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Thread: British infantry swords, m. 1796 and m. 1803

  1. #1
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    British infantry swords, m. 1796 and m. 1803

    I would like to start a thread regarding British m. 1796 infantry officer's sword and m. 1803 infantry officer's saber as used during the Napoleonic conflicts--just a thread to share various personal observations or insights from other sources including, construction, cutlers, retailing, merits/problems of the two models, preferences of officers, etc. Please do join in. Thanks much.
    Tom Donoho

  2. #2
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    As to flank officers swords, was it an accepted variation to mount these flank (widely curved) blades to m. 1803 hilts? It doesn't seem as if it would be effective--was it just for show?
    Tom Donoho

  3. #3
    My favorite sword models! But historically other Brit patterns were used too.
    This raises the question for many in my home town. Which sword pattern did the Brits use 06 June 1813 Battle of Stoney Creek? Kings 8th, the 49 & 41 Foot, Royal Artillery, a few militia, Officers and Sgts.

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    Flank Officer's sword

    Quote Originally Posted by T. Donoho View Post
    As to flank officers swords, was it an accepted variation to mount these flank (widely curved) blades to m. 1803 hilts? It doesn't seem as if it would be effective--was it just for show?

    I've seen several 1803 hilts on some highly curved blades....but none as extreme as the flank officer's "scimitar" blade at the top of this grouping. The British Army Museum has commented on this specific sword as being a fashionable "accessory" for Militia level officers after the Egyptian Campaign in 1801. I doubt it could be used as a scythe without cutting your leg or thigh in gruesome fashion.

    The regular P1803 beneath this flank sword shows the variation in a practical curve vs an amusing discussion item with the ladies at the local lord's ball for his militia cohorts!

    The P1803 is truly a classic and at least an impressive weapon to look at, if not try to use due to unwieldiness - the P 1796 Cavalry Officer's version below the 1803 has the sizzle and swish visually and in the hand!
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    All the best, Hugh

    "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!"
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  5. #5
    What a great thread! I'm always glad to discuss 18th century swords, which seems to have become a topic that has dwindled on this site in the last few years.

    I ended up with a rather nice collection of 1796 British Infantry Swords, though (as often happens with collectors) I didn't set out to do so. I also have some nice variation of this model. Two items for discussion concerning this classic Officer of the Line straight sword that I would like to talk about are:
    1) The variations of blade on this model. Even though an officer was expected to carry this sword when leading troops, did he expect to really fight with it, or use it more as a rallying and signaling device for his men?
    2) This pattern was originally created by the Prussians and later adopted by the British. The British used this pattern prior to 1796. (I wonder if it was encountered by the British when they allied with the Prussians during the 7 years war?) I would love to see some Prussian examples of this pattern (I have one pic of such a sword) and also would love to find examples of Pre-96 British versions of this sword. Also how to spot or identify a British Pre-96 version. (Since they may have been using them from the 1750's on.)

    P.S. I have one interesting British Lt. Infantry Officer Sabre that I have some difficulty dating but is of the Napoleonic Period.

    Looking forward to chatting more about these classic swords,
    Morgan
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  6. #6
    Here is a pic of a Prussian Infantry Officer Sword. Very clearly the model of the British version. There is another pic of one floating around on this site but I can't find it. It has the fixed butterfly guard with the acanthus leaves and a brass wire grip in a compact hilt. The blade is the single edged spadroon variety with the brass plug in the forte that says "Potsdam". Very nice looking, maybe someone else will be able to recall it and locate it.
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    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

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    British Pre-96

    Quote Originally Posted by morgan butler View Post
    What a great thread! I'm always glad to discuss 18th century swords, which seems to have become a topic that has dwindled on this site in the last few years.

    .............also would love to find examples of Pre-96 British versions of this sword. Also how to spot or identify a British Pre-96 version. (Since they may have been using them from the 1750's on.)

    Looking forward to chatting more about these classic swords,
    Morgan
    Hi Morgan, the spadroon in the pics below, to my best guess, is a 1780's or so officer's weapon. The spadroon blade is the same as the 1796. The sword has a bone grip, with crinkle guard, inset heart motif and etched Royal crest and motto.

