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A fine Scottish Basket Hilted Sword of “Glasgow” Style circa 1710

This attractive Scottish basket-hilted sword dates to the early 18th century and the period preceding the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. The sword is mounted with an elegant and finely contoured hilt which represents the highest standard of basket hilt construction at the time. The distinctive fluted hilt decoration is of “Glasgow” style and typical of the production of the Glasgow armourers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Fig 1: Front view of the hilt oblique right

The basket guard is formed from forged structural iron bars of flattened rectangular section decorated on the outside in the Glasgow manner with central longitudinal flutes extending along the middle of each bar flanked by narrower incised lines on either side. The main and secondary guard panels are filed with delicate frets and merlons to the edges, incised with lines and pierced with patterns of circles and triangles. The arms of the basket fit into a groove which extends around the pommel for its full circumference just below its middle. Whilst the style was adopted in other parts of Scotland it first emerged from the workshops of the Glasgow smiths that led the way in the development of hilt design at the time.

Fig 2: Full length right side
Fig 3: Hilt right side

The conical pommel has a pronounced button on top filed with a double ribbed groove around its circumference. It is decorated with three equally spaced sets of grooves formed in a similar manner to those on the outside of the guard bars of the hilt which radiate from the button. Between these crescents have been applied in similar manner with the convex sides facing towards the button. Further grooves are applied between the middle of each convex crescent summit and the top of the pommel.

The spirally grooved wooden grip is covered with shagreen and bound with finely twisted copper wire formed with a thicker middle wire flanked by thinner wires either side. The grip is mounted with copper wire woven “Turks Heads” at the top and bottom.

Fig 4: Full length left side
Fig 5: Hilt left side

The single edged tapering blade has a pronounced ricasso extending for just over an inch from the hilt. A groove is incised near the front blunt edge on each side for the length of the ricasso. Underneath the back edge the groove is repeated and extends into a pronounced fuller running from the hilt to terminate 8 inches (20 cm) from the blade tip after which the blade is double-edged. A second fuller commences 8 inches (20 cm) from the hilt and runs under the first to terminate nearer to the blade tip. Between the ricasso and the commencement of the second fuller a panel of scrolling foliage has been applied each side with the name “Andrea Farara” applied underneath.

Fig 6: Hilt viewed from the front
Fig 7: Front view of the hilt oblique left

A few Glasgow armourers that produced basket hilted swords marked some of their hilts with their initials. Some of these swords can be matched with individual makers identified in the burgh records. Although this sword is not marked with the initials of a known maker, comparison with other sword hilts known to have been made by the noted Glasgow smith Thomas Gemmill, and marked with his initials, shows that this sword could well have been made by the same man.

Fig 8: Hilt oblique right from above
Fig 9: Hilt front from above

Our sword hilt is almost identical in form to one produced and signed by Gemmill, housed in the National Museums of Scotland (Collection Ref: LA127) and illustrated in “Scottish Swords and Dirks” by John Wallace, Arms and Armour Press, 1970, fig 30, and in Cyril Mazansky’s “British Basket-Hilted Swords”, Boydell Press, 2005, two photos entitled F16d(TG) page 119. The similarity lies in the pronounced cant to the crossguard bar which rises upwards from the front to the wristguard at the rear of the basket aperture. Both hilts are manufactured in a notably asymmetrical manner visible when the hilts are viewed from the front or from behind. More space is allowed inside the basket to accommodate the fingers of the right hand on one side whilst the aperture on the opposite side is less voluminous having to accommodate only the thumb. The proportions of the pommel relative to the hilt are also very similar as is the width of the bars and the overall hilt profile.

Fig 10: Hilt from the rear
Fig 11: Hilt from underneath

Both swords are mounted with a single-edged blade of similar proportions. Each sword is also a horsemans’ adaptation of the more usual basket hilt design, with an oval ring inset into the hilt which replaces one of the main frontal guard panels. These similarities indicate that our sword was most likely made by Thomas Gemmill but for some reason the hilt was not stamped by the maker perhaps indicating that it is an early example of his work. Thomas Gemmill started work just after 1700 and was appointed King’s Armourer in Glasgow on 18th January 1718. It is not known when he died.

Fig 12: Blade markings right side
Fig 13: Blade markings left side

Basket hilted swords mounted with fine hilts of this type are seen adorning the martial dress of clan chiefs in contemporary portraits. See for example the portrait of  Archibald the first Duke of Argyll (1651 to 1703), probably by Sir John Medina in the late 1680’s (see “The Swords and the Sorrows”, page 89, National Trust for Scotland, 1996), thought to show the earliest depiction of a fully developed basket hilted sword and which also seems to be of “Glasgow” style.

The blade length is just under 34.5 inches (87.5 cm) and the overall length of the sword is 39.5 inches (just over 100 cm).

The sword is in fine condition with a light “salt and pepper” pitting consistent all over.

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