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Old 26th June 2022, 05:06 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default The Espada Ancha Myth

In recent browsing through another forum, I found this curious heading and opened the thread hoping to find what this title meant. The author was inquiring if someone might direct him to references which might tell him about these notable Spanish colonial short swords as he could find nothing in Mexican or Spanish sources. Perhaps he was situated in Mexico as his surname was Mexican.

Naturally there was little response, but the only brief reply suggested "Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America 1700-1821" (Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain, 1972) which is virtually the only reference ever written describing these (aside from several brief papers in subsequent years).

The so called 'espada ancha' evolved primarily in the frontier regions of New Spain (now Mexico) in the mid to latter 18th century, and appears to have evolved in hilt style from hangers/hunting swords probably from vessels which traveled between Spain and its colonies.

In the frontier regions of New Spain in the north, the Spanish southwest which included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Alta California and the northern parts of New Spain from Baja California to Sinaloa,Sonora, Chihuahua, these areas were rugged desert with thick vegetation.

Horsemen found their military broadswords (termed espada ancha =Sp. broad sword) were not adequate for brushing trails and the blades often broke. The local blacksmiths began forging heavy blades which were stout, cutlass like types which were mounted on various interpretations of the European hanger, hunting swords types often used on ships.
In those times, these were deemed 'machete' by Spaniards although some narratives use the term cutlass.

In later years, perhaps because some of these were indeed mounted with the Spanish dragoon blades (often with the 'Spanish motto) of the 18th century, somehow the term 'espada ancha' became colloquially applied to these machetes by collectors (again, espada ancha = broadsword in Spanish).

As has been noted, information on these is sparse, so it is not surprising that this individual could find nothing, as outside the US there virtually is no reference to them I am aware of.

I would like to initiate this thread to effectively open a study of these long overlooked and under researched edged weapons. Here I would like to note that Lee Jones in his now venerable paper on this site, is probably the last author to write on these. I would like to advance our collective knowledge on these from that bench mark.

I hope those in our community will post examples, add information and please ask questions. While no regional distinctions as yet have been confirmed, there are some plausible speculations. These were locally produced with blacksmith forged blades, and the hilts, while of a basic style, often used certain embellishments such as shells from crossguard, varying grips etc.

In the attachments:
First is a bone gripped example, probably 1790s and at this point presumed of a form known in Sinaloa but later Alta Calif. and Santa Fe. Here the hilt is of the familiar hanger style but mounted with 18th c. Spanish dragoon blade (broadsword).
Next is the 'regulation' military form used by Spanish through the 18th century into 19th known colloquially as the 'bilbo' in European and American parlance. As the blades were DE, broadsword, the Spaniards regarded them as ESPADA ANCHA.

Next is a grouping of these colonial 'machete' (espada ancha) showing wide variation of forms, most of these from c. 1790-1850.
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Old 26th June 2022, 08:23 PM   #2
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... The author was claiming that someone might direct him to references which might tell him about these notable Spanish colonial short swords as he could find nothing in Mexican or Spanish sources. Perhaps he was situated in Mexico as his surname was Mexican ...
Dear Jim, do we have here one more 'sequel' of the espada ancha topic, which new episode features a guy that does not manage to find written stuff on this sword, assuming he is Mexican, as i try to infer from your words, which is rather curious.
Risking to do nothing but repeat parts of this topic already presented in various prior approaches, i will here roughly translate from the Spanish an entry by blogger "Legendary Jarl" in 2011 ...

