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A Scottish Highland Ribbon Hilted Sword dating to the Mid to Late 17th Century

A fine Scottish West Highland Ribbon Hilt, sometimes called “Beaked Neb”, Basket Hilted sword, dating to the middle to late periods of the 17th century. These swords are often associated with Scottish Highlanders in the Civil War, Covenanting and early Jacobite rebellion periods in Scotland. The sword has a particularly pleasing profile, with a well formed and rounded hilt mounted with a typically tapering double edged blade. This sword has seen a lot of use during its time. The profile of the blade shows that it has been much sharpened in its life.

The sword has a characteristic “Ribbon” hilt formed from wide flat iron bars forged together. The front of the cross guard provides the focus for the convergence of the frontal guard bars into a pronounced beak which is a distinctive feature of this sword type.

The upper terminals of the guard arms are forged into a crescent of iron which fits into a groove extending most of the way around the pommel just below its middle. The pommel has an integrally raised button on top. The baluster shaped grip is of wood and retains fragments of its original leather binding. The hilt retains its old leather liner at the base of the grip. A red cloth fringe is mounted on the grip at the top between the pommel base and an old leather washer.

The double-edged blade is of gently tapering form and of flattened lenticular section for all of its length. The blade is thickened into a ricasso which has blunt edges and extends for 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) from the hilt. The shoulders of the ricasso sit in a groove chiselled into the underside of the cross guard in the Scottish manner.

A broad fuller runs from the hilt along the middle of the blade for 11.5 inches (29 cm). Inside the fuller on each side the worn name A N D R E A    F E R A R A is crudely stamped in individual capital letters. The name is more visible on one side than the other. Nearer the hilt the letters H I S are present on both sides.  Each fuller is flanked with incised lines.

A contract dating to 1578 shows the bladesmiths Zanandrea and Zandona of Ferrara, working in Belunno, Italy, sixty miles north of Venice, secured a lucrative supply arrangement to manufacture thousands of blades for London based merchants John Brown and Lancelot Rowlandson, over a period of years before the turn of the 17th century. It seems the blades were of superior quality, hence the variations of the name stamped onto blades intended for import into Britain for over a century to come by German blademakers as a spurious mark of quality.

This particular mark became especially popular with Scots and is often encountered on basket hilted swords of the 17th and 18th centuries and may have had talismanic significance with some Highlanders even though most were not literate. The blade mounted on this sword is of high quality yet the letters which form the mark are of much lower quality application than would be expected for a blade of this type. It is possible that the other letters seemingly “H I S” are remnants of a different armourers mark which was defaced and overlaid with the  A N D R E A    F E R A R A mark upon its arrival in Scotland by the sword maker to make the weapon more attractive to his Highland clientele. The blade was most likely made in Solingen.

The hilt retains its shape and is in good order. This condition is unusual for ribbon hilts which are often damaged and corroded through in places when offered for sale. This sword is in moderately cleaned condition and exhibits blackened age staining in patches and an even level of pitting to the surface which is consistent all over. There is a small area which has worn through on one of the frontal guard plates. The blade shows significant reduction through sharpening on both edges which indicates the sword has had a long working life. This is further supported by the slight remnants of the usual linear decoration normally found on ribbon hilts but in this instance has largely worn away.

The only known portrait depicting such a sword is that of Lord Mungo Murray by John Michael Wright, circa 1670, and he is shown armed with a contemporary dag, dirk and long gun. His sword hilt is handsomely gilded. For a further reference work on ribbon hilt evolution see “British Basket-Hilted Swords” by Cyril Mazansky (Boydell Press 2005) pages 69 to 73.

The overall length of the sword is 36.75 inches (just under 93.5 cm) and the blade 31.25  inches (79.5 cm). The width of the blade at the ricasso is 1 and 5/8ths of an inch (just over 4 cm).the

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