British 1788 Pattern Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword by Foster, 1791-98, In Need of Restoration
Single-fullered blade with false edge and hatchet point. Blade 32½ inches (82.6cm) in length, the sword 37½ inches (95.3cm) overall. Steel stirrup hilt with teardrop shaped quillon, decoratively feathered langets, faceted ferrule. Ribbed wood grip, probably ebony. Black leather scabbard with steel throat, chape and middle mounts, with two hanging rings, the lower ring larger and flat. No backstrap.
The throat piece of the scabbard is engraved with ‘Foster / St James’s Str. / Sword Cutler to His Majesty the Prince of Wales & Duke of York’ within a circular cartouche. The leather of the scabbard on the facing side is debossed with dot and line motifs.
Robert Foster was a London-based cutler who joined in partnership with established maker John Bland in 1787, to create the business Bland & Foster at St James’s Street in London, which earned the title ‘Royal Sword Cutler and Beltmaker’. Foster then gained sole ownership of the business and its prestigious royal connections upon the death of John Bland in 1791. He ran the business under his name alone until 1798, when he partnered with Richard Johnston and died in the same year, meaning this sword can be dated to within that period. Johnston successfully carried on the business until 1840, his son James closed up shop in 1847.
It is probable, although not certain, that this piece was ordered before the introduction of the 1796 Patterns of cavalry sword, since these replaced the 1788s. This would give an even more precise range of 1791-1796.
Foster became known for very high quality, detailed custom work on officer’s swords, especially for regiments which also enjoyed a royal connection: most notably the 10th Light Dragoons (Prince of Wales’s Own), for whom the Prince (the future George IV) personally purchased from Foster sixteen fine swords in the ‘coffin-hilt’ style with accoutrement sets in 1792.
This sword shows several non-standard features that suggest a custom order: its ribbed hardwood grip rather than the more common shagreen-wrapped wood, chiselled ‘feathering’ decoration to the langets and debossed patterns on the scabbard are all atypical and are mostly a matter of style rather than function, ‘optional extras’ of the period that suggest a fashion-conscious owner. The scabbard as a whole is of an unusual design: 1788 scabbards vary but they are typically all-steel or steel with leather panels. Leather scabbards with metal fittings, which can be either brass or steel, are rarer (and probably survive less frequently).
Some patination and pitting to the blade. Near the tip of the blade there are two patches of deep pitting which have notched the edge and the false edge. The backstrap with its integral pommel cap is missing which allows some movement to the hilt, and rougher-cut areas of the wood grip are visible that would have been covered by it. The leather of the scabbard is flexible with some rubbing and dents to the surface. The scabbard fittings have some rust and patination, one small rust hole and some light dents to the chape piece. The throat piece is missing its mouthpiece, with a ragged top edge. The fittings are all loose, originally having been friction-fit, not stapled. They could be glued down but I have chosen not to modify the piece at all, and a restoration might indeed benefit from the ability to disassemble it.