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Old 22nd December 2020, 08:30 PM   #1
shayde78
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Default Cut-steel smallsword (not mourning)

Well, I had to wait until the afternoon to post my most recent acquisition because I am fairly sure this is not a 'mourning' sword. That said, if this had been blackened, it would surly qualify. I wanted to include the word 'mourning' in the title/post to help out the search engine for future reference.

As an early holiday gift to myself, I stumbled upon this cut-steel small sword with (what I believe) is the complete chain guard and a robust/heavy triangular blade. To me, it is a beautiful as any Christmas ornament!

Total length: 36"
Blade length: 29.25"
Guard: 4.06" x 2.80"
Quillions: 4.5"
Hilt (entire): 6.5"
Weight: 1lb 2.75oz.
POB: 4" forward of the guard

I had always thought of these (having only seen pictures in books) as the dainty jewelry of arms. All flash and no substance, as it were. However, holding this in hand, this is a substantial weapon that would be entirely effective for its purposes (albeit, the reach is a little wanting). I had not known of blades of this profile that are flat sided triangular - not hallow-ground on the sides. This is like a giant knitting needle, but deadly sharp.

The hilt has the typical faceted nail heads arraigned in a less typical spiral layout that covers the grip and extends onto the urn-shaped pommel. The pas d'ane are truly vestigial, serving merely a decorative function as a nod to conventional form.

I have not been able to find a picture of a chain of this nature. It consists of two complete strands extending from pommel to guard, with additional 'tassels' at the pommel end. Overall, these seem reminiscent of a swordknot executed in steel.

This example also came with a partially intact scabbard. The metal throat has nice scalloped details, and of course, it is designed to accept the unique blade.

I found one of similar (although not identical) hilt design sold originally by Meyer & Mortimer, 36 Conduit St., London. Still, I've not seen one that had this unique chain, and even the blade on the one I mention is similar is described as 'hallow ground'.

So, what are your thoughts? My very basic understanding is, given all the features noted above, this would date from 1790-1810). Would you agree?

As always, I appreciate your feedback.

edited to include weight and point-of-balance (POB)
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Last edited by shayde78 : 22nd December 2020 at 11:01 PM.
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Old 23rd December 2020, 03:09 AM   #2
Jim McDougall
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Shayde, first I just would like to say this is pretty much a perfectly presented and described example and I like the way you present it with your own observations, research and detailed dimensions. In my view this is a great way to present a weapon for discussion. Thank you!

I think you have pretty much nailed it (no pun intended) in your assessment, and this does appear to be a cut steel hilt of the period 1790-1810. The small sword had been in decline by the 1780s and these fancy hilts were often more fashion statement than functional weapon.
However as you note, this seems quite the contrary. The blade is with the triangular cross section known as 'hollow ground' and used on small swords through the 18th century. 'Hollow' simply means each of the three blade faces were 'hollowed' or ground concave.

I agree this is probably not a 'mourning' sword, which is sort of a misleading term as these swords were not exclusively worn in those circumstances alone. They were considered well as 'town swords' for regular wear and many cut steel swords were blackened or russeted to show off the embellished metal ornamentation.

There is not a lot of detail in Aylward (1945) helpful toward this particular example and I do not have Dean (1929) handy at the moment.

I think the general appearance of this example, which is really attractive in a macabre, mechanical almost a 'steam punk' kind of way, is much in accord with your own assessment. As noted with a similar hilt style in the catalog of one firm, but not with this style of chain, but these dealers operated mostly with pretty much custom work and catalogs represented examples but not necessarily swords on hand. Therefore these type 'chains' may have been almost 'one off' but it seems I have seen this kind of setup before.

As always, looking forward to other input, but this is an extremely esoteric collecting field. It is a most intriguing example!!
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Old 23rd December 2020, 09:10 AM   #3
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Congrats for a splendid unique piece. Thanks much for sharing .
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Old 23rd December 2020, 10:21 AM   #4
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Yep, when I first saw the photos I thought of an English 19th century smallsword.

Also from the photos, I would have guessed the hilt is of oxidized silver...

Indeed this type of blade is rather unusual but has been used more frequently in 19th century sword-sticks.
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Old 23rd December 2020, 11:40 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mariusgmioc
... Indeed this type of blade is rather unusual but has been used more frequently in 19th century sword-sticks.

