This fascinating sword has quite a tale to tell. The sword began life as a 1788 pattern cavalry sabre and was later re-fitted with the “new” 1796, regulation pattern stirrup hilt and a bespoke steel scabbard.
We can never be sure exactly why this was done, as opposed to just buying a new sword, but there are several possible (and very reasonable) explanations. One being that a cash strapped officer had to update his sword to conform to regulations. Another, that the 1788 pattern blade was from a family sword, handed from father to son, and in order to continue using the sabre, the officer had the heirloom sword re-hilted. A third and similar possibility is that the officer had owned the sabre from new and was accustomed to the weight and balance and was unwilling to change it (and in so doing tempt fate) for the Peninsular battles to come.
The facts that the sword is of excelent quality, has the owner’s initials engraved on the forte, and that the work was carried out by one of Britain’s top makers, John Gill of Birmingham, all support the latter theories. The cost of having the sabre re-hilted and a bespoke scabbard made by John Gill would probably have been equal to, or greater than the cost of buying a new P1796 from one of the less renowned cutlers.
I have to thank Richard Dellar for this fascinating explanation of the origins of this sword. Richard is an internationally acknowledged expert and author of the collectors bible, "The British cavalry sword 1788-1912" and its newly published companion volume.
It is Richard’s opinion that the re-working of the original sabre was carried out between 1803 and 1805.
The 800mm curved blade has a flat spine above a broad, shallow fuller that extends to within 20mm of the hatchet point. The blade was service sharpened (but is now dulled) and has several small nicks consistent with edge-to-edge contact.
The blade is in excellent condition and the forte bears the legend “John Gill’s warranted,” above which are the initials “JS,” presumably belonging to the sword’s owner. The blade is additionally decorated with a foliate and floral motif, a crossed sword and flower and a very impressive dragon. The obverse of the blade bears a trophy of arms, floral and foliate motifs and another dragon.
The 1796 pattern stirrup hilt is in excellent condition. The right-hand languet has been removed (possibly supporting the theory that the sabre was handed down from father to left-handed son). Removing one of the languets was common practice in order to prevent excessive wear on the officer’s uniform. The grip retains its original leather and three strands of twisted silver wire. The blade is firm in the hilt.
The sword is complete with its bespoke steel scabbard. The scabbard is in excellent condition with only a few minor dings. The two suspension rings have been removed. The sword sheathes and draws smoothly and is held firmly within the scabbard.
For many, collecting swords is all about the passion, the history and the romance of times past, if possible combined with a top maker. This impressive sabre ticks all those boxes!