07542 926011 [email protected]

A fine Mid-18th Century Scottish Basket Hilted Sword by Walter Allan of Stirling

A fine Scottish basket hilted sword dating to the mid part of the 18th century made by Walter Allan of Stirling. The elaborate and complex nature of this hilt is typical of the unique forms produced by this maker which are an innovative departure from the usual basket hilt designs of the time. Underneath the rear quillon the maker’s marks, the letters “W” and “A”, are present which represent Walter Allan, and beneath these, the letter “S” represents Stirling. Walter Allan was the most imaginative basket hilted sword maker in mid-18th century Scotland. Writing in 1934, Charles E Whitelaw, who did so much to advance the study of Scottish weapons, described him as the “outstanding artist in this line in the country and a man of wonderful versatility”.

Fig 1: A fine basket hilted sword by Walter Allan of Stirling. The hilt right side

After the failure of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion the Act of Proscription in 1746 refreshed previously implemented disarming measures and ensured their more rigorous enforcement across the Highlands of Scotland. These measures were part of a wider initiative to dismantle Gaelic clan society to ensure that the Highlands would never again be a threat to the House of Hanover. A consequence was that the sword makers in the towns which surrounded the Highland line, that for centuries had supplied the clans with weapons, lost their already declining market.

Fig 2: Full length view of the sword left side
Fig 3: The hilt of the sword left side

The market for swords was now the British Army. Scottish regiments started to swell with recruits from the Highlands in the second half of the 18th century and production of their swords to different specifications shifted to suppliers already established with the Board of Ordnance located in Birmingham and London. Scottish sword making was a fragmented industry consisting of separate workshops in the different towns that bordered the Highlands. Even if these makers had access to Army procurement they could not compete with the English suppliers in terms of scale, commercial experience, price, and consistency of output. Consequently, the traditional sword making industry in Scotland went into steep decline in the aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at Culloden in April 1746.

Fig 4: Full length view of the sword right side
Fig 5: Oblique right side view of the hilt

The two main centres in Scotland in the second quarter of the 18th century that produced swords of the highest quality in significant numbers were Stirling and Glasgow. After Culloden, the Glasgow makers followed the rest, and the traditional industry there was all but finished by 1750. The proximity of Glasgow to the West meant that its customers in the Highlands were more likely to be Jacobite in sympathy, and therefore, no longer available.

The industry in Stirling had been established in 1714 by John Allan, Walter’s father, who was originally trained in Glasgow as an apprentice. He was invited by the Stirling burgesses to create a sword making business there, and for decades to follow, John Allan produced some of the best quality standard hilts available at the time, and significantly, as a departure from the norm, he produced some of the most exquisite hilts made in Scotland of a particular fashion, inlaid with silver, brass and upon occasion with gold.

Fig 6: Oblique left side view of the hilt
Fig 7: Frontal view of the hilt

His son, Walter Allan, was to break the mould even further. Active from 1732 when he was admitted Freemen of the Incorporation of Hammermen of Stirling, Walter started his career by making high quality hilts of the usual structure and design. Later, from circa 1740, in a bold and imaginative development, he started to make hilts which were a departure from tradition. He removed the knuckle bow and front main guard plates standard to the usual Scottish basket hilts and replaced them with intricately engraved and pierced panels and remodelled side plates of designs unique to Walter Allan. He was also commissioned to make silver hilted versions of his designs and worked with leading silversmiths of the day to produce swords which suited the characteristics of this precious metal.

Fig 8: Side view of the hilt from top right side
Fig 9: Oblique left side view of the hilt from top left

Walter Allan had a thriving business in the mid-18th century which bucked the general trend of decline in the post-Culloden period, indicated by the number of new apprentices and journeymen that he employed including his two brothers. Walter’s  business produced swords of such high quality that healthy demand flourished amongst the officer class in the expanding Scottish military for more expensive “high end” swords, a significant number of which appear in portraits of officers of the time, and also much later, reflecting the value placed on these swords and their relative longevity. This trade was also helped by the geographical position of Stirling which was central and convenient for the growing military centres including Stirling Castle and Perth.