I take it that you are certain of such assessment, Marius.

What if ...

https://www.reddit.com/r/SWORDS/com..._found_on_many/
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Old 23rd December 2020, 07:04 PM   #6
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Thank you for the great feedback, so far. Jim - if my presentation is one you appreciate, it is only because I have watched all of you and how you either present your own pieces and/or the information you ask others to provide. It is a representation of good mentorship by the forum en masse.

I wanted to clarify that this blade is NOT hollow-ground. The faces of the blade are totally flat. I think Marius is correct in that this type of blade might appear in a sword sticks, and the like. It reminds me of estoc blades (although those would typically be 4-sided) but I am in no way suggesting this is such a blade. Merely reminiscent of such. I do feel the blade is original to this hilt, however, as all is well balanced, the scabbard is made to fit, and the proportions are otherwise right. The peen also looks to be original and untampered with.

Would you agree the tassels on the chain at the pommel end are designed to emulate a sword knot? This is pure speculation on my part, but seems possible.
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Old 24th December 2020, 10:27 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
... I wanted to clarify that this blade is NOT hollow-ground. The faces of the blade are totally flat...

Oops .
Still i wasn't considering that triangular 'flat' blades were a feature primarily created for sword canes. I am perhaps influenced by seeing these in other weapons like, for the case, genuine daggers and stillettos. Not to speak that is not uncommon that captions in books/catalogues depicting swords with triangular blades omit the hollow ground particular ... as in two that i am looking at, now.
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Old 24th December 2020, 11:27 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Oops .
Still i wasn't considering that triangular 'flat' blades were a feature primarily created for sword canes. I am perhaps influenced by seeing these in other weapons like, for the case, genuine daggers and stillettos. Not to speak that is not uncommon that captions in books/catalogues depicting swords with triangular blades omit the hollow ground particular ... as in two that i am looking at, now.


"Oops" indeed!

Yes Fernando, I also had several smallswords with triangular blades (still have two or three if I remember correctly), but none has this flat-faced triangular cross-section.
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Old 24th December 2020, 03:48 PM   #9
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Hi Shayde ,
Actually it does seem that most do present with a degree of description, however your descriptions were most diligent and more important you added what research you had already completed. This is most valuable so as to not have everyone seeking roads you have already traveled, and they can focus on either corroborating or rebutting data presented with other supported material.

Too often a weapon is presented simply without any information asking for identification or comments with little or no text. Personally, it means a lot to me as there are so many weapons I do not have great knowledge on and I enjoy learning.

I had misread your comments on the blade and thought this was hollow ground as were most triangular (triple faced) blades for these swords. I have not been familiar with simple flat faced blades of this kind.

My impression was always that blades for short swords were intended to be 'fast' that is light and manueverable, and the 'hollowing' was to remove excessive stock thus lightening the blade, and strengthening.

It was mentioned that sword cane blades were triangular and the suggestion of being flat faced. As these were not intended for 'fencing' of any sort (despite Hollywood) that would seem more likely. It seems that actual blades intended for swords might be implemented for canes as well.

It would be interesting to see a thread on sword canes, an esoteric area of edged weapons I have never seen touched on here (reminders welcome).
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Old 24th December 2020, 04:53 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... It would be interesting to see a thread on sword canes, an esoteric area of edged weapons I have never seen touched on here (reminders welcome)...

Sure there has been quite a few threads on this subject, Jim. Only you don't recall; probably because they didn't catch your interest at the time. I have had a few of those myself and definitely posted them here.
Not pretending to hijack the present thread, just remembering that these 'devices' exist(ed) in various parts of the world, mounted with blades from authentic toothpicks to salvaged ones from early periods and of the finest quality.
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Old 24th December 2020, 06:54 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Sure there has been quite a few threads on this subject, Jim. Only you don't recall; probably because they didn't catch your interest at the time. I have had a few of those myself and definitely posted them here.
Not pretending to hijack the present thread, just remembering that these 'devices' exist(ed) in various parts of the world, mounted with blades from authentic toothpicks to salvaged ones from early periods and of the finest quality.



Thank you Fernando, I'm not surprised there have been mentions of these, but you're right, not to my attention at the time. It stands to reason that many notable heirloom blades would end up in these fashionable 'devices'.
Now my interest is well piqued, so off we go and perhaps a new thread will evolve from this curiosity.
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Old 26th December 2020, 01:42 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Hi Shayde ,
My impression was always that blades for short swords were intended to be 'fast' that is light and manueverable, and the 'hollowing' was to remove excessive stock thus lightening the blade, and strengthening.

