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Thread: "half basket" swords for Rev War Highland Regiment?

  1. #1
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    "half basket" swords for Rev War Highland Regiment?

    I've noticed in Samuel Graham's memoirs re the 76th Regiment of Foot (Macdonald's Highlanders) 1777-1784 that the enlisted men, at least initially, all had "half basket swords".

    Anyone know what would have been "standard issue" to a Highland regiment at this time? Would it have been the "British Hanger, model 1751" as pictured here: http://gggodwin.com/56.htm ? And, is this the type of sword that would have been referred to as a "half basket"?

  2. #2
    Hi James,
    Standard issue would have been the style with the sheet metal baskets pierced with triangles and circles, usually with a large conical pommel. "Scottish Swords and Dirks", plate 42, shows a better than average example. However, I'm not sure when issuing baskets to the Scottish units ceased, bit I think these would have been used in the time frame you're after.

    I don't know what they may have meant by "half baskets"; nowdays we don't call the 1751 a half basket, but I suppose they could have used it for the 1751 back then.

    Hope this helps a bi

    --ElJay

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    James,
    This is a very interesting question and I have torn through files and references in the strata of my den to find anything I could. Eljay is exactly right about the English made sheet metal basket hilt swords, that looked like Scottish baskethilts, only industrial knockoffs of them. These were made by Drury or Jeffries in about mid to third quarter 18th c. These were carried by Highland regiments as early as 1750 (most seem to date 1770's) but things get rather complex as swords for other ranks began to be proscribed about the 1760's (except for Black Watch, 42nd Highlanders). In 1784 I believe official warrants eliminated swords for privates or regular soldiers in infantry regiments.

    MacDonalds Highlanders, 76th Regiment 1777-1784 consisted of seven companies incl. flank, light and grenadiers. They were posted to New York 1779.
    It is interesting to note that references I checked suggest that the sword was considered rather superfluous during the American Revolution by British infantry forces. One document issued in 1784 (the year that swords were abolished for infantry regular soldiers) noted that even the grenadier swords were never used during that war, and that it was now time to lay them aside.
    (" A British Grenadiers Scimitar of the 18th Century" , A.D.Darling, "Canadian Journal of Arms Collecting" Vol.28 #1, p.6)

    In the mid eighteenth century, the Highland regiments regular soldiers did carry swords, and apparantly these were bought for them by the Colonel of the regiment. There were apparantly a wide range of designs in use as the Colonel had to replace these and there were no regular stores or supplies. It appears there was a great deal of consternation about regular soldiers having swords off duty however, as they would often be used in the commonplace brawls in taverns etc. On duty, they became more of an encumbrance with the many other articles of kit required by the soldiers.
    The M1751 infantry hanger you note actually received that date primarily from the Morier paintings of that year which recorded the many uniforms of regiments in the British Army. It was I believe actually a 1742 model, and commonly used in the English units. I cannot image that hilt perceived as a half basket, as a half basket in my interpretation is a hilt with basically a knucklebow with added knuckleguard protection whether bars or openwork covering only the front side of the hilt.

    By 1777, swords for regular soldiers or privates of infantry units were somewhat out of favor and it is a bit of a puzzle what type sword is being referred to, as 'half basket' does not respond to either the simple hangers of 'M1751' type nor the baskethilt type discussed ( as noted not generally issued to all Highland units, and in limited instances).
    Also to be considered is that the grenadier units typically did have hangers (=curved sabres), although they clearly also did not consider them essential as seen in the 1784 reference (although this reference is with regard to 42nd Regt).
    To qualify even further, officers had considerable license in their choice of sabres for wear, and may well have had half basket guards on them. What these may have been is hard to say, but in the case of officers swords there is a better chance of identifying markings etc.

