British 1821 Pattern Light Cavalry Officer’s Sword, William IV, Pipeback Blade
Curved unfullered pipeback blade with quill point. No leather washer, leaving the shoulder of the blade visible. Steel three-bar hilt with forward curving comma-shaped quillon and narrow thumb loop joining to the knucklebow. Wire-bound shagreen grip, steel backstrap and integral stepped pommel with tang button. Steel scabbard with two hanging rings, throat piece secured by two screws.
The blade is etched on both sides with a panel containing the crown and cypher of King William IV, with victor’s laurels, dating the sword to the period 1830-1837.
The 1821 Pattern cavalry swords, both Light and Heavy, marked a significant departure from their predecessors the 1796 Patterns. The London sword cutler John Prosser was chosen to be the designer due to a long-standing personal relationship with the new king George VI, with no apparent input from the military authorities.
Prosser’s creations use a number of features seen on bespoke officer’s swords ordered from cutlers in the intervening years. This informal community feedback must have given Prosser a strong idea of what soldiers wanted and it resulted in a fairly radical redesign for the light cavalry: the strongly curved 1796, deliberately optimized for cutting with very little ability to thrust and with a simple stirrup hilt, was replaced by a longer, slightly curved ‘cut and thrust’ blade with a new pipeback profile, joined to a hilt with side bars, and without langets.
The pipeback blade was inspired by the kilij swords used by the Egyptians and Ottomans, encountered by the British in the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801. The ‘pipe’, essentially a steel rod incorporated into the blade, stiffened it for better thrusting without adding too much weight. 1796 Pattern officer’s swords with pipeback blades began to appear around 1800, and became increasingly popular during the 1810s until their official adoption. The trooper’s version did not have a pipeback, perhaps owing to the cost of it as a feature. Three-bar hilts were also seen on bespoke 1796s, albeit more rarely, and the trend for increased hand protection was universal across all the new designs.
The 1821 Pattern officer’s sword in its original form lasted until around 1845, when the fullered ‘Wilkinson’ style blade, very similar to that of the trooper’s version, gradually replaced the pipeback. This post-1845 version, still officially called the 1821, remained in service with light cavalry officers until 1896.
The Horse Artillery also adopted the 1821 Light Pattern given their mounted role, and around 1846 this was extended to all artillery officers. This has continued ever since, so the 1821 Pattern survives (with fullered blade) in the modern-day Royal Artillery sword.
The blade is particularly bright with a high polish that I think is original given the crispness of the etching – repolishing of the blade would almost certainly have degraded the shallow etching, and would have destroyed the subtle distinction between the matt acid-etched background of the panel and the bright, reflective designs of crown & cypher. Some dark patination at the ricasso, a couple of patches intruding onto the corner of the etched panels. and some very light pitting near the tip on one side. The hilt, backstrap and ferrule are all patinated, with areas of light pitting. The scabbard is patinated with peppered pitting overall, with a couple of small dents to its trailing edge and near the chape on one side. Some losses to the shagreen of the grip, mostly at its edges, exposing the wood core beneath – the section that widens for the pommel cap is entirely bare. The grip wires are all present with slight movement to the two loops closest to the ferrule.