It was mentioned that sword cane blades were triangular and the suggestion of being flat faced. As these were not intended for 'fencing' of any sort (despite Hollywood) that would seem more likely. It seems that actual blades intended for swords might be implemented for canes as well.


For what it is worth, weighing a mere 1.25 lbs, and being well balanced, this example handles quite well, with a quick and nimble point. I'm not sure the extra cost incurred to hollow the flats would have resulted in a better performing weapon. In fact, given the larger size and weight of the hilt, a lighter blade would have had to be longer, and this may have exceeded the parameters that were the norm for the period. The hilt, of course, could have been reduced, but as an exercise in ostentation, that would defeat the purpose of showing off.
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Old 27th December 2020, 05:58 PM   #13
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Default Court Sword

I have a sword of very similar style that I have always referred to as a Court Sword.
The chain knuckle-guard is purely a decorative affectation really and obviously of no defensive use.
Various additional attachments at each end were common and assorted.
Your version is particularly elaborate and very attractive.
This hilt is almost certainly a product of the Soho factory of Matthew Boulton, Birmingham;
his catalogues offered a multitude of variations on numerous themes (1,400 plus if memory serves).
The black/blued hilt was indeed intended to emphasise the studded and cut steel decoration.
The scabbard may have been left as its natural parchment finish; although variations abound.
The big question is who was producing those blades at the time: if it was the mid to latter half of the 18thC then they may well have come from Olley in Shotley Bridge; although Solingen was still a huge supplier with pedlars like Runkle importing vast quantities. I doubt Klingenthal was getting its blades into this country at that time for obvious reasons.
The gilt and blue decoration on my blade was ubiquitous and left a trail of miserable deaths in its wake as the application process used mercury and was extremely hazardous; it was probably on your blade when new.
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Old 27th December 2020, 06:05 PM   #14
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Incidentally, the parts of the hilt commonly referred to as Pas D'ane should more accurately be called 'Branches' according to Aylward, and were there specifically to support the shell.
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Old 28th December 2020, 11:48 PM   #15
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I agree with urbanspaceman - I would categorize this as a court sword or a diplomatic service sword.

No disrespect intended, but I would say that whilst this is obviously a genuine item I do think it's a munitions-grade version. I would point to the relatively crude finish on the quillons, the hilt, the ricasso block, the misaligned sharp edges, the lack of beveling, the thickness of the branches/pas d'anes.

The plain triangular blade also reinforces that impression. I've seen them a number of times, but always on the lower grade of hilts. My belief is that they required less time and expertise to manufacture and were therefore cheaper.

If you search the internet for steel-hilt small sword you will see images of other versions of these and be able to compare those with a more refined finish.

My opinion is that this piece was made when manufacturing processes were becoming increasingly industrialised and standardised. Look at the chain - I would suggest that each piece was stamped out and marked by machine, rather than handmade. Expensive items continued to be handmade, or at least hand finished, whilst cheaper items for the lower end of the market used less time-intensive methods of production.

Just my opinion.
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Old 29th December 2020, 12:53 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by urbanspaceman
Incidentally, the parts of the hilt commonly referred to as Pas D'ane should more accurately be called 'Branches' according to Aylward, and were there specifically to support the shell.


I also agree, this appears to be a dress sword worn more as a fashion accoutrement than a weapon, however of course, could function if called upon.
As the industrial age progressed, of course there was a decline in the craftsmanship and the quality was affected accordingly.

This is a most interesting note on the nomenclature of these hilts, and the term pas d'ane is notably intriguing. The term 'branch' as noted went to the functionality of these rings to support the shell guard, and was used in the manner of the more developed rapiers which often had complex guard branch systems.

Egerton Castle (1885, p. 231) says, "...the meaning of the word is obscure, and unhappily we have no English equivilant. 'Pas d'ane' according to Littre', is an instrument inserted into the mouth of a horse to keep it open for examination. Such an instrument may bear resemblance to our loop guards, but the question is whether it was so called in the 15thc.Athough the pas d'ane and ring adjuncts to hilt not in fashion earlier than 16th c-several instances show them as early as 14th c. ".

