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A fine Scottish Broad Sword with Brass Basket Hilt dating to the late 17th or early 18th Century

A fine and scarce Scottish sword dating to the late 17th or early 18th century mounted with a brass basket hilt. The broad structural bars of the guard are of flattened rectangular section decorated on the outside with incised longitudinal grooves along the middle flanked by narrower lines. This style of decoration is associated with the sword makers of Glasgow. The “Glasgow style” is distinctive and represents the highest quality output of Glasgow’s swordsmiths at the time. The style was developed from the middle of the 17th century by Glasgow armourers that worked in iron and it continued until the late 18th century.

Fig 1: Right side view of the hilt

Brass basket hilted swords were less frequently produced and were made by cutlers from the late 17th century rather than armourers in accordance with the policies of Glasgow’s metal-working trade guilds. The period of production of these swords as a distinct group was rather short, most likely beginning in the 1680s and ending by circa 1720, after which some specialist commissions continued to be made in brass and silver by cutlers, but not in the quantity of the distinct style of sword discussed here. The sword type spans the period of the first Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland in 1689, the Acts of Union with England in 1707 and the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion. After which the first meaningful disarming acts for the Highlands came into force. This period was the hiatus of Glasgow sword manufacture.

Fig 2: Full length view left side
Fig 3: View of the hilt oblique right

Only a few brass hilted swords have come down to us. Few were made to start off with. Due to the softer nature of brass compared to iron, brass hilts were more easily damaged and could more conveniently be melted down for cutlers to put to different uses such as candlestick making, particularly after the 1745 Rebellion and the complete prohibition of weapons in much of the Highland region.

Fig 4: View of the hilt centre front
Fig 5: View of the hilt oblique left

Many swords of this type that have survived have damaged and repaired hilts which have also often lost shape. The sword discussed here is significant because the hilt is in fine and  original condition, retaining its attractive contours and is not damaged or repaired. The brass bars and panels are also relatively thickened compared to iron hilted swords to offset the weaker nature of the metal.

Fig 6: Left side view of the hilt
Fig 7: Left side of the hilt from above left

The bun-shaped pommel has an integral button on top formed from a rising platform of concentric rings. As is usual for this type of sword, the pommel consists of an upper and a lower half braised together. The circumference of the pommel is formed as an octagon with rounded corners to the eight sides. The pommel is formed with a stem beneath. The guard arm terminals of the basket are shaped to surround this stem and tuck securely underneath the main body of the pommel.

Fig 8: Front right side of the hilt from above right
Fig 9: Hilt underneath on the left

The spirally grooved grip is covered with shagreen and bound with finely twisted brass wire. Brass ferrules scalloped at the edges and formed with raised circular ridges are applied at the top and bottom of the grip. The hilt retains its thick leather liner stitched with red velvet on the outside and bordered with the remains a blue silken hem.

Fig 10: Blade markings right side
Fig 11: Blade markings left side

The broad double-edged blade is of exceptional quality. It is 34.5 inches long (just under 88 cm) and tapers gently to its tip. It has a conspicuous ricasso with lines incised near to the blunt edges on both sides. Two pronounced and tapering fullers extend from the hilt side by side down the middle on both sides for some 10 inches (16 cm) after which the blade is of fine lenticular section to its tip.

Fig 12: Hilt inside from the right
Fig 13: Hilt inside from the left

Inside each fuller the name of the blade maker IOHANNIS HARTCOP appears flanked by orb and cross marks with small quatrefoils of diamonds and dots imbetween. Just after the termination of the fullers a stylised running wolf is incised on both sides. The blade was most likely made in the workshops of Solingen in Germany where some of the finest blades available in Europe were manufactured at the time. Overall the sword is 40.5 inches (103 cm) long.

This sword hilt is very similar to four others illustrated in “The Swords and the Sorrows”, National Trust for Scotland, 1996, Figs 1:23, 1:24, 1:25 & 1:27.

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