... I feel happy at this moment. I feel like i've finally resolved the question that many on this forum have asked (at least for me). Many have said that the "typical knife of Mexico" should be an Aztec one. Others say it should be the machete. I agree that it must be the Guanajuato, others the bowie and so on. Those who said that it could be the machete seem to be right and i will explain the underlying question below.
These days i have been researching the origins of the Mexican army in colonial times. One thing led to another and i found the theme of the presidial soldiers or soldados de cuera. These were soldiers from the colonial era, elite corps. They were generally selected from people who had been born and raised in the border areas and who were used to the harsh conditions of those territories. Made up, therefore, mostly by mestizos, although Creoles and peninsulars also participated. Always accompanied by Indian explorers (i.e. Tlaxcaltécas), these soldiers, despite being made up of castes, were considered equal to the other bodies of the Spanish and even carried more equipment for their campaigns.
For them the main weapon, and the weapon with which they would conquer what is now northern Mexico and the southern United States and the various borders of the Spanish empire was known as the Espada Ancha.This sword design was originally commissioned in Toledo and designed especially for leather soldiers, over time it continued to be produced and evolved in different Mexican armories and its use spread to more members of society. It evolved over the centuries, but can generally be classified into two styles of cutting edge, and generally had the following dimensions:
Edge Thickness: 4 -4.5 cm measured next to the guard
Edge: from 50 to 90 cm
Materials: Wrought Iron/Steel for the edge
Wood, bone, bronze, iron for the handle
The blade was usually engraved with images of the sun, the moon and a star and had typical inscriptions such as: "Don't unsheath without reason, don't sheath me without honor". Same inscriptions that are currently read on knives and machetes produced in the Oaxaca region.
The broadsword design evolved to become indistinguishable from the machete design. But i maintain that the existence and use of the espada ancha is the reason why the use of the machete spread in modern Mexico, the same Mexico that owes its existence as such to the brave soldados de cuera and their espadas anchas. The saddest thing of all is that these soldiers have been almost forgotten and therefore the weapons they used as well. It is very sad that groups of re-enactors and historians of the United States of Anglo-Saxon origin who have nothing to do the leather soldiers know more about them than we do ourselves. There are groups of Spaniards who also want to attribute the leather soldiers as something very Spanish, but these Mexican soldiers were made up mostly of mestizos and some Creoles and commanded by people who had been born here, as was the case of the brave Juan Bautista de Anza, born in Sonora.


Rather than trying to introduce new data on this subject, an improbable win, this is more to show that, the person who said he finds no material in his (Spanish spealing) language ... well, he surely is not searching hard.

Yours ... Fernando .
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Old 26th June 2022, 09:54 PM   #3
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Thank you Fernando! as always very interesting responses.
I will say that this treatment on the history of these is wonderfully entertaining and well illustrates the kind of 'lore' that has thoroughly confounded serious research on these weapons to date.
Indeed this is another 'sequel' at trying to get better perspective in the true history of these.

The 'espada ancha' was never designed in Toledo for the 'soldados de cuera' (=leather jacket soldiers) of the presidios of the frontier colonies. The form evolved entirely in the colonies, and while many examples used the broadsword dragoon blades, the heavy forged blades by blacksmiths were most prevalent for horsemen (mostly vaqueros as well as the mounted soldados, leather jackets).

The 'Spanish motto' (draw me not without reason, nor sheath me without honor) was only on the dragoon blades, never on the locally forged machete (espada ancha) ones.

These were essentially tools for brushing trails, not combat weapons (though they could have been used as required) ....the primary weapon of these leather jacket soldiers was the lance. While some firearms were used, they were typically not serviceable, powder was poor, when available. The sword was all but useless in combat against Indians.

While the full size swords remained in use by officers and the caballeros, the espada ancha (machete) was typically at hand , but seldom as a weapon.
As noted, most of the forces and settlers in frontier regions were mestizo (Spanish and Indian ancestry) but were regarded as Spaniards. Regardless of their place of birth, they closely followed Spanish customs and tradition, and were very proud people, and rightfully so. Like any developing colonial situation there were inherent disparities and difficulties, but myself, having grown up in Southern California (Alta California) I always admired the Spanish/Mexican culture.

The 'Bowie' is mentioned, and here I would note that the Bowie knife did become somewhat aligned with the so called espada ancha in the years after the Alamo (post 1836) in that they were both large bladed knives with similar hilts in most cases. I remember years ago when the late Norm Flayderman was writing his book on the Bowie knife, I was researching 'espada anchas' and we crossed paths in some of the resources.
Actually in many cases 'espada anchas' are mistaken for 'Confederate bowies) due to the heft and similarity.

In later years (c. 1840s+) the espada ancha blade had become shorter and was more of a frontier knife (often derisively termed 'frog sticker' by American frontiersmen for the 'uptick' on the blade tip).