The colloquial use of terms associated with horse head gear and sword element comparisons seem to be in place in a number of cases.

The reduction of the pas d'ane came about due to masters of fence trying to dissuade the propensity of the finger through these pas d'ane rings as techniques changed.
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Old 1st January 2021, 12:51 AM   #17
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Thank you for all the additional thoughts and comments.

Yes, the term 'court sword' ( épée de cour) is appropriately applied to this item. As for this being munitions-grade, I am inclined to agree, to an extent. These cut steel hills were designed to sparkle like the more expensively embellished silver hilted versions. Still, these were the formal wear of smallswords, and contemporary with swords still intended to be carried into battle. So, not exactly the low-grade pragmatic design I associate with munition grade for the common soldier. Much more what the middle class merchants would wear.

As for the pas d'ans - as I said, the 'branches' here are vestigial, and do not serve a purpose other than to suggest the earlier forms. The examples on this item are NOT designed to support the guard as they float above the guard and do not touch it. As said above (I think by Jim), fencing masters of the last half of the 1700s began to discourage students from looping their fingers through these rings and the design of hilts soon followed this new convention.

It is an interesting exercise to consider this specific evolution of sword hilts. The addition of a ring above the quillion is evident from at least the late 1300s (see attached image of Grant Cronica de Espanya 1377-1396, Aragon, Spain). This feature was obviously a way to protect the finger that many swordsman hooked over the quillions to gain better control. If you look at the corrosion pattern on less than pristine blades on medieval swords, there is sometimes a divot on one side of the blade that may be a result of slightly more wear caused by the finger resting there (we all know how skin oil can oxidize blades to noticeable effect). Or, perhaps the edge was filed blunt to create a primitive ricasso on one side. I contend that as the use of the point became an increasing part of sword use, the benefits of looping a finger over the quillions became more of a common practice. There must have been a compelling reason to do so as of suspect the risk of injury was rather great. That said, over time, the innovation of a ring to protect the finger was developed. An elegant example of form and innovation being dictated by function and actual use.

Of course, over the next 200 years, or so, these simple finger rings were added to. As the full gauntlet became less common, the hilt became more elaborate to protect the hand. As an aside, I've recently started to consider that the abandonment of the gauntlet was caused by the need to operate a firearm. Wearing a metal glove while operating a lock that causes ignition via sparks also probably held some hazards beyond the ways a metal mitten might hinder necessary dexterity. But I digress.

These finger rings were the first pas d'ane. As a definition, I consider these initially to have been protection for a finger or fingers that rest on the ricasso above the crossguard. This definition holds true through the evolution of the rapier (and rapier-hilted arming swords). With the development of the cuphilt, the pas d'anes took on the function of providing structure to which the guard was secured. At this point, however, with a full cup guard, the original intention of the finger rings was now obsolete.

This brings us to transitional rapier. One of the features that define this phase is that the ricasso was no longer a meaningful part of the blade. In transitional rapiers, the hand remains behind the guard, with no exposed blade behind the guard for the fingers to grip. There are no quillions (or rarely so), and the handling is starting to foreshadow that of smallswords (albeit with larger hints and significantly longer blades). On these models, the pas d'ane served to maintain the ergonomics of controlling a point at the end of a long blade and the thrust was the prioritized means of attack. This is why the rings are full sized and functional.

As the smallsword evolved, it became shorter and lighter. Fencing became a series of more subtle movements and masters taught that the sword should be held more like a pencil with the thumb and pointer fingers controlling the point while the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers controlled lateral parries. With these techniques, the swordsman would be hampered in their movements if they continued to utilize the pas d'anes. Therefore, they could be eliminated. However, because for centuries they were part of hilt design, there was a phase of about 65 years (1750s-1810s) where they became smaller and non-functional, but were retained for aesthetics. I have seen some resurrection of the concept of the later pas d'anes on sword hilt for heavier blades. I have an example discussed

here estimated to be from the first half of the 1800s. This has a heavier spadroon blade, and the single finger rest nicely increases the agility of its handling. I am reminded of the difference between a French grip on a fencing epee or foil and a pistol grip. The simple feature of the finger rest offers ergonomic benefits, and that kind of brings us back to the origin of the pas d'ane.