    I remember reading that earlier regimental sword styles were at the discretion of the Colonel, and maybe this sword is of the pre-96 period?

    Would appreciate any better insights on age of this example!
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    All the best, Hugh

    "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!"
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  8. #8
    The 1803 pattern curved blade was all about show. Light infantry officers liked to dress a bit like light cavalry officers, so we have caved blades and in some cases they even wear hussar type pelisse. I have two 1803 swords, one with a grenade device on the guard denoting that it belonged to an officer in the grenader company. The second as the very curved blade as per the picture from the grouping. useless for any fighting and so very easy to take an eye out. michael

  9. #9
    Hello H.F.,

    Yes, a very nice Spadroon with scalloped (?) loop guard. In the 1786 Brit. Infantry Officer Sword Pattern, only the blade was specified. A spadroon blade to be exact. Every thing else was up to the wearer/buyer or as you say whoever "raised" the regiment. The Royal Crest on your blade still has Fluer De Lie's on it, so I believe that makes it Pre- 1801. Always nice!
    @Michael,
    My thought on the Light Infantry Swords is, besides the fact of wanting an "elite" status sword (which it was) is that when sprinting over hill and dale and irregular ground, a shorter, more curved sword is less likely to trip up your legs whilst in the scabbard. A great example being Richard Sharp of story and T.V. I can't imagine that a soldier as salty as Sharpe wouldn't snap to the fact that a giant HC sword was going to beat hell out of his leg every day and leave a very large and painful bruise while he marched about. I'm sure he would've traded it in for a different sword.
    However for me, the "thrust" of this thread was to discuss the 1796 Pattern, which was a rather large variation of the smallsword hilt, but without the pas de an's. In retrospect I rather like the 96 pattern. As has been pointed out before, it really is just a militarized version of the smallsword. Basically it is the English version of the Epee' Soldat. Another militarized smallsword used by the French Officers in the 18th century. Both of them are designed to be used with a fencing technique. The Spadroon is just a bit less obvious because of it's single edged profile. The military smallsword really equates to another type of sword (in my opinion), the Transitional Rapier. The Trans-Rapier is another type of sword that I really fancy. The Epee Soldat and the Spadroon (especially the 96) is just a shorter and more compact version.
    I think the many complaints about the 96 stem from the fact that it really was an 18th century sword being used in a 19th century war, where even officers are carrying big sabre's. Also I find there are not any recorded complaints about it prior to the Napoleonic Wars, even though it was used by army field officers for about 50 years.
    I think the 1796 Spadroon would have made a fantastic civilians traveling weapon were it not for the fact that civilians had pretty much stopped wearing swords on the city streets and country roads for some time by it's introduction. Here is a couple pics, one of my British Lt. Infantry Sword and other of a Pre-1801, 1796 Pattern.
    I would like to see if anyone can date the sabre. Also I would like to exhibit this 96 variation. It has a 31 inch doubled edged blade with motto's and Cypher. The hilt is rather long. Question: Could this only be for dress or could an officer have worn it in the field?
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  10. #10
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    1803 fashion

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Callaghan View Post
    The 1803 pattern curved blade was all about show. Light infantry officers liked to dress a bit like light cavalry officers, so we have caved blades and in some cases they even wear hussar type pelisse.
    By coincidence Michael, per your comment on the lights officers wearing a hussar style pelisse, the scimitar-curve saber at top in my grouping pic has a very detailed etching of an officer decked out in such a pelisse and a tall cap similar to the 95th Rifles style. He is also holding an extreme curve saber.

    The attached pic of the Rifles officer is exactly how the officer in the etching on my sword is attired.
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    All the best, Hugh

    "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!"
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

  11. #11
    That makes sense. Napoleon had raised the opinion and status of Light Infantry Tactics. Most of the light infantry officer swords I have seen have 28 to 30 inch blades on them. Ideal for moving quickly over rough ground and for close in fighting. The straight sword of the line was still for flourishing and letting troops know where there officer was to rally around.
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  12. #12
    hi, the uniform of officers of the 95th and the 60th did list a pelisse as part of their uniform. But officers from line regiment no matter if they where part of the regiments light company or not should never have as part of their uniform the pelisse. It was just that wellington took little interest in how his men looked that officers got to wear non reg items of uniform. As to Morgans sabre, I think it more likely to be a fighting weapon then dress. I have a number of plain sabres of the napoleonic period fitted with good german blades but no blue and gold to be seen. more them like they cost less, so not to much of a worry if lost etc. michael

