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Thread: Questions about the Starr M1808 Horseman Saber

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Annandale, VA

    Questions about the Starr M1808 Horseman Saber

    Below are some photos of my latest acquisition, a Starr M1808 horseman’s saber.

    Name:  M1808 Cavalry US 1.jpg
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Size:  105.5 KBName:  M1808 Cavalry US 4.jpg
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Size:  93.0 KBName:  M1808 Cavalry US 6.jpg
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    Often when I post photos of new acquisitions it is to gloat a little on what a great bargain I have found. Not so this time; if anything, I overpaid to bring this beauty home. But even having researched all the usual reference works, I still have unanswered questions about it – there just doesn’t seem to be much info out there on this model. Perhaps some Forum members might be able to help.

    First, what is the proper designation of this saber? I see it called alternately both the M1808 and the M1810, with M1808 being the more common. I suspect the 1808 date comes from Harold Peterson who in his “old testament” lists this sword as item “26. Militia Cavalry Sword by Starr, c.1808”. According to Peterson, these swords were made under State contract while Starr was making swords for several New England States prior to the Federal Government provision of arms to the States under the Arming of the Militia Act of 1808. The M1810 designation may come from Richard Bezdek’s work “Swords and Sword Makers of the War of 1812” which asserts Starr received a contract c.1810 for cavalry sabers. He provides very little information about this contract, not even any evidence to support its existence, much less details on its dates or the numbers of sabers ordered/delivered. Hicks, in his 1940 work, does not even mention the existence of this model. My guess is that Bezdek is right and that Starr did receive a contract in 1810 similar to the Winner contract, but that is just a hunch for which I have no evidence.

    There are two variations in the markings on the blades of these swords. Some are stamped “U S” on the reverse side of the blade like my saber above, others are marked with a “V” as shown below. (Presumably the "V" is for “viewed” or “verified”.) Both varieties are stamped on the obverse with the name “N.STARR” in raised letters in a sunken cartouche.

    Name:  M1808 Cavalry rb 7.jpg
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    What is the significance, if any, of the difference in markings? One possibility which comes to mind is that the “U S”-marked swords were purchased for the Federal Government for its own use, and that the “V”-marked swords were purchased by the Federal Government for issue to the States under the Arming of the Militia Act. (I do not believe Peterson was right that these swords were purchased by the States directly. They are too uniformly marked. If purchased separately by the various States, I would expect to see a variety of inspection/accession marks, not just a uniform “V”.) Another possibility would be timing, with one mark being used first, then the other.

    A friend who is quite knowledgeable about early Federal swords suggested another explanation. In his work on Swords of the Springfield Armory, Burton Kellerstadt tells us Springfield produced horsemen’s sabers from 1808 until 1812. In his discussion of these swords, he includes a 10 Sept 1812 letter from Calander Irvine, the Commissary General, suggesting 500 cavalry blades currently at the Springfield Armory be transferred to his location in Philadelphia, and that he would have them hilted. There is no follow-up correspondence to indicate whether this was done and, if so, by whom. Bezdek, however, states in his book that Starr “Mounted 500 cavalry saber blades for the U.S. Springfield Armory (1812)”. He provides no source for this allegation or any further details. If he is correct, however, my friend suggests that the “U.S.” stamp may indicate these M1808 swords were mounted with Springfield made blades.

    What do you all think?
    Last edited by Richard Schenk; 02-20-2018 at 10:56 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    North West US
    I think pretty much what you stated but other than the circumstantial evidence you listed have been unable to confirm. I will post some photos of the other m1810s on my return home. If you would give total, blade, width, fuller, POB, curve of blade and weight on yours it would be great for me. I am out of country and will be for some time but promise to post info on my return. I have tried to purchase one of the US marked m1810s for a long time but only have a relic. Yours is a beautiful example compared to most. Trooper swords never retain the care of officer swords. It is gorgeous. Eric
    The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people." --- Tench Coxe


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