British Circa 1790 Naval Officer’s Fighting Sword, Probably by Thurkle
Curved sabre blade with hatchet point, double-fullered a la Montmorency (one narrow fuller along the spine, one broad fuller below it extending almost to the point) Gilt brass stirrup hilt, flat oval pommel with knob enclosing tang. Black leather washer. Ribbed ivory grip shaped to fit the hand, wrapped with 14 loops of gilt wire. Black scabbard with brass fittings at throat and chape, incised decoration on each.
Brass-hilted sabres with ivory grips were popular in Britain and America for both naval and cavalry officers (typically yeomanry cavalry) towards the end of the 18th century. Among naval officers it is specifically noted that they were used as fighting swords, not dress, with plain blades and no ornamental features. When the first official pattern of naval officer’s sword was introduced in 1805, its stirrup hilt and ribbed ivory grip clearly took inspiration from this popular style, albeit with added decorative features. The specific hilt design used in this example has been strongly associated with swords made by Francis Thurkle II of London in the late 1780s and early 1790s. Without a maker’s mark this cannot be conclusive, of course.
The blade is unmarked and has pitting and patination overall, in places notching the spine of the blade. The edge has numerous small nicks. The hilt and pommel have tiny dents as usual for brass. The grip wires are all present albeit with some movement. The ivory piece has a large chipped area at the pommel end, two cracks extending from the pommel end and some more minor staining & damage elsewhere. Despite this it is solidly fitted, there is slight movement to the backstrap and ferrule but none to the grip.
The scabbard has an unusual outer layer, flaking in places, that I cannot quite identify. It may be some form of papier-mâché, possibly to stabilize (or replace) worn leather? Its brass fittings have some denting, patina and staining. The frog stud is bent downwards as though by an impact, with a crack above it leaving it partly attached to the throat piece.
See page 127 & 128 of Naval Swords & Dirks by Sim Comfort for an almost identical example – Mr Comfort believes that this was specifically Thurkle’s design.
See page 41 of Naval Swords by Annis for a similar example in the National Maritime Museum, and discussion of this general type of curved fighting sword.
Due to the ivory used in the grip, this sword cannot be exported from the UK.