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An Exquisite London-Made English Silver Mounted Hunting Sword by John Carman II with London Hallmarks for 1751 / 1752 Retailed by Loxham

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Price: £3,250

Ref: 42121060

Item Description

An exquisite English silver mounted Hunting Sword with London Hallmarks for the year 1751 / 1752. The hilt was made by the London based silver smith John Carman II, and the sword was assembled and retailed by the Cutler Loxham of the Royal Exchange. The hilt is of exceptional quality and condition,  created at the height of rococo design, applied with fine decorative panels of masks and foliage. The sword represents the height of London silver-work in the decades preceding plainer neo-classical influences upon the craft.

The high quality of the sword suggests it was a gentleman’s weapon. During the 17th and 18th centuries, when longer swords were a popular weapon for gentlemen, hunting swords and hangers were a robust, shorter, secondary side arm used for self defence when walking about town and travelling in general. Although referred to as “hunting” weapons, they probably had minimal use in hunting at this time in London. Self defence in crowded areas, and in the tight confines of dangerous alleyways in cities, required a weapon which was shorter, easier to draw, and more maneuverable, than a full length sword for close-in use in such confined spaces.

The most distinctive features of this sword hilt are the large convex scallop-shaped shell guard which emanates from the cross guard and the extravagant pommel. Both show the wild staring face of a Celtic “Green Man” immersed in  foliage.

On a smaller scale the cross guard features the mask of a lion in the middle in raised relief on each side.  The cross guard terminates at the rear in a flattened downward facing wrist guard with a swollen terminal seemingly in the form of a North American Indian due to the “Mohican” style hair.

To the front, a well formed knuckle bow extends from the cross guard and terminates in a flattened leafy scroll on each side with a rearward extension which secures the top of the bow into the pommel front. Mid way along the knuckle bow a swelling features a mask with sprays of foliage above and below on each side. Near the pommel on one side of the bow the hallmarks are struck.

The grip is formed from red deer stag antler which slightly tapers top to bottom where it is secured with a silver ferrule at the base decorated with foliate sprays. The pommel and its back plate which extends along the grip is  formed from a single, solid, shaped piece of silver. Towards the pommel the plate is formed with another grotesquely grimacing Green Man and further foliate fans.

The straight single edged gently tapering blade is 23.5 inches (59.5 cm) long and of the highest quality. It has kept a keen edge and although stained in places retains some of its original polished finish. It is has a maker’s mark in the form of a stylised floral saltire stamped on both sides, one side plainer than the other. It is most likely an import of European manufacture, probably from Solingen in Germany, and is possibly fashioned from a cut down sword blade. It has a pronounced fuller which extends from the hilt almost to the blade tip. The blunt back edge extends for 15.5 inches (39 cm) from the hilt after which the blade is double edged.

The back of the scabbard mouth piece is engraved in dot-work “Loxham at ye Royal Exchange” and to the front it is mounted with a locket hook depicting a further Green Man in the same manner as those on the hilt, with floral sprays above on the flat front to the mount.  The chape is of plainer engraved form with a raised button terminal. The black scabbard leather is tooled with geometric designs on both sides.

The Celtic “Green Man” has its origins in English folklore. These grotesque,  bearded, wild-eyed faces are sometimes depicted on English weapons of the 17th and 18th centuries. As well as on weapons, the Green Man appears in medieval English churches on fonts and stonework. Historically he appeared in traditional springtime village fetes and ceremonies as a symbol of growth and fertility for the coming farming season. The figure, dressed in green garlands, was exhibited then sacrificed by ritual decapitation, hence the appearance of the head separated from the body, surrounded by foliage in later depictions.

The roots of the ceremony lie in Pagan England and the practice was so embedded in rural communities that it survived into the Christian era. Perpetuating the ideal of “renewal”, the Green Man may have been thought to embody some form of spiritual protection for the owner, or “good luck”, as a  charm in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in the Civil War era when it  appeared more frequently on weapons.

The hallmarks are stamped onto the narrow middle raised rounded ridge of the knuckle bow near the pommel which is too thin to accommodate the marks in whole form and are therefore incompletely struck, but discernible. They show the  Lion Passant royal standard and the Leopard’s Head silver standard mark. The date stamp of a letter “q” is present, and the fourth mark appears to be part of the letter “C” of the stamp of the notable London silver hilt maker John Carman II. The mark was registered by him in July 1748 (“J . C” [in flamboyant scroll] Grimwade 1225), and used by him until he registered another mark in October 1756 (Grimwade 1204).

An identical hilt is in the Royal Armouries Collection (Ref: IX.854) and is  featured in Leslie Southwick’s “London Silver-Hilted Swords”, their makers, suppliers and allied traders, with directory, 2001, Royal Armouries, page 283, Plate 45, hallmarked for 1750 / 1751. It is also retailed by Loxham and stamped by John Carman II as the hilt maker. It is similar even down to the small details such as the “Mohican” head quillon terminal, indicating that both hilts could have been cast from the same mould and finished by Carman.

John Carman was sworn free of the Cutlers’ Company after serving his apprenticeship in 1743. He later took livery and was elected to the Court of Assistants of the Company. He entered his first extant mark in 1748 which probably replaced an earlier mark registered in 1743, or thereabouts, which is now lost. He died in 1764 aged 41. John was part of a family of notable silver hilted sword makers and succeeded his mother, Mary Carman in the business, who had succeeded his father, also called John, in upon his death in 1741.

Loxham was a successful firm of sword cutlers and hatters which traded from 1722 until 1803. It was founded by William Loxham, a leading member of the Cutlers’ Company of London. Presumably the respective positions of Carman and Loxham in the Cutlers’ Company placed them in close proximity to each other, which presumably led to a personal relationship then a commercial arrangement for Carman to supply silver hilts to Loxham.

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