Fig 10: The hilt underneath oblique left side
Fig 11: The hilt underneath oblique right side

Scottish Colonels when arming their regiments sometimes bypassed Birmingham and London and awarded contracts directly with Walter Allan to equip their men en masse indicating that his business was sufficiently significant to service such commitments. Some of these munitions grade swords have survived and are good quality simplifications of some of Walter Allan’s more elaborate and expensive hilts. It is also significant that gentry loyal to the House of Hanover escaped much of the rough justice after Culloden to a degree that enabled them to keep their weapons as civilian accoutrements and provide further commissions for Allan as occasions arose (Note 1).

Walter Allan’s death in 1759 ended this Indian Summer for the Stirling craft. One of Walter Allan’s journeymen, James Grant, started a business of his own in 1759, and may have taken over the reins of Walter’s business, but did not maintain the same momentum. Only five surviving swords signed by Grant are known. Walter’s hilt styles were copied and altered by other makers, possibly including other of his journeymen and apprentices. They did not sign their work and produced handsome examples of the Stirling craft, but these swords never seem to reach the same levels of quality. Whilst production of swords with hilts undoubtedly influenced by Walter Allan continued after his death it had probably ceased completely by the early 1770s. Towards the end of the century, and into the 19th, some swords were produced, not necessarily in Stirling, which are obviously influenced by the work of Walter, but by then were quite awkward in comparison.

Fig 12: The punched maker’s mark punched underneath the rear quillon
Fig 13: Grip with shagreen cover, silver ferrules, wire binding plus liner

The sword discussed here is one of Walter Allan’s more flamboyant hilts and is part of that diverse group of swords which occupy pride of place in many institutional and private collections. The front of the guard is a thick curved forged panel pierced with keyhole shapes, ovals and saltires. Originally these shapes were traced around the edges with finely engraved lines. The shapes are interspersed with cup and ring marks. A broad groove flanked by narrower lines is applied horizontally top and bottom of the plate reminiscent of the “Glasgow” style of hilt decoration, with pierced heart shapes protruding from the top.

The sword discussed here is one of Walter Allan’s more flamboyant hilts and is part of that diverse group of swords which occupy pride of place in many institutional and private collections. The front of the guard is a thick curved forged panel pierced with keyhole shapes, ovals and saltires. Originally these shapes were traced around the edges with finely engraved lines. The shapes are interspersed with cup and ring marks. A broad groove flanked by narrower lines is applied horizontally top and bottom of the plate reminiscent of the “Glasgow” style of hilt decoration, with pierced heart shapes protruding from the top.

The structural guard bars are filed into a wavy shape to the outside. The cone shaped pommel is formed with fluted ridges with rounded tops which radiate from the tang button. The guard arms, similar to other of Walter Allan’s most intricate hilts, are secured by being forged onto a pommel ring into which the neck of the pommel sits. The forward loop guards are filled with two lozenge shaped panels pierced with four hearts radiating from the centre of each.

The wooden baluster shaped grip is spirally grooved and covered with shagreen, bound with silver wire strip with thinner wire of circular cross section either side, and mounted with decorative silver ferrules top and bottom. A coloured woollen fringe is mounted at the top of the grip underneath the pommel base. The hilt retains its original thick full leather liner applied with red cloth to the outside,  moulded to the inside of the hilt and bound with a hem at the edge.

The high-quality double-edged German blade, probably of Solingen manufacture, dates to the second quarter of the 18th century. It has a short ricasso with two short grooves either side extending from the hilt near to the blunt edges. Between these, extending to some 4 inches (10 cm) from the blade tip are three fullers with ANDRIA FARARA and other marks present inside near the hilt.  The blade is 33.5 inches long (85 cm). The overall length of the sword is just over 39.25 inches (99.5 cm).

The hilt is very similar to two others by Walter Allan illustrated in Cyril Mazansky’s “British Basket Hilted Swords”, Boydell Press, 2005. The first, Ref: G10, page 153 is in the Royal Armouries, whilst the other, G11, page 157, was until 2007 part of the collection at Warwick Castle.

Condition:

The sword is an attractive and skilful piece of manufacture, well balanced in hand and comfortable to hold. It is in fine condition overall.

Provenance:

Bonhams Arms & Armour Auctions, Knightsbridge, London, 27th November 2003, lot 94, sold for £19,975. Before the Bonhams sale the sword resided in a private collection in Norfolk.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

If you would like us to inform you each time we update our catalogue please enter your email address below