Ironically the earlier frontier character of the espada ancha (machete) did remain favored in some later swords of the Republic of Mexico. This example from probably 1850s-60s was deemed a cutlass with a heavy blade which I believe is Solingen made. Note the hilt similarity to the US M1840 dragoon saber.
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Old 26th June 2022, 10:44 PM   #4
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Jim, that is a known Mexican army cutlass model 1870ish

'Blade is marked “A.C. Mexico” for A. Colubuzier, a supplier of military items to the army. The reverse is marked “R.M.” with liberty cap, which stands for “Republica Mexico” '

There is an earlier rendition with a rather distinctive scabbard.

Photo (and text) from Collectors Firearms.

I don't recall any of them referenced as Espada Ancha or bowies.

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Old 27th June 2022, 12:27 AM   #5
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Thanks very much ! the 1870s sounds right as well as these '1840' style hilts were around for some time. I know they were referred to as cutlass, but am not aware if they had a naval connection despite the term.

I was suggesting that the character of these heavy bladed swords in degree recalled that of the espada ancha form in discussion, not that the term was ever applied. ..just my own observation. Clearly these sabers had nothing to do with Bowie's.

Thank you for the notes on Colubuzier....I couldnt recall the name but thought it was something like that.
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Old 27th June 2022, 07:02 AM   #6
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The espada ancha 'type' of hilts with full length blades were found in the southern sectors of New Spain as well as Caribbean and into South America. These regions were part of the "Spanish Main" still quite active in 19th c.
With that being the case, note the Arab influence with the 'hand nock' in the hilt near pommel, as seen on Moroccan sa'if (nimcha).
This may derive from trade activity from Spanish colonial areas in Morocco of course. The striated shell guards much favored in Spanish colonial hilts also are part of the hilt character.

The second one with larger bowl type striated shell guard is of a form seen in Brazilian regions in first half 19th c. Many Spanish colonial swords in these groups have English blades from c. 1800-10.

Other Spanish colonial swords such as the Caribbean cup hilt and bilbo prevailed in these regions as well in these periods.

The first pics are the version with smaller shell guard.
second the larger bowl type guard
Note the similar character of star type motif, striations. I have seen examples of the bowl guard type with inside langet similar to the first example shown here.
The Moroccan 'nimcha' is shown to illustrate the 'hand nock'.
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Old 27th June 2022, 06:14 PM   #7
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Default The 'round tang' and branched hilt

In around 1810-20s the European style hilts with branched guards became popular in New Spain northern frontier regions it seems. According to Adams (1985), he called these multi quillon branched guards the 'round tang' espada ancha, to carry even further from the distortion on the form.

It is curious that these have the branched guard, often with cup type base and under that a cross guard, all a bit redundant.

Also, and unclear how related (if at all) is this 'espada ancha' termed in one reference a 'cutlass' and with hooked type pommel, as well as notably a branched guard. Unsubstantiated suggestions are the Potosi region, but no sound evidence as yet known.
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:27 AM   #8
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In post #5, the bowl type shell guard, note the serpent creeping near one edge. As we know from examples with provenance from South America on these, and we can presume they were among 'Spanish Main' examples, this example of 'espada ancha' with the serpent on the quillon perhaps is from southern regions as well?
Clearly this is presumption, but at this point it is what is at hand as far as clues.
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Old 28th June 2022, 12:37 PM   #9
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Default Catalan

Jim, maybe you remember my reference to Catalan swords and Catalan forges in Alta Calif. The attached images included an auctioneer's (Czerny) description indicating it was made in Toledo but named it Catalan.
Catalan design forges were established in the colonies and presumably local blacksmiths were supplying troops with these machete blade like swords.
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Old 28th June 2022, 04:11 PM   #10
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Catalan is also a dialect and described territories such as Valencia and Catalunya. The Toledo sword is a Catalunya police hanger.

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Old 28th June 2022, 04:16 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by urbanspaceman View Post
Jim, maybe you remember my reference to Catalan swords and Catalan forges in Alta Calif. The attached images included an auctioneer's (Czerny) description indicating it was made in Toledo but named it Catalan.
Catalan design forges were established in the colonies and presumably local blacksmiths were supplying troops with these machete blade like swords.

