Scottish Gordon Highlanders Field Officer's Sword, 1895-1900, with Unique Regimental Hilt
Straight spear-pointed 31¼ inch blade (38 inches overall), 0.9 inches wide at the forte, with double fullers. Brown leather washer. Pierced steel field officer’s sabre-like hilt cast with thistles and the regimental badge of the Gordon Highlanders with their motto ‘Bydand’ (Steadfast). Steel scabbard with two hanging rings and ball finial. All hilt and scabbard parts have been nickel-plated. The hilt liner has been lost.
The blade is etched with thistles, foliate motifs, a blank shield (probably an unused space for the officer’s initials) and the crown & cypher of Queen Victoria. There is a brass proof slug on one side of the forte, reading ‘PROVED T’, probably indicating the manufacturer to be Edward Thurkle of London, or its successor company J R Gaunt, which bought out Thurkle in 1897 and continued using the same mark. Swords made by Thurkle are known to have been sold through the retailer Leckie, Graham & Co. of Glasgow in this period, and this could well be where the officer made his purchase of this sword.
The traditionally-styled Scottish broadsword was carried only by Highland infantry regiments until 1881, when the Lowland regiments also adopted Scottish dress and the broadsword along with it (with the exception of the Cameronians aka Scottish Rifles). The use of an interchangeable hilt may date back to the 1860s, but is first officially mentioned in the Dress Regulations of 1883, which authorized the Highland Light Infantry to use the basket hilt for full-dress occasions and the cross-bar hilt for all other occasions. The hilt can be changed by unscrewing the pommel nut, removing the pommel, grip and guard, then replacing the hilt with the other version.
Unique hilts for field officers (officers of the rank of Major or above) and other mounted officers of the Scottish infantry regiments came into being in the mid-19th century, probably as another way of showing regimental pride, and allowing officers on horseback to use a hilt more reminiscent of a sabre. This unofficial change gained formal acceptance by the 1880s. The 1914 Dress Regulations note that three separate variations had arisen:
- A steel hilt with pierced scrollwork very similar in form to the 1856 Royal Engineers hilt, first adopted by the Sindh Irregular Cavalry and later used by the Black Watch, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders
- A peculiar hybrid of the 1822 Light Cavalry Officer’s hilt paired with a Royal Artillery Officer’s blade, only ever used by the Cameron Highlanders
- The hilt seen on this sword – a uniquely Scottish hilt sporting the regimental badge, which was used by the Gordon Highlanders, Highland Light Infantry, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Scots and Royal Scots Fusiliers.
Since this example has a straight and fully chequered backstrap, which was introduced in 1895, and is etched with the cypher of Queen Victoria, whose reign ended in January 1901, we can date it quite precisely to this period.
The blade shows some wear to the nickel plating in the recesses of the fullers, exposing the steel beneath, as well as in the usual areas of high wear like the inside of the hilt, the outer edges of the hilt and the tip of the blade. The shagreen grip is very good with only tiny losses to the scales, its wire binding is all present. The scabbard is near-flawless with no dents or losses to the plating.