I'm glad my court sword brought up this topic as it is one I have dominated about for awhile. I am curious to hear your thoughts of my ramblings. As a former competitive fencer I am intrigued by how these objects functioned, and I'm always keen to consider the ways in which the functional becomes art. This field is fascinating because the stakes were high when we consider the circumstances for which weapons were designed, and yet we still see the tension between preserving convention, bowing to the fashion of the day, and embracing pragmatism. The psychology at play is still evident today in so many ways.

(image below was referenced above and is image of Grant Cronica de Espanya 1377-1396, Aragon, Spain
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Old 1st January 2021, 11:55 AM   #18
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Thank-you Shayde, an erudite and informed essay on the issue: it is much appreciated.
I agree with your opinion regarding 'munition's grade' as this was a ceremonial weapon that would probably never have been called upon to defend or attack but remained more than capable nonetheless but needed to look the part in Court, hence the finish.
I referred to Aylward in my suggestion the branches were for shell support but I agree there is little practical virtue in the design- on my version as well as yours; although they may have been efficacious on other hilts.
One thing I have noticed on all my smallswords, is that the ones that feature fully developed branches also effect a shorter grip, demanding finger/s in the loops, even with my hands - which are small.
NB
I ask in the off-shoot thread I started on colichemardes if anyone could detail the names of the various parts of the colichemarde blade - assuming such terms exist and are an accurate part of the vernacular - the top and bottom of the forte, or shoulders as I described them, for example. Also, as a fencer, you will be aware of the terminology of the upper and lower faces of a trefoil blade, and perhaps you might enlighten me in this regard to ensure I make accurate reference in future.
Perhaps you are not aware, but I entered onto this forum four years ago as a total novice seeking help in my research of the Shotley Bridge enterprise as a 'local history' project; although I have picked up a few bits and pieces here and there, I am still ignorant of much that cognoscenti may regard as commonplace: your description of the loss of the ricasso in the development of the trans rap is a perfect example.
NB2
One of the issues that I find interesting is the practice of re-hilting rapier blades with smallsword hilts... I have two very fine examples of obvious Portuguese provenance (see one below) and I am inclined to research this practice. I suppose these are the ultimate expression of a trans rap as they show a high regard for the quality and qualities of the blades which in both instances are slim (and German) and this inspires me to consider the thinking behind these transitions.
I know there are one or two residents of that exceptional country apparent on this forum and I wondered if they might care to illuminate the issue for me.
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Old 1st January 2021, 01:56 PM   #19
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Risking not to be in line with the question asked, and being more a resident than an expert, i would say that the habit to rehilt swords with heirloom blades or those of solid quality, like ones of rapiers, was a recurrent procedure. In any case, Portuguese were not so much blade producers. I still wonder whether patriotic inscriptions in blades were engraved in the provenant country ( Germany Spain) or later applied in blades over here by local engravers.
I am afraid i don't dispose of the more adequate examples but, trying not to evade the context, here are some photos scanned from two of my books. To notice that court swords, Espadins as we call them, went well into the XIX century, period in which the profusion of blades mounted was the three faced version ... often hollow.
OTOH, i am sure other members (even non resident), may offer a better introduction to this subject.


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Old 1st January 2021, 02:25 PM   #20
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And a silver hilted Colichemarde from the second half XVIII century.
The caption doesn't mention the cross section version, but we can see the fuller/groove climbing up to the hilt.


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Old 1st January 2021, 04:33 PM   #21
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I'm sorry, I've done it again: hi-jacked a thread: my apologies Shayde.
I suppose we are dealing with court swords and smallswords here, so maybe it is not too far 'off the reservation'.
I've wondered about inscriptions added 'post manufacture' Fernando, so I asked and was assured by a blade-smith that it was not a difficult matter; in fact, all the blades we ascribe to Shotley Bridge were actually made in Solingen then inscribed with the location when they got there: all bar only three seen so far anyway; but I digress again.
Returning to the original thread and the comment about the flat trefoil blade being seen in numerous sword-canes: I have to agree with that, although they are generally a little shorter than 30".
I know it is anathema to the majority of collectors but my hilt polished up beautifully, albeit losing the remaining blue/black finish (see below). I am a firm believer in a master craftsman's work warranting preservation 'as was' and the 'patina of age' left to characterise utilitarian jobs. This sword of yours left the retailer's hands sparkling in every respect and I like to see that restored as best as is possible. But, I know I am in the minority.
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