British Victorian 1846 Pattern Naval Warrant Officer's Sword, Rare Black Grip with Lion Pommel
Single fullered, spear-pointed ‘Wilkinson’ type blade with rounded spine, 29 inches (~74cm) in length, 35 inches (~89cm) overall. Gilt brass half-basket hilt cast with a crown and fouled anchor within a cartouche, hinged inner guard, brass backstrap with lion head pommel cap, black shagreen grip, brass ferrule. Black leather scabbard with gilt brass fittings at the throat, chape and middle, hanging rings on the throat and middle pieces.
The blade is etched at the ricasso on the inner side with ‘W Adams Plymouth’. William Adams was a tailor and naval & military outfitter in Plymouth which went by that name between 1856 and 1873, dating this sword to that period. Like many other retailers of the period Adams did not manufacture swords, instead buying them from London or Birmingham based manufacturers and reselling them as part of an officer’s uniform. The ricasso on the other side is etched with a six-pointed star surrounding a hole. This would have originally held the brass proof slug, which has been lost.
The blade is further etched with foliate motifs, the crown & cypher of Queen Victoria, and the crown with fouled anchor.
The throat piece of the scabbard is cast with a crown and ‘Woolf & Co. No 45 Old Bond Street London’ within a shield. Woolf & Co is not a known sword cutler or retailer in my available references, but Samuel Benjamin Woolf appears to have been a tailor based at that address: records show that he registered a novel design for a waistcoat in August 1855 with the Patent Office. In the Victorian period just as today, Old Bond Street was a luxury shopping street known for high-end tailors and jewellers who might have also made/retailed sword fittings. The scabbard may have been sourced from Woolf separately to the sword and resold together by Adams, or was a period replacement bought in London.
The combination of grip and pommel seen on this sword is rare: regulations stated that black shagreen grips were to be used only on swords for warrant officers. These had quite plain stepped pommels with a tang button. All commissioned officer’s swords had pommels cast in the form of a lion’s head but used white shagreen for their grips. The authors May & Annis describe two swords with black grips & lion pommel held by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, one dated to 1865 and the other presented to a newly promoted Boatswain (a warrant officer) in 1866. They also mention seeing a third such sword marked to the retailer Totterdell, who traded from 1841-1863 (see p48 & 233, Vol. 1, Swords for Sea Service).
The reasons for this variant existing at all are unknown, but it seems to have appeared during the 1860s and then disappeared again soon after without any change to the formal regulations. A similar phenomenon also occurred with the previous 1803 pattern sword: for that pattern Lieutenants and below were supposed to use a plain pommel and black grip but the lion pommel frequently appears anyway, regulations failing to restrain the natural desire of commissioned officers to have a more impressive sword.
The blade has some patination and some areas of cleaned pitting towards the point. The leather washer has been lost. The shagreen grip has all of its wire binding. The outer guard of the hilt shows some denting and scraping around the base of the anchor motif. The outer guard as a whole has slightly bent downwards, opening a gap between it and the ferrule on one side and slightly deforming the ferrule. This has also relieved the spring tension on the hinged inner guard, which still moves but does not firmly lock into two positions as normal. The hinge shows damage to the knuckles and a slightly bent pin. This observed damage all seems consistent with impacts to the outer surface of the guard. The hilt retains only a small amount of gilding in protected areas. The scabbard has lost its stitching along the seam. Its fittings retain some gilding, with denting to the top and bottom piece and a heavy dent or crush to each side of the chape piece at the top of the shoe, causing some cracking along the spine and preventing the sword from fully sheathing. The scabbard leather has some surface-level cracking in places.