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Pinch of Snuff

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Item Description


A Scottish Officer’s basket hilted broadsword dating to the middle to third quarter periods of
the 18th century. The sword retains its original grip and liner and is mounted with an
imposing blade. These swords were carried by Scottish officers on British Army service in
Europe and in North America during the American Revolutionary War period.
The sword is one of a distinctive group of Scottish military officers’ swords. The complex
hilt structure consists of oval shaped apertures, mounted between structural guard bars, which
are infilled with an elaborate lattice of finely wrought iron of lace-like delicacy. The pommel
is of typical mid-18th century British bun shape with an integral pommel button. The pommel
neck sits tightly in a circle of iron onto which the upper arms of the basket guard are attached.
The hilt type is similar to three others depicted in contemporary portraits. The first is a
painting dated between 1757 and 1763 called “The Pinch of Snuff” by William Delacour,
after which the sword type gains its name. It shows an officer in a Highland regiment, probably on service in the Americas, with an example of this type of 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, circa 1780, auctioned by
Christies (“Pictures of Scottish Interest”, Glasgow, 2nd April 1969, lot 1) and now in the
National Museums of Scotland.
The earliest dated sword of this type that we know of, is a silver hilted example with makers
marks, “TB”, which sold through Thomas Del Mar Auctions in London in December 2014
with London hallmarks for 1745 (lot 330). This example would indicate that the sword type
arrived toward in the second quarter of the 18th century and thrived until circa 1780. Clearly the sword
type was popular with the Scottish officer class at a time when Scottish regiments were
increasingly being mobilised by the British Army for service abroad.
The exceptional blade is of cavalry length at 39.25 inches long (100 cm). Of lenticular
section the gently tapering blade has a short ricasso and a broad shallow central fuller either
side which begins circa 8 inches from the hilt (20 cm) and runs almost to the tip. Between the
fuller and the hilt a “sun in splendour” surrounded by stars is present either side. The wooden
grip is covered with shagreen and spirally bound with brass strip. Decorative iron ferrules are
mounted top and bottom.
Overall the sword is 45.25 inches long (115 cm). The organic parts of the hilt, the grip and
liner, are in fine and original condition. The sword is of robust manufacture and in fine
condition overall with some parts of the hilt and blade exhibiting a minor pitting.

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