    In summary, it seems doubtful that the regular infantry troopers would have had hangers, as it seems expenditure for a weapon that was being so much reconsidered and regarded an encumbrance by 1777 would be unnecessary. It does seem possible that the grenadier unit(s) may have had some sort of sword , but it would seem again, not much used. Possibly the memoirs are referring to swords used by them?
    Possibly in the formation of the unit the understandable enthusiasm may have compelled the issue of a specific sword, even to all troopers, but again the expense, especially of even a hanger with this type guard seems questionable. If such swords do exist, their collectible value would be inestimable.

    refs: "Swords for the Highland Regiments 1757-1784"
    Anthony D. Darling, Mowbray, 1988 (pp.17-18)

    "Uniforms and History of the Scottish Regiments"
    Maj. R. Money Barnes, London, 1956, (p.272)

    "Sword, Lance and Bayonet"
    Charles Ffoulkes, N.Y. 1938, (p.71,72,74)

    While what I have found is anything but an answer, perhaps it will serve as a basis for references already checked. Probably a good resource would be to contact the National Army Museum in London. Outstanding resources and always very helpful.
    With best regards, Jim
    Last edited by Jim McDougall; 08-31-2003 at 07:28 AM.

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    What do you folks make of this one?



    Description and enlargeable view of hilt at the British National Maritime Museum.
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

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    Originally posted by Scott Bubar
    What do you folks make of this one?



    Description and enlargeable view of hilt at the British National Maritime Museum.

    Hi Scott,
    Now that's really unusual! Clearly an interpretation of a Scottish baskethilt with reduced guard, I've never really seen one like this.
    While this type sword seems more like a British dragoon sword of the 1780's there was a degree of association between swords of naval officers and cavalry officers swords.
    This would be an good application of the term semi basket though.

    The note in the catalog description is interesting, suggesting that the Highland broadsword was never used at sea. I would have to disagree with that, especially with application to the opening of the 18th century. The broadsword blades and extra hand protection of the Scottish baskethilt provided ideal provisions for maritime use, also these weapons were typically treated by either painting black or browning (russeting) to resist the dank climate where they were to be used. I can recall one narrative c.1715 which notes a Highlander aboard ship wielding his broadsword. It is also well established that the so called Sinclair sabres which were the ancestors of the Scottish baskethilt were also proto-cutlasses often with maritime use.

    Thanks for posting that Scott, what a beauty of a sword!
    Best regards, Jim

  6. #6
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    Originally posted by Jim McDougall
    ... The note in the catalog description is interesting, suggesting that the Highland broadsword was never used at sea. I would have to disagree with that, especially with application to the opening of the 18th century. ...
    I agree, Jim. I was in fact astonished that they would make this statement. It was of course common practice for officers both in the army and the navy at the time to have a sword or sword which they used in combat in addition to their dress sword. The staff at the NMM are certainly aware of this, as indicated by the designation of "fighting sword" given to a number of specimens in their collection.

    Why they would exclude this one is beyond me. There is certainly precedence, as you indicate.

    Perhaps they haven't read the accounts of Blackbeard's demise?
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

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    Re: "half basket" swords for Rev War Highland Regiment?

    Originally posted by James Taylor
    I've noticed in Samuel Graham's memoirs re the 76th Regiment of Foot (Macdonald's Highlanders) 1777-1784 that the enlisted men, at least initially, all had "half basket swords".

    Anyone know what would have been "standard issue" to a Highland regiment at this time? Would it have been the "British Hanger, model 1751" as pictured here: http://gggodwin.com/56.htm ? And, is this the type of sword that would have been referred to as a "half basket"?
    Hope I am not altering the origimal topic of this thread by asking my question, but I am wondering whether anyone posting on this thread owns any of the swords advertised on this link? If so, what is their over all quality, and are they sharp?

    Regards, Michael

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    Thumbs up

    Originally posted by Scott Bubar


    I agree, Jim. I was in fact astonished that they would make this statement. It was of course common practice for officers both in the army and the navy at the time to have a sword or sword which they used in combat in addition to their dress sword. The staff at the NMM are certainly aware of this, as indicated by the designation of "fighting sword" given to a number of specimens in their collection.

    Why they would exclude this one is beyond me. There is certainly precedence, as you indicate.