Absolutely! and that observation of yours was one of the key breakthroughs in my understanding of these locally produced machetes (=espada anchas).
In Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain (1972) it was noted that the presidio commandantes preferred 'catalonian' blades to the Toledo, as the Toledo were prone to breaking.
While this brought attention to the possibility of blades being made in other than Toledo, that realization was that the term 'catalonian' referred to the type of forges used locally by the smiths, not the place of production.

Over the years it had been held that the 'Spanish motto' blades had been produced in Solingen for the Spanish colonial markets. We then learned that with the reopening of Toledo manufactory in 1760s, there were blades made there and it seems of this type of dragoon blades so well known.

As these blades were sent to Bilbao, from there shipped to the colonies, and there the familiar shell guard hilts of the 18th century military swords were mounted on them....these swords became colloquially known as 'bilbo's.
This appears to have been a British term for swords as early as the time of Shakespeare, and likely for similar reason, that high quality steel came from the Bilbao regions.

In Alta California, as previously noted, the horsemen would use swords for brushing trails through the heavy vegetation, but the long regulation swords were cumbersome and ill suited for this task. This was likely the cause for breakage, and the swing to cutlass like machetes from their use in off ship forays into tropical jungles etc (in the Gulf and Caribbean areas). was probably the inspiration for the weapon we now term 'espada ancha'.

Thank you for coming in on the thread! and especially for this most valuable observation on these forges.
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Old 28th June 2022, 04:32 PM   #12
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In post #5, the bowl type shell guard, note the serpent creeping near one edge. As we know from examples with provenance from South America on these, and we can presume they were among 'Spanish Main' examples, this example of 'espada ancha' with the serpent on the quillon perhaps is from southern regions as well?
Clearly this is presumption, but at this point it is what is at hand as far as clues.
Well, i just saw an example with a similar serpent head on the upper quilllon of a D guard with a clam shell decoration, with a hardwood grip, mounted on a Spanish blade, with Toledo marks dated 1792 and the cypher of King Carlos IV, said to have been found in Texas and of Mexican origin.
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:01 PM   #13
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Well, i just saw an example with a similar serpent head on the upper quilllon of a D guard with a clam shell decoration, with a hardwood grip, mounted on a Spanish blade, with Toledo marks dated 1792 and the cypher of King Carlos IV, said to have been found in Texas and of Mexican origin.
Thanks Fernando, sure would love to see a picture of that. Just to clarify, my suggestion was that the examples of the serpent feature with some sort of provenance imply a certain preponderance in these southern regions. Naturally as movement of settlers and supply moved northward, and as expected, materials and cultural items including weapons moved as well.
That is of course the primary conundrum in trying to establish regional categorization with ethnographic weapons.

In 1760, King Carlos III sought to bring back the sword making industry to Toledo, and began with virtually the only remaining master maker from Valencia. In 1780, the manufactory opened in outskirts of Toledo.
It is not surprising to see the markings of Toledo and Carlos IV on blades, these were coming into the colonies in large bundles for many years.
In these times Texas was part of New Spain (now Mexico).

Attached:
Grouping of long bladed Spanish colonial types and two (on right) espada ancha types
Left to right:
A 'Caribbean cuphilt', these versions of the famed Spanish cuphilt are of course crudely fashioned and prevailed in the 'Spanish Main' areas.

The 'bilbo' regulation Spanish arming sword is the true 'espada ancha' (broadsword). These dragoon blades are double edged, hence the term.
These prevailed throughout Spains colonies including those of the northern frontiers, and in Alta California.

The curious 'guanabacoa' which is an offshoot of these machetes, but seems to have prevailed in Cuba, and east coast Mexico, Vera Cruz. The blade on this is almost a bar of steel, but note the hilt with shell guard (most of these are without). I first learned identification of this from Pierce Chamberlain many years back.

The long blade espada ancha which seems to be of Gulf and Spanish Main prevalence, this example from Spanish colonies in America, probably Florida and latter 19th c.