  13. #13
    Hello Michael,
    Didn't officers of the line carry the 96 infantry sword? What/who decided whether officers carried the 1803 or the 1796 infantry swords?
    As to my sabre pics , it was definitely a fighting weapon, the type of swords I like most. I don't know that it was cheaper though. That is a very high quality blade with 3 fullers to it. The little button on the top of the knuckle guard seems individual as well.
    My question on whether dress or battle was directed at the photo's of the 1796 that I posted. Often I find the line is very blurry when it comes to the 1796 spadroon. Almost as if the powers that be were mere interested in the appearance of the hilt than the the type of blade that was mounted on it. I do have a couple of "Fighting" 1796's that I will post soon. Both are probably pre-1790s and may be as old as the 1760's!
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  14. #14
    In answer, the 95th was an elite regiment and many would say the first regiment of the modern british army. Officers had all light infantry status and did not carry the 1796 pattern line infantry company sword.The only officers of the line regiments to carry the 1796 sword was the centre company officers. Officers of the grendier and light companys would have the 1803 sword. In real life I think you would of found that officers with smaller wallets would of taken into battle older blades, maybe until after the first battle when fallen officers weapons etc would go to auction within the regiment. I have a spadroon with an interesting inscription in latin, it reads. The horrors that I have seen and will do ". I think it fair to say that there would of been officers who would of still owned the spadroon and taken it into the field at the start of the napoleonic wars, but not later. michael

  15. #15
    I once had the pleasure of hefting a pair of 03 sabres. I found they had a nice balance and weight, but probably would have been better to wield on horse back.
    Here is a fighting model of the 1796 Infantry Officer sword. It it probably prior to 96. A most unusual piece. Note the huge (for the time) pommel and rear quillion. This was definately made for combat. The blade is just over 31 inches and 1.5 inches at the forte. weighs about 1.75 pds. Also the butterfly guard is thicker than normal as well and without the acanthus leaves. A great fighting sword with a wonderful balance and heft. The grip is shagreen (ray-skin) This is not a standard 96 by any means and I don't think the officer who had it made did so just for the pleasure of a heavy sword banging on his hip. I have seen other 96's with a double edged blade but always on a standard hilt. This one's hilt is of a different scale and weight. I've always been pleased with this find. I wonder if it could be dated back to the 7 Years War.....
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    Last edited by morgan butler; 04-23-2013 at 12:35 PM.
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  16. #16
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    Nice sword. Keep them coming. Thanks for keeping this thread rolling.
    Tom Donoho

  17. #17
    Hi,
    Here's a 1796 Sergeant's sword to add to the mix. Weight just shy of 1lb 8oz, overall length 35 3/4 inches, blade length 29 inches, blade width 1 3/16 inches and blade thickness a shade under 3/8 inches.
    Regards,
    Norman.
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  18. #18
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Size:  98.5 KBHi all; I actually posted a new thread with a query regarding a 1796pattern light cavalry sabre I have acquired, and then found this thread, which seems to exactly hit the mark, so I paste my original query below, and post photos, in the hope someone might be able to shed light....

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    New to sword collecting; first post.

    I have acquired a beat up 1796 LC pattern sabre that is in need of some minor repair at the hilt, and I have a good blacksmith prepared to make the repair. Basically, the hilt tang seal has gone, and this particular model is without the rivet struck through the hilt that I see on many examples, so without the tang seal, it just disassembles itself! There are no makers marks to the blade visible, though there is a patina of rust over the whole blade which may be obscuring proof marks if any.

    However, the disintegration of the hilt assembly has revealed some letters and marks printed on the tang, and I am curious as to whether anyone could identify these. When we make the repair obviously these marks will be obscured for the long term once more, so I should like to attempt the identification before all is buried once more. All the components to the hilt appear to be original; Also, what does it mean that this particular example is missing the rivet through the handle and tang?

