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Scottish Highland Officer’s “Pinch of Snuff” Basket Hilted Sword

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Price: £6,250

Ref: 055.18

Item Description

A fine and attractive Scottish Infantry Officer’s “Pinch of Snuff” basket hilted sword dating to the  mid and third quarter periods of the 18th century. The sword is in good condition with its original grip. These swords were carried by officers in Scottish Highland Regiments on British Army service in Europe and in North America during the American Revolutionary War period.

The hilt design identifies this sword as a member of an uncommon and distinctive group of Scottish military officers’ swords. The complex hilt structure consists of oval shaped apertures, mounted between structural guard bars, which are infilled with an elaborate lattice of finely wrought iron of lace-like delicacy. The pommel is of typical mid 18th century British bun shape with an integral pommel button. The pommel neck sits tightly in a circle of iron into which the upper arms of the basket guard are attached. The overall effect is an elegant hilt which occupies a distinct place in the evolution of Scottish basket hilted swords.

The hilt type is similar to at least three others depicted in contemporary portraits. The first is a painting dated between 1757 and 1763 called “The Pinch of Snuff” by William Delacour, after which the sword type gains its name, and shows an officer in a Highland regiment, probably on service in North America, with the sword tucked under his arm, whilst he pauses to take a pinch of snuff. The painting is illustrated in “History of Highland Dress”, John Telfer Dunbar, Oliver & Boyd 1962, Plate 47.

The second shows Colonel William Gordon of Fyvie, in the uniform of the Queens Own Royal Regiment of Highlanders, painted in Rome by Pompeo Batoni in 1766, and illustrated in “The Clans of Scotland”, Micheil MacDonald, Brian Trodd Publishing, 1991, Page 108. The third is a painting of an officer in Highland military uniform, circa 1780, auctioned by Christies (“Pictures of Scottish Interest”, Glasgow, 2nd April 1969, lot 1) and now in the National Museums of Scotland.

The earliest dated sword of this type that we know of, is a silver hilted example with the makers marks, “TB”, which sold through Thomas Del Mar Auctions in London in December 2014 with London hallmarks for 1745 (lot 330). This example would indicate that the sword type arrived in the second quarter of the 18th century and thrived until at least the 1780’s. Clearly the sword type was popular with the Scottish officer class at a time when Scottish regiments were increasingly being mobilised by the British Army for service abroad in the post-Jacobite Rebellion era. The hilt design seems to have evolved from the innovative sword types that came out of the workshops of Stirling in the second quarter of the 18th century. 

The hilt of this sword has frontal guard loops formed in the usual manner for traditional construction of Scottish basket hilted swords of the period, forged downwards from the base of the frontal knuckle bow to widen apart and curl upwards to join the bases of the structural side guard bars either side of the blade. The same feature is seen with the sword illustrated in “Scottish Swords and Dirks”, John Wallace, Arms and Armour Press, 1970, fig 44, and also as illustrated in the Batoni portrait.

Some Pinch of Snuff swords were manufactured with loop guards forged as a detachable plate, usually pierced to the front with a heart and secured to the hilt by three screws. Some were also manufactured with a vacant oval ring in “horseman” manner. 

The single edged tapering blade of this sword has a short ricasso and a pronounced single fuller which extends from the hilt underneath the spine of the blade for three quarters of its length until it becomes double edged. The blade is of infantry length at 30.25 inches long (just under 77 cm). overall the sword is just under 36 inches long (91 cm). The wooden grip is covered with shagreen and spirally bound with different widths of twisted copper wire with decorative “Turks Heads” top and bottom. 

The sword is in fine condition overall. 

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