The so called 'round tang' espada ancha (Adams '85) of form which came into use post 1810 in revolutionary forces.

The shell guard form being discussed with serpent, these known have provenance to Brazil mid 19th c. but seem to have prevailed in Spanish Main regions much earlier, my example has British blade c.1805.

A pair of branched guard sabers which came into use with colonial military prior to 1821. The brass hilt example has the 'Spanish motto' and the familiar 'dragoon' broadsword blade.

The other has blade marked TOLEDO.

These have no royal markings. There was strong affinity for French form which had prevailed even before the Napoleonic overtaking of Spain in 1808.
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:23 PM   #14
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... Catalan design forges were established in the colonies and presumably local blacksmiths were supplying troops with these machete blade like swords.
Such an enticing picture, that of the Catalan furnaces, Keith. I couldn't resist to dig a bit on their history. Allegedly the first set of these built in the colonies (Alta California 1790), when of Gaspar de Portolà’s expedition, which included a Catalan volunteer corps. Situated in the mission of San Juan Capistrano, one of the largest around (1776). Blacksmiths introduced the Catalan style iron processing to the mission neophyts (Juaneño natives) whom until then made their utensiles in wood. Although the range of devices they forged, besides tools, the casting of cannons for the mission defence, they don't appear to have forged blades, much less for trade.
But what do i know; chroniclers might be wrong .
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:26 PM   #15
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Thanks Fernando, sure would love to see a picture of that...
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:37 PM   #16
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... It is not surprising to see the markings of Toledo and Carlos IV on blades, these were coming into the colonies in large bundles for many years...
But this is enough to make those non studious think (some) espadas anchas were made in Toledo .
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:47 PM   #17
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Default Potosi(?) knife

Here is an example of the turn back pommel that seems associated with Potosi, but still seeking more evidence. This resembles the hilt on the similarly pommeled espada ancha I posted, and was found in Arizona.
The association is admittedly tenuous, but of course simply a step toward possible regional affinities.
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Old 28th June 2022, 06:54 PM   #18
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But this is enough to make those non studious think (some) espadas anchas were made in Toledo .
Very true, even the locals in Alta California writing accounts in those times presumed 'every sword' was made in Toledo. This powerful reputation prevailed in literature and much public thought for centuries...every fine sword/blade was from Toledo....to the point it was almost cliche'.

On the blade on the branched hilt saber I just posted, after TOLEDO is the word Sagaun (I believe) which seems to possibly be a corruption of the famed Sahagum, an often spuriously applied name from that Toledo smith.
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Old 1st July 2022, 10:08 AM   #19
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I believe there are many things mixed in this subject.

First we have the origin of the blades. Until c1808, there was no lack of regular crown blades for the army, made in Barcelona or in Toledo. We can imagine there was even an overflow of them after Galvez campaigns in Louisiana and Florida. Brinckerhoff (plate 166) shows blades from a discovery, without mountings, both cavalry and dragoons, ready to be remounted possibly after 1820. These could be cut down to be infantry weapons. Brinkerhoff has plenty of those because he travelled to Madrid Army museum to complete his research.

Shorter weapons could be had from the navy as well.

As in Spain, we find also Solingen blades, with the motto "no me saques sin razon" or others "Por el rey Carlos III". This were private purchases, by officers and by civilians. There is a very interesting article. GODOY, J. A. (1988): «Modelos de espadas y sables para el ejército y armada de Carlos III». Reales Sitios, nº 98. Here the author has described real size, blades cardboard samples, sent to the court by a Solingen cutler c1775, and nowadays at the Simancas archives. I have seen most of those models in real swords from the period. In Brinckerhoff, plates 168 to 172 are of this type. There are curved and straight, infantry and cavalry.

We have also a lot of blade exports of the Carynthia type (plates 127, 131, 134, 135, etc). Straight, three channeled, these blades are found from Scotland to the Caspian sea and India. They were also later made in Solingen for a century and a half (kaskaras).