    As far as the marks are concerned I think I perceive a J, inverted, a G, and then three Rs. On the reverse of the tang is a star punch.

    We intend to make a seamless weld to the pommel and tang tip, and get the whole lot rubbed off nicely with beeswax; though don't ask me too much technical stuff, I am relying on Wayne the Welder.

    Looking forward to some answers all.

    Rgds

    Alex
    Last edited by Alex Smith; 04-26-2013 at 02:07 AM.

  19. #19
    Actually Alex, this thread is about the 76 infantry sword, not the cavalry sabre.
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  20. #20
    "Hi,
    Here's a 1796 Sergeant's sword to add to the mix. Weight just shy of 1lb 8oz, overall length 35 3/4 inches, blade length 29 inches, blade width 1 3/16 inches and blade thickness a shade under 3/8 inches.
    Regards,
    Norman. "
    You're a lucky devil to have gotten one with the scabbard Norman! I missed out on getting one with a complete scabbard last year because I was short on funds. Drat!
    I have really developed a fondness for the Sgt's Spadroon. It's a very handsome, classical and no nonsense side arm. It is eminently suitable for a fencing style yet can be used to defend against somewhat heavier weapons than just against another small sword. I have a similar spadroon, though not technically a Sgt's sword because it has acanthus leaves on the guard. Instead of foil it has the copper wire. The blade is also about 29 inches as is Norman's. The rear quillion is sort of shapeless however due to repairs on it, but I still am very fond of it and it handles very well when I do tai-chi with it. And the Sgt's model should definitely be included in a discussion about the 96 Spadroon. Really, this is an 18 century sword we're talking about, though it is most well known for a 19th cen. war that it was used in.
    The 1796 seems to me to be a germanic/english verision of the French Epee' Soldat. I'm sure that was the type of sword that the "slim back-sword/spadroon" was envisioned going up against. I'll include some pics of a French 18th cen NCO sword for comparison.
    However the 1796 was in use long before this designation and in various forms from fancy to very plain. (The earlier, the plainer.) I almost wish we could come up with a better name for it. Hmm.
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    Last edited by morgan butler; 04-26-2013 at 01:15 PM.
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  21. #21
    Yes, just realised Morgan, sorry!

  22. #22

    two 1803 pattern swords

    hi chaps, here are pics of two 1803 swords from my collection. I hope that you can see that within the same pattern there are a number of differences from how fine the lions head is worked to the leather or fishskin used for the grip. michael
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  23. #23
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    1796 Infantry sergeants sword with brass wire on the grip ?

    Hi, very interesting thread! Perhaps my latest sword could be of interest here?
    I recently found what I think is a 1796 infantry sergeants sword at an auction in Sweden.
    It has a very plain, brass hilt and blade without any decorations, the blade is single edged
    and 29" in length, the total length is 35 1/4", the dark brown wooden grip has lost its wire,
    but there is something strange about the wire ends that still stick out a fraction of a milimetre
    from two holes at the end of the grip, it is twisted brass wire in both holes.
    From what I´ve read in this forum and elsewhere, I expected that it should have been copper wire.
    I would like to replace the wire to the grip, but I´m not sure what wire to use, brass or copper?
    Was there ever a 1796 sergeants sword with brass wire wrapped grip?
    Or could it be some later repair/refurbishing?
    The wire is very firmly anchored by the way, it is not simply glued in a hole in the grip
    as usual in restorations.
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  24. #24
    Congrats Tomas,
    That pattern was originally Prussian in origin and it became popular with the British, maybe during the 7 Years War when Prussia and England were allies. Many officers used the undecorated version of this sword in the 18th century, so it doesn't necessarily have to be a NCO sword. While uncommon, I have seen a pic of a 96 infantry sword with a brass wire grip, probably an officers. I'll see if I can find it.
    Peace, Love, SWORDS!

  25. #25
    Nice to see this thread resurrected. Of course, there were a number of regimental patterns in this period as well - do they qualify for inclusion here? If so, here are three to get things going:

    1 - 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers c. 1809
    2 - 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers c. 1803
    3 - 2nd (Queen's Royal) Regiment of Foot c. 1819

    Richard
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    Celeriter nil crede

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