Identifying British Infantry Officers’ Swords
This Pattern was the first attempt by the Army to bring some degree of standardisation to the swords its officers were buying. However, the regulation that ushered it in only focused upon describing what the sword’s blade should look like, stating that it should be at least one inch wide at the shoulder, 32 inches long and capable of cutting and thrusting. As a general rule, the 1786 Pattern has a single-edged blade, a simple guard and knucklebow, and a pommel of the cushion or urn style. As the hilt’s metal was meant to be matched to the officer’s regimental buttons they show much variety, with some being golden and others silver. Some hilts have ‘five-ball’ decorations incorporated into their crosspieces and knucklebows, some have a ‘cigar strap’ across their handles, and some have langets that protrude over the ricasso. Some are very similar to the subsequent 1796 Pattern.
A note here: while the pictured sword here has a non-regulation curved blade, overall, it serves as a decent enough illustration.
The 1796 regulation stated that the 1786 Pattern’s blade was to be retained and it now laid down directions for what form the hilt should take too. This form was to include shell guards and a pommel (usually of the urn style) made from gilded brass and a silver twist-wire binding on the grip. As with the Pattern mentioned above, the majority of blades found on this Pattern are straight and single-edged. Sometimes the inner shell guard is hinged or even removed entirely.
1803 Pattern for Flank Company Officers
As early as 1792, the spadroon-type patterns had been eschewed by some infantry officers in favour of a more robust sword. This was especially the case for officers commanding the so-called flank companies that saw much of the combat. In 1803, the Army acknowledged this situation officially and adopted a sabre for those flank companies, one that resembled the well-liked sword being used by the light cavalry. A more decorated guard was employed and a lion’s head chosen to form the pommel. The knucklebow incorporated both the monarch’s cypher and a strung bugle for rifle company officers or a flaming grenade for grenadier company officers. The blade was wide, curved, fullered and usually ends in a hatchet point. The grip was shagreen with copper or brass wire unless the officer was of higher rank, in which case ivory was used (see photo).
1821 Pattern for Artillery Officers
This is not to be confused with its very similar colleague the 1821 Pattern for the light cavalry: look to the etching on the blade for depictions of cannons, winged lightning bolts and other motifs pertaining to the artillery to confirm its identity. The grip is covered in shagreen and the ‘three-bar hilt’ is formed with a quillon and a simple knucklebow with two sweeping bars joining it. The blade was initially of the pipe-backed type (flat with a reinforcing rod to the rear), but this was replaced by a fullered blade from about 1845 onwards (see photos). In 1895 the backstrap became fully chequered.
Unofficially termed a ‘Gothic hilt’ due to the arch shapes that feature in the arrangement of the guard’s bars, this sword’s gilt-brass hilt has an oval cartouche on its face that contains the monarch of the time’s royal cypher (William IV’s can be seen in the illustration to the left). The inner portion of the guard is usually hinged and will fold up against the blade in order to alleviate wear on the officers’ tunics. The blade is single-edged and of the pipe-back style—flat with a reinforcing ‘pipe’ or rod to the rear. The grip is made of grey shagreen with brass wire wrappings. The standard scabbard was made from black leather with gilded brass mountings. Field officers carried their scabbards in slings, suspended from two loose rings while other officers carried it in a ‘frog’; hence why some scabbards can be found that have both fittings.
1827 Pattern for the Rifles
These swords have steel hilts instead of the gilded brass of the infantry, but they retain a similar aesthetic design. The cartouche, however, bears a strung bugle (some say it’s a powder horn) below a crown rather than a monarch’s cypher. The blade is of the pipe-backed style. In 1845 the pipe-backed blade was replaced with a fullered one (pictured to the right), which was in turn replaced in 1892 by an entirely thrust-centric blade with a dumbbell cross-section. The grip is made from shagreen and bound with steel wire.
Very similar to the 1822 Pattern that preceded it, the 1845 Pattern’s blade now has a fuller that runs for most of its length, the pipe-back design having fallen out of favour. This Pattern would stay in service for infantry officers until 1892 and saw service throughout the Empire. Versions without the hinged inner guard are sometimes called 1854 Patterns but later examples can be found with the hinge extant while earlier examples can be found without a hinge so debate continues as to whether this should be recognised as a pattern or not.
1857 Pattern for the Royal Engineers
The gilt-brass hilt (or sometimes gilded ‘gun metal’) of this Pattern has attractive scrolling acanthus leaves making up its guard, all topped by a pommel that has a chequered motif. In 1892, the blade was changed to the new thrust-centric design listed below, with the 1857 hilt initially retained, but by the year 1900 the Royal Engineers were regulated to carry the same 1897 Pattern that the infantry had already adopted. This was also the case before this 1857 Pattern was introduced as the officers of the Royal Engineers had been using the standard line infantry’s sword patterns.
This retained the gilt brass ‘Gothic’ style hilt of the 1822 and 1845 Patterns but now introduced a straight, thrust-centric blade with blunt edges, only being sharp towards the final third. For most of its length it had a dumbbell cross-section and a deep central fuller. See the 1895 and 1897 Patterns below for images of the blade’s form.
The new, straight blade of the 1892 Pattern above was married to a more protective three-quarter basket guard that was made from steel with pierced decorations. The monarch’s royal cypher can be found above the floral motifs. The grip was covered with the now familiar shagreen and the backstrap fully chequered. The inner guard is not turned down, having no lip.
This is one of the most common British swords found today and is nearly identical to the 1895 Pattern, the only two differences being that the inner portion of the guard has now been turned down to form a lipped edge less likely to fray clothing, and the perforations in the guard were made smaller for greater hand protection. This Pattern is still in service today.
Thanks to Easton Antique Arms for allowing the use of photographs.