A variety of these are blades made after the Mexican Independance in Solingen, combining the three channels with Spanish mottoes and false claims to Toledo with fake dating, but quite often with the real Solingen mark as well (P.KNECHT is a common one). Made in 1830 to 1860 but with a much antique look, and used in the non-government side of the sucesive Mexican revolutions. Example below. The writing can be found in script as in cursive, and are easily mistaken with XVIIIth century blades. If weathered and no Solingen mark is present, the main difference is in the existence of a squarish ricasso, and the regularity of the channels, thinner and closer.

Then we have the blades made locally, usually shorter types, and the types above disfigured beyond recognition, of what little systematics can be done.

About the hilts, they could be done locally, but specially after 1808 when no more supplies from Spain could be had. The more fantastic ones (those with the quillions under the shell) I believe are from later times, about 1850, as the revolutionary commanders mixed their wishes of connection with their people with a (fake or real) Toledo blade.

It is possible to find typical Solingen hilts (three barred, iron) but I believe most blades were sent without mountings and they were provided in Mexico.

So, under Espadas anchas we have many different things, product of a 100 yers of tumultuous warfare in Greater Mexico.

The description I make of the picture above is:
1st one is a cheaper copy of a Brescian hilt, made probably in Europe, 2nd is a 1728 cavalry model from a still unknown factory (I suspect now Trubia, in Northern Spain c1790).
A Cuban machete after 1880 (3rd from the left, Guanabacoa type). 4th, much older hilt than the blade, I can no say sure if is or is not a Espada Ancha. Closely related to number 6th, that I believe is a Brazilian c1840-1860 sword, for long thought to be "moorish" by many antiquarians. There could be an interesting evolutionary relation there. The 5th is very interesting because those grip cylinder types with caps were often used in 1760-1800 by Spanish private officers in infantry and navy, often in silver, but what we have here I believe is a Mexican revolutionary sword from c1850-1860, so a grip making tradition was kept for a century.
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Old 1st July 2022, 02:56 PM   #20
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Lets give a look to the subject of three fullered blades.

I believe this 3 are from Solingen around 1840, made for Mexican market. All marked with the "No me saques" motto, but only the first one marked P.KNECHT (Lunechloss is another common one).
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Old 1st July 2022, 03:04 PM   #21
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These 2 are real XVIIIth century three fullered blades from Spanish 1728 models. Three fullered blades although they exist, are a minority of 1728 blades. Most are non fullered or single fullered.
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Old 1st July 2022, 03:22 PM   #22
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So.

What is this?
A)Colonial period using remounted Spanish cavalry blade.

B)Republican period using Solingen exported 1830-1850 blades imitating the above.

C) Older hilt with a Solingen newer blade.
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Old 1st July 2022, 03:53 PM   #23
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Now lets give a look to the two caps grips.
These are common both in swords as in knifes. They are not limited to colonial, they were everywhere in the Spanish world up to XXth century.
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Last edited by midelburgo; 1st July 2022 at 04:10 PM.
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Old 1st July 2022, 11:02 PM   #24
Jim McDougall
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Thank you so much!!These are excellent observations and insights, and all very well placed. With the 'Spanish motto' blades, there has long been a 'back and forth' on whether these were Solingen or indeed Toledo blades as it seems most people in the colonies assumed.
In one narrative, one caballero of Alta California suggested, 'every man had a Toledo bladed sword'. As most of the 'bilbo' swords and dragoon blades in three bar hilts had the motto, of course it implied these were made in Toledo.

However, I had forgotten about the Knecht purveyor, who, as noted in Wallace Collection (Mann. 1962) indeed handled blades with the Spanish motto.
There does seem to be some variation in these, both in fuller pattern and lettering etc. so perhaps there may have been some production in Spain. The Toledo manufactory opened in late 1760s and this may have accounted for some of these.

There were large quantities of these dragoon blades in New Spain which had been stockpiled long before the 'supply chain' termination after the 1810 insurrections.

It is indeed pretty hard to attach the Spanish colonial designation on many of these kinds of swords, there were rather rugged in character as made in rural areas in Spain on occasion. It would seem that ersatz examples were made in many cases outside the 'regulation' specification, and using components and materials available. That to me is one of the most fascinating aspects in this field of collecting.
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