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Scottish swords of this distinctive type were made for infantry soldiers serving in Highland Regiments, and are often associated with their service in the Indian and Revolutionary Wars in North America. Some swords bear store / rack numbers incised into the pommels and guards and occasionally amongst these marks the specific regiment can be identified. Most are unmarked.
The style of hilt was developed in Glasgow which was already famous for the manufacture of traditional Scottish basket hilted swords since at least the early 17th century. The hilt type was a simplified version of the more usual Scottish sword type of the mid-18th century intended to be cheaper to produce for a limited market of militias recruited from the Highlands intended to enforce order in Highland areas. The 43rd, later to become the 42nd , the Black Watch, was first formed for this purpose.
Around 1757 production of these swords transferred to England as demand for swords grew due to the increasing numbers of Highlanders being recruited into newly raised Highland regiments in the army. Sword-making was in decline in Glasgow and England was better placed to fulfill bigger contracts in a more cost-effective and timely manner.
Production fell mainly into the hands of two firms, Drury, and Jeffreys. Little is known of the exact process of manufacture, but it is thought that the hilts, blades, scabbards, and grips were sourced from Birmingham, Sheffield and London, then the swords were assembled in workshops in London. Drury and Jeffreys generally made similar backsword blades with single fullers and generally stamped their blades both sides in a similar manner and size with a crown, “G R” beneath and their name below.
Usually, the hilts are made from thin flattened ribbon-like iron bars between which primary and secondary guard plates are fixed and pierced with circles and triangles. The pommel is cone shaped with an integral button on top. The tops of the three arms of the guard are secured under a lip which extends around the pommel base. The grip is made of spirally grooved wood normally mounted with a covering of shagreen and bound with brass wire with a leather liner mounted inside the hilt. Some swords have bare wooden grips and whilst these may be more modern or even period replacements, some may be original. The Highland Regiments gave up their swords in 1784 and production of this sword type ceased.
The sword described here is a representative example of the type described above. The grip is covered with shagreen and bound with plaited wire and mounted with Turks’ Heads top and bottom. Much of the scaling of the shagreen has worn off. Overall the hilt and blade display a russet patination. The single edged blade has a fuller running underneath the blunt back edge and is 30.25 inches (77 cm) long. The overall length of the sword is 36.5 inches (93 cm).
At first sight this sword appears to have an unmarked blade. However, close examination reveals a slight depression on both sides where the stamp has been purposely erased. The photographs show an example of the crown stamp used by both Jeffreys and Drury on a different sword, this one is by IEFRIS (Jeffreys). Also shown is a close-up of the depression on the blade where a fragment of the top of the crown on one side has survived erasure. This is easily matched by comparison with the full mark and shows that the full stamp was once there.
The sword is not unique in possessing this depression on the blade where the crown mark once was sited. But it is a rare feature. A likely explanation is that a number of these swords fell into American hands during the Revolutionary War and the British associations were removed from the blades before the swords were used against the British by the American side.
For a full discussion of this sword type see Anthony D Darling, Swords for the Highland Regiments 1757 – 1784, Mowbray Incorporated, 1988.
For other examples see Cyril Mazansky, British Basket-Hilted Swords, Boydell Press / Royal Armouries, 2005, pages 129 to 130.
And John Wallace, Scottish Swords and Dirks, Arms and Armour Press, 1970, fig 42, for a sword now in the National Museums of Scotland, collection reference LA 27.