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Exceptional English Silver Hilted Small Sword by John Radborn of London Hallmarked for 1764 / 1765

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Price: £3,350

Ref: 096.23

Item Description

A very fine English silver hilted small sword by John Radborn of the City of London with hallmarks for 1764/5, retailed by Marr & Third, of Arundell Street, The Strand. The sword is notable because of its exceptional quality, the fact that it retains its scabbard and mounts, and is in remarkably fine condition. The hilt is an example of the high standards of design and execution required of the London silversmith when this art was at its height,

John Radborn, was one of the foremost silver hilt makers in London in the mid-18th century. He is recorded as living in the City of London between 1737 and  1780 in New Street precinct. He was indentured to the cutler Nathaniel Young in 1737, and after his death, with John Smith from 1742 until 1745, when he completed his apprenticeship and was “sworn free” of the Cutlers’ Company by servitude and entitled to practice his trade independently. The City of London record of registered silversmiths’ marks from 1739 to 1757 are lost and Radborn most likely registered his first mark during this period. His first surviving mark was registered at Goldsmiths’ Hall in February 1762, and a second, virtually same as the first, was entered when he moved address in April 1769. He retired and became a pensioner of the Cutlers’ Company in 1776 and died in 1780.

Silver hilted small swords were fashionable attire for 18th century gentlemen. Mostly worn for effect, and as expressions of status, someone wearing such a weapon was also announcing to the world that he was able to use it. Despite the stylish and often delicate appearance of small swords they were formidable dueling weapons.

The hilt is mounted with a double convex shell guard, each shell with a raised reinforced rim, exquisitely pierced and engraved with bold multi-pointed florets, three in each shell, which form the main design theme surrounded by foliate scrolls.  This design pattern is common to the pommel, ricasso, knucklebow and scabbard locket, which attests to the originality and homogeneity of the parts. The maker’s mark of “I R”, for John Radborn, is  stamped in raised relief inside an oblong panel with a dot between, on one side of the knucklebow near the pommel, accompanied with the further London hallmarks of the crowned leopard’s head assay mark, the royal lion passant and date marks.

The tapering, hollow ground, stiff, Colichemarde, triangular section blade is engraved with panels of Rococo style foliage and scrolls at the forte, highlighted with gilt, and retains elements of its original polish . The baluster shaped grip is covered with spirally wrapped silver strip separated by a double length of contra-twisted roped silver wire. Silver cap terminals are present top and bottom of the grip engraved with scallop-like designs.

The original scabbard is formed from a wooden core which is lined with red velvet at the mouth and covered with thin goat or pig skin tanned brown. It retains its original silver mouthpiece, suspension mount and chape. Different hilt makers forged supply relationships with cutlers, retailers and gentlemens’ outfitters, who sold their swords to the public, many of which carried out a mix of these functions. The mouthpiece or locket on this sword is engraved on the back with “Marr & Third”, a firm of hatters and sword cutlers active in the Strand in the Parish of Westminster from 1754 until 1772.

The sword is in fine condition. There are no losses or repairs to the hilt which retains its original pleasing contours.  It is rare to encounter swords of this type with original scabbards.  The scabbard is a rare survivor, in fine condition, having endured the centuries requiring only a slight patch of resurfacing of the leather towards the tip, and the loss of a small silver stem once attached to the front of the mouthpiece to engage it with the aperture in the leather beneath (see photos).

For further information on John Radborn, see Leslie Southwick, “London Silver-Hilted Swords, Their makers, suppliers and allied traders, with directory”,  Royal Armouries, 2001. Page 202 shows a copy of the registration of John Radborn’s (Radburn) 1762 and 1769 marks recorded in the third Smallworkers’ Book at Goldsmith’s Hall. The 1762 mark is identical to the mark on this sword whilst the 1769 mark is a little slimmer.  Plates 46, 66, 72-3, 74, and colour plate 3, show examples of Radborn’s mastery of the silver hilt making craft. Three of these five examples are housed in the Royal Armouries and a fourth is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The blade is 32.75 inches (just over 83 cm) long and the sword is 39.5 inches  (100.25 cm) long overall.

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