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Scottish Highland Officer’s “Pinch of Snuff” Sword Mid 18th Century

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Price: £6,850

Ref: 46.13

Item Description


A Scottish Officers’ basket hilted sword of “Pinch of Snuff” type dating to the middle of the 18th century.

The attractive and delicate construction of the basket guard identifies this sword as a member of an uncommon and distinctive group of mid 18th century Scottish military officers’ swords. The complex hilt design consists of oval shaped apertures mounted between the structural guard bars which are infilled with an  elaborate lattice of finely wrought iron-work of unusual lace-like delicacy.

The sword is similar to three others depicted in contemporary portraits. The first is a painting dating to 1757 to 1763 called “The Pinch of Snuff” by William Delacour, after which the sword type gained its name, and shows an officer in a Highland Regiment, probably on service in the Americas, 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 auctioned by Christies in 1968 (“Pictures of Scottish Interest”, Glasgow, 2nd April 1969, lot 1).

The earliest dated sword of this type that we know of, is a London-made silver hilted example with makers marks, probably “TB”, which sold through Thomas Del Mar Auctions in London in December 2014, with 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 circa 1780. Clearly the style was popular with the Scottish officer class at a time when Scottish regiments were increasingly being mobilised by the British Army for service abroad, and resembled sword designs developed in Stirling at the time.

The “Pinch of Snuff” hilt type was manufactured with two styles of frontal guard loop. One form being a plate fashioned into loops, often pierced with a heart, and secured to the front of the hilt by three screws as in the manner of our sword hilt, and that featured in the Christies Glasgow portrait commented on above. In the second form the loops are integral to the hilt as in a 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 of these swords were manufactured with wrist-guards and some with a horseman’s oval ring.

The 18th century back sword blade is of fine quality with a pronounced fuller extending from the hilt underneath the spine to half way down the blade after which it becomes double edged. Beneath this a shallower fuller extends down the middle of the blade from the hilt almost to the tip. The blade has panels of  floral engraving near the hilt, now worn. The bun shaped pommel is of typical 18th century British military type, with an integral button and sits comfortably in a ring forged around the top of the basket attached to the guard arm terminals. The spirally grooved wooden grip is covered with shagreen and bound with twisted brass wire with “Turks Heads” top and bottom.

The sword is a nice sturdy example. The blade is 33.75 inches long (85.5 cm). Overall the sword is 39.5 inches long (100 cm).

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