English Circa 1790 Naval Officer’s Spadroon
Straight spear-pointed blade with false edge, 32 inches (~81.5cm) in length, 37¾ inches (~96cm) overall. Gilt brass stirrup hilt with quillon, gilt brass ferrule, gilt brass octagonal ‘cushion’ pommel. Reeded ivory grip. Remains of a leather washer are present. No scabbard.
The spadroon appears to have been an English innovation, first appearing around 1680. It was a light straight-bladed double-edged sword with a fuller typically running the entire length of the blade, which aimed to find a midpoint between the smallsword and broadsword, with a simpler, less restrictive guard compared to the elaborate mortuary and basket hilts of its predecessors. It was sometimes referred to as the ‘shearing’ sword and was regarded as a fine weapon, fast and agile due to its light weight but capable of cutting as well as thrusting.
The first formal instructions from the War Office on what swords should be carried by infantry officers was given on the 3rd April 1786. These specified that swords should have 32 inch long straight cut-and-thrust blades at least 1 inch wide at the shoulder. The hilt, it said, should be of steel, or if not of steel, should be gilt or silver according to the colour of the uniform buttons for that unit. These extremely vague rules resulted in a great deal of variation in the swords produced, but the blade dimensions were clearly intended to be those of a spadroon, indicating its popularity in that period.
This example conforms to the 1786 regulations in the blade’s dimensions: 32 inches long and almost 1 and 1/8 inches at the shoulder. The use of gilt brass and ivory rather than steel and wood strongly suggests that this is a naval officer’s sword, and it very closely resembles the ‘five-ball’ or ‘bead-hilt’ spadroons which were commonly carried in the Royal Navy – it is only lacking the ball-shaped ornamentation to the hilt and side ring which gives that type its name, and the ‘cigar band’ applied around the grip. Without specifically naval ornamentation one cannot be certain, but it seems very likely.
Variation in spadroon hilts continued until the introduction of the 1796 Pattern infantry officer’s sword, which kept the same blade but specified a smallsword-like brass double shell guard with knucklebow and urn-shaped pommel. The rising popularity of sabres mostly swept away the spadroon by the turn of the 19th century but the 1805 Pattern naval officer’s sword continued to use a spadroon blade until its replacement in 1827.
The blade has some patination and areas of light pitting, and a group of four small nicks to the edge in its upper section. The brass parts of the hilt, pommel etc all retain a great deal of their original gilding. There is slight side-to-side movement in the hilt piece, which looks to have a side ring at one stage; this appears to have been removed. This is sometimes seen on spadroons and dirks of this period, the side ring being quite fragile and tending to rub against the uniform when worn. The ivory grip has developed cracks in several places along the growth lines due to its age, but remains solidly attached to the tang. It has chipped in one area near the ferrule.
Due to the ivory used in the grip, this sword cannot be exported from the UK.