Unusual WW1 1898 Pattern Infantry Staff Sergeant’s Sword by Fenton Brothers
Straight single-fullered spear-pointed blade. Unusual solid hilt made of, I believe, cast German silver rather than steel, similar in form to the 1897 pattern infantry model, lacking piercing except for its sword knot slit and decoration except for the crown and cypher of King George V. Fully chequered backstrap, integral oval pommel with tang button. Wire-bound shagreen grip, brown leather washer. Blade length 32½ inches, 38¼ inches overall. Brown leather field scabbard with frog loop and brass throat piece.
The blade is etched at the forte on one side with the maker’s mark ‘Fenton Brothers Ltd Sheffield Cutlers Estd 1850 Silversmiths to H.M. Government’, arranged within a garter similar to that in the royal coat of arms, surmounted by a crown with laurel wreaths and a shield within. It is stamped on the other side with a broad arrow, indicating War Department property, the date 3 ‘15, indicating manufacture in March of 1915, a crown inspection stamp with ‘E’ for Enfield and an ‘X’ indicating that the blade passed a manufacturer’s bending test. The hilt is also stamped on the inside next to the sword knot slit with ‘Fenton Bros Ltd Sheffield’. The leather of the scabbard is stamped by the throat with ‘Wilkinson London’ and on the frog loop with ‘Made in England’.
Since this sword has government inspection and ownership stamps it is most likely a staff sergeant’s sword, not an officer’s model – unlike officers who privately purchased and owned their own swords, sergeants were issued their swords from regimental stores like a musket or bayonet, and the swords remained government property.
If it is a sergeant’s sword this must be an 1898 Pattern, which resembled the 1897 Pattern infantry officer’s sword in form. Most 1898s would have either a Victorian or Edwardian cypher, but some are known to have been produced after 1912 with a George V cypher. The expansion of the Army during WW1 may have required yet more to be manufactured, perhaps of more basic construction to keep costs down. Hilts made of cast German silver (copper-nickel-zinc alloy), softer than steel but harder than brass, are a known wartime economy measure seen most often in swords for the Royal Artillery.
Established by John Fenton around 1850, with his brother Frank joining as a partner in 1859, Fenton Brothers was a Sheffield-based silversmith and cutler. It did not make swords until the First World War when, like other firms in related fields, it was contracted by the War Office. Fenton swords appear to my eye to have more basic workmanship than most, which speaks perhaps to lack of experience as swordsmiths and/or wartime economy measures – but at the same time the etched maker’s mark and high polish given to the blade, while unusual for a sergeant’s sword, speak to the firm’s strengths in electroplating and polishing.
Fenton Bros returned to normal production after 1918 but trade declined in the interwar years. It tried merging with James Deakin & Sons, another struggling silversmith with a brief swordmaking history, but the resulting company ceased trading around 1938.
The blade has some patination over its original quite high polish. The hilt has some patination in places and some very light scratching to the outer guard. The shagreen of the grip is all intact with very little handling wear, the wire binding is also all present and tight. The leather scabbard has some scuffing, all its stitching is fully intact and the frog loop is flexible.