The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Military smallsword
  • Military smallsword
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Hilt- probably France; blade- Germany
  • c. 1750 - c. 1760
  • Steel, gold, copper alloy and velvet, chiselled, engraved, inlaid and gilded
  • Length: 82 cm
    Width: 2.2 cm
    Weight: 0.89 kg
  • Inscription: 'BERLIN' inlaid in copper alloy
    Incised mark: Oval stamp with single-headed crowned eagle and holding the orb and sceptre In brass and engraved
  • A693
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Military Smallsword, the expanding hilt comprised of a flattened spherical pommel with large button; wire-bound grip of rectangular section swelling at the centre and fitted with a steel loop for the first finger; kidney-shaped shell-guards resembling those upon A694; knuckle-guard, consisting of a fixed central bar with another laid on either side secured to it by springs. Upon pushing the shell-guards the springs are released and the two additional knuckle-guards come into place. The knuckle-bow divides and forms two rings enclosing a solid, heart-shaped shell-guard in front of the hand. These rings have laid upon them hinged bars secured by springs; when released they engage in holes on the bars of the knuckle-guard, the whole forming a kind of a basket hilt. The surfaces throughout are decorated with trophies and conventional foliage chiselled in low relief upon a matt gilt ground.

    Blade of hexagonal section, at the base is a small inlaid panel of brass inscribed:

    BERLIN

    and on the ricasso is an oval stamp of brass engraved with a single-headed eagle crowned and holding the orb and sceptre: a velvet washer remains at the junction of the hilt to ease contact with the locket of the sheath.

    About 1750-60; hilt probably French; blade German.

    Norman, 1967, illus. 5; Norman and Barne, 1980, p. 193.

    A sword with the same inscription and mark was in the San Donato (Demidoff) sale, Paris, 6 April, 1870, lot 646; and a court sword signed 'Berlin' was sold at Sotheby's, July, 1932, lot 14. Another blade with similar brass stamps, but stamped 'Potsdam', is in the Historical Museum at Bern (no. 517). Smallswords with expanding hilts are in the Musée de l' Armée (J 312, 323); the Metropolitan Museum (Dean, Court Swords, no. 20); and the Porte de Hal. Others were in the possession of Mr. C. Andrade, 1922 (pl. I, 47), now in an English private collection, in the Morosini sale, N.Y., 1932, lot 567, the Offerman sale, 1937, lot 265, and the Royal Armouries, Leeds.

    This type of hilt is discussed in C. Aries, fasc. 12, 1969, where it is described as being non-regulation. A comparable hilt in the Bayerisches Armeemuseum, Ingoldstadt, no. A8943, is inscribed Le Bech / fourbisseur / A Nancy. P.Jarlier records this person 1765-80 (Répertoire, 1976, col. 163).

    Although Richard Wallace's marked copy of the catalogue of the San Donato sale in the archives of the Wallace Collection has no note of purchase against lot 646, Mannheim's receipted bill to Lord Hertford, also in the archives of the Collection, includes this lot at a price of 545 fr. The marked copy of the catalogue gives the hammer price as 255 fr.