements of its design are simpler than on British types, such as its unfullered blade and lack of leather covering on the grips, and its construction seems more artisanal than one would expect from British workshops or even larger Indian workshops like Rodwell & Co which made the Baroda swords. This may mean that the swords were made locally by blacksmiths.
They are consistently referred to as ‘foot artillery’ swords and this seems reasonable given their design, but I can find no hard evidence for it. They are certainly too short for cavalry use and their thick heavy blades (with essentially no distal taper until the last 12cm) are a far cry from the light, flexible and razor-sharp cutting swords favoured by most Indian swordsmen. Indian foot troops would have been shorter men than the British in that period, and if they were indeed artillerymen they would have also had to kneel while crewing guns without their sidearms getting in the way, and would not have been expected to fight hand-to-hand except in extremis.
The blade has been sharpened along the true edge, the false edge is unsharpened. The blade has some spots of patination, one larger spot also with light pitting, some tiny divots which I think are imperfections in forging. Some undulation to the spine, possibly from hand manufacture, with patination to the recessed areas. Some areas of darker patination to the hilt and exposed tang. One grip slab is intact, the other has areas of chipping which partly expose the tang on the edge side and one of the rivets next to the pommel.