    Perhaps they haven't read the accounts of Blackbeard's demise?
    Scott,
    You are amazing! The account I was referring to was exactly that, the death of Blackbeard!
    All the best, Jim

  9. #9
    Hi Scott,
    Interesting basket from the Maritime Museum! My vote is that this is an English dragoon/cav sword, as I can see a trailing rein oval peeking out from behind the grip. It looks like the owner decided to lighten things up by removing hilt elements before heading out to sea.

    Hi Jim,
    You certainly covered all the pertinent information! I remember how large your library was back when we both lived in the Orange County area of Calif.; I'm sure it's really mind-boggling now!

    Hi James,
    The post by Juan Perez about his trip to Edinburgh has 3 swords with the sheetmetal guards and conical pommel. They're in the first photo and are the first 3 swords on the left that are completely in the picture.

    --ElJay

  10. #10
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    Good sight, ElJay! I supposed that this is the pattern you were talking about.

    In the nearby Scot Greys Regimental Museum they named a very similar sword as "1768 pattern", although I don't know for certain if it is right or not...

    Since the pics in my post have been reduced a bit to fit forum attachment max size, I´ll post now a detail of this part of the picture, in its original resolution.

    Juan
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  11. #11
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    Originally posted by E.B. Erickson
    Hi Scott,
    Interesting basket from the Maritime Museum! My vote is that this is an English dragoon/cav sword, as I can see a trailing rein oval peeking out from behind the grip. It looks like the owner decided to lighten things up by removing hilt elements before heading out to sea.

    Hi Jim,
    You certainly covered all the pertinent information! I remember how large your library was back when we both lived in the Orange County area of Calif.; I'm sure it's really mind-boggling now!

    Hi James,
    The post by Juan Perez about his trip to Edinburgh has 3 swords with the sheetmetal guards and conical pommel. They're in the first photo and are the first 3 swords on the left that are completely in the picture.

    --ElJay
    Hi Eljay,
    I think my obsession with swords was well exceeded by my never ending search for books, and the library really has become mind boggling! (although thats not the expression the movers have used!!)
    I agree with your idea on this 'reduced' baskethilt, but it actually looks pretty good. It seems that the early years of the 19th c. there was considerable focus on reducing sword guards on the innerside to stop the chafing of uniforms and I'm sure to wear more comfortably. The M1796 disc hilts after Waterloo began to have inner side of the disc taken off . In the later years the regimental baskethilt form patterns of the Scottish regiments started having those interchangeable hilts where the basket could be removed .
    I love the photo of the baskethilts from the Scots Greys Museum posted by Juan! I gotta get there someday!
    All the best, Jim

  12. #12
    Hello All,

    Sorry to resurrect this post after such a long time but while looking up something else, I've just stumbled across a reference that may be of interest.

    When the Board of General Officers gave its recommendations for the first patterns of swords for the British army in 1788, the heavy cavalry sword was described thus:

    "That the Hilts of the Swords for Regiments of Dragoon Guards and Dragoons should be half Basket, the same form as those of the 6th or Inniskilling Regiment of Dragoons ...."

    Robson on page 10 identifies a sword of the Inniskilling Dragoons dating from 1779 which is indeed the precursor to the 1788 pattern (see photo below borrowed from Robson - I hope I am not in trouble!).

    So, "half basket" in those days is clearly what we would now call a "three-quarter" or even "full" basket. As we so often find, the lack of precision in old regulations does often cause confusion in later days.

    I hope this is of some help.

    Richard.
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    This reminds me somewhat of a hanger Neumann describes as having a half-basket in Swords & Blades of the American Revolution. I don't have a scanner, but:

    This half-basket grenadier hanger still retains its thin buckskin liner (four shaped pieces sewn together). Notice how the three outboard and single inboard branches create a scroll pattern in unison. It's heart-shaped counterguard is open, while the flat ring at the base of the ovoid pommel joins the upper elements of the basket.
    He as a couple of interesting "semi-baskets" as well.

    Also of interest is a sword from the Earlshall collection at Pat Tougher's site described as having a half-basket:

    http://www.scottishsword.com/AntiqueSword33.htm
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

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