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Thread: Do you own any numbered and dated SJ Pillin swords?

  1. #1
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    Do you own any numbered and dated SJ Pillin swords?

    Hi All,

    Just acquired an interesting Pillin sword with owner's family motto but no other signs of provenance. From the looks of it, it seems to have Indian connections, though there are no cyphers either of Queen Victoria or the HEIC. The serial number is 99727, which should help me to date it; however, OldSwords has very few examples of numbered Pillin swords, and none which would allow me to date it more accurately than "1881 to 1922".

    Does anyone have a named and numbered Pillin sword similar to the above which would give me a fixed date point and thus allow me to narrow down the manufacture period more closely? The maker's address given (SJ Pillin, 31 Gerrard St., Soho) retales to such a wide span of years it isn't really much help!

    Thanks for all replies,

    John
    PS: The hilt style is non-standard and therefore no help in dating the sword - bit of a one-off! The blade is of modified pre-1892 type, (very) slightly curved with single fuller.
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  2. #2
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    Hi John,
    Not much help, but:
    My only Pillin manufactured sword which I can situate is a claymore bladed Scots sword from the 93rd Highlanders, with crest and initials, but no number.. I have been able to guess as dating to the early/mid 1860s based on the original owner being in the UK and the battle honours applied in the etching.

    Mottoes: Scottish mottoes form part of an heraldic achievement and therefore are easier to situate to a family group or cadet line/house. Irish mottoes only form a part of an achievement if mentioned in the specific text description, and the same is re-confirmed for successive generations. In contrast, mottoes do not form part of English achievements, although often pictured; they are not mentioned in the text unless it forms an augmentation or other such honour, and so a motto maybe changed as the armiger desired. However, there are a number of mottoes that have been associated with certain families for generations. If you post the motto I’ll happily look it up for you, thereby, at least giving you a start in searching the Army Lists for a candidate.
    Regards
    Bryan

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryan T View Post
    If you post the motto I’ll happily look it up for you, thereby, at least giving you a start in searching the Army Lists for a candidate.
    Hi Bryan,

    Many thanks for this! The motto is "Fide et Constantia" - preliminary research suggests a link to the Dixon family.

    Cheers,

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  4. #4
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    Hi John,
    Here is what I can find initially:
    Fide et Constantia = By faith and constancy (Classical) or fidelity and constancy (Mediaeval).
    Surnames immediately noted are: Dixon (generally) and Dixon (Lord Glentoran), James of Co. Kent, and Lee (generally).
    Grants noted in Burkes Ed. 1884 for the above surnames and motto:
    Dixon, of Page Hall, Ecclesfield, W.R. Yorkshire.
    Dixon, of Hillsborough Hall, Co. Yorkshire.
    Dixon, of Sheffield.
    James, of (Grevis-James) of Ightham Court, Co Kent.
    Lee (Earl of Lichfield; extinct in 1766), so a minor house beyond the limits of ascendancy?
    Lee, of London. Granted in the 1563 visitations without a crest which is not uncommon with early arms..

    If you have a copy or access to the latest private edition of Burkes Glentoran's achievement should be noted within if it is not extinct.
    Regards
    Bryan

  5. #5
    Hi Bryan,

    Would be very interested to se some images of the sword if possible?

    Gordon

  6. #6
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    Hi Gordon,
    If you have access to Oldswords.com I have photos in the Pillin swords database.
    If not let me know.
    Bryan

    PS Item ID: 888660
    Last edited by Bryan T; 09-24-2012 at 12:14 PM. Reason: PS added

  7. #7
    Hi John,

    Very high number when you consider that the Wilkinson numbers only reached this sort of level by the 1960's; I would suggest that whoever made the blade (sword) was probably a major manufacturer with very large scale production, and that the number on your sword falls somewhere within the overall numbers produced; what was Moles relationship with Pillin?

    Regards,

    Gordon

  8. #8
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    Hi John
    Your sword is almost certainly late Victorian. I have four numbered Pillin swords.
    96982 an 1857 Royal Engineers sword with the curved pre 1892 dismounted blade 34.5 inches long
    99045 an 1822/54 gothic hilt Infantry sword 32.75 inches long blade of the pre 1892 type.
    100614 a Cross Hilt Scottish sword to the Seaforths and with battle hons up to Tel el Kabir - 1882 and VR so pre 1901
    104956 an 1821 Heavy Cav Officers sword marked to Edward VII.
    I would suggest that as your sword's number is very close to my Gothic Hilt then your sword is almost certainly pre 1892.
    Hope this is of help.
    Martin

  9. #9
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    One must remember that Wilkinsons started numbering at 5000 in 1854 and other makers such as Mole, Reeves, Pillin, Thurkle etc came to numbering late probably in the 1870's at the earliest and then used 'Customer Order Numbers' from their Order Book rather than a register as in the case of Wilkinson.

    Years ago at Wilkinsons they had a Thurkle Ledger and Pillin books from the early 1900's which some swords with numbers my late father told me. (Unfortunately these were lost when Wilkinsons showroom 53 Pall Mall was bombed during WW2.) Edward Thurkle ledgers were lost (according to a letter I received from Gaunts many years ago) in a fire in 1912.

    I also have Mole Ledgers but the swords ordered are NOT numbered, except for a few which seem to be 'specials'

    So one can only exactly attribute a number on say Pillin or Thurkle sword if there is a presentation inscription and date, otherwise one is guessing by using the date of the pattern of sword. An inexact science I am afraid.
    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 09-25-2012 at 01:14 AM.

  10. #10
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    Really useful stuff, gentlemen - many thanks! Using Martin's info and the Pillin name/address style, I think I can therefore date my sword to the period 1881-1892, which helps me narrow the manufacture date down. Thanks for all your help!

    For those interested, here are a couple of pics of the sword in its pre-cleaned state.

    Blade: virtually straight, single-fullered, with flat back and C-->P mark. 33" long with no monarch's cypher or other device than the maker's name and owner's motto.

    Guard: steel, bowl type with scroll pattern engraving. Pommel nut is old but not original to the sword.

    Scabbard: Indian type - leather over wood core with short chape

    Bit of a puzzle but I'll start with the Dixons in the relevant Army Lists and work through Bryan's other possibles!

    John
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    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  11. #11
    Robert,

    A question on Pillin. Did Pillin forge and test their own blades?

    Gordon

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by gordon byrne View Post
    Robert,

    A question on Pillin. Did Pillin forge and test their own blades?

    Gordon
    Gordon
    Pillin forged some blades but bought in a lot of blades from Mole and possibly Reeves-(Pillin was one of Mole's largest Trade Customers since the 1850's.- Mole also supplied Firmin) As for testing, well I am sure that other sword blade makers and forgers hadn't copied Wilkinsons blade testing methods adopted in 1844 period, until these tests were adopted by the Ordnance in a letter from Horse Guards 3rd December 1888 which stated.......
    "...Please note that the following has been decided upon......all swords be accepted for service provided they pass the tests recommended by Messrs Latham and Kirchbaum."

    Reeves, Pillin, Mole and Birmingham blade forgers would certainly apply the tests laid