British Victorian 1897 Pattern Infantry Officer’s Sword
Single-fullered straight picquet weight blade with spear point, the blade 32½ inches in length, 38½ inches overall. Steel hilt with pierced decoration including crown and royal cypher of Victoria. Steel chequered backstrap with integral pommel, black shagreen grip bound with wire, leather washer. White leather sword knot with acorn, steel scabbard with two hanging rings.
The blade is etched on each side with the crown & royal cypher of Victoria and foliate motifs. At the ricasso on one side there is a brass proof slug and six-pointed star proof mark, and on the other side the retailer’s mark of ‘Rob Mole & Sons, Makers, Birmingham’. The proof slug is a design characteristic of Mole’s blades, so this is an example of an officer’s sword made and retailed directly by them in the city of Birmingham, rather than being resold in officer’s outfitters elsewhere (principally London). The hilt and scabbard have been nickel-plated.
Hermann Mohll was one of a group of German craftsmen who came to England in the late 17th century to establish swordmaking industries in Shotley Bridge, County Durham. Buying out the enterprise from his employer in 1688 he continued the long-running effort to produce blades of equal craftsmanship and price as those from Germany – with limited success, as proven when he was caught smuggling German blades to sell as his own. He sold his firm to Robert Oley in 1742, but it was repurchased by his descendant Robert Mole in 1832, who returned the firm to the (now Anglicised) family name and moved it to the steelmaking metropolis of Birmingham in 1835. The business flourished there, many pre-existing Birmingham swordsmiths having gone out of business during a slump in the 1820s.
Mole was known for taking on large government arms contracts for the Army and Admiralty, as well as orders for the East India Company (whose forces at the time were larger than the British Army). By 1869 it was the only firm in the country able to handle such bulk orders. Robert himself described the company as having "no private trade worth mentioning". There are however examples of privately purchased officer’s swords produced by Mole from the late Victorian period onwards, perhaps a sign of pressure as relative newcomer Wilkinson began to compete for government contracts in 1883. Mole was bought out by Wilkinson in 1920, the lack of business after WW1 finishing the venerable company off.
The use of the Victoria cypher dates this sword to between 1897 and 1901.
The blade has small areas of patination but retains a high polish, particularly towards the point. The hilt and scabbard both retain almost all their bright nickel plating with only small losses in high-wear areas like the pommel and chape. There may be wear to the hilt beneath the knot wound around it, but this cannot be checked without risking damage to the knot. The shagreen of the grip has light handling wear but no scale loss and the grip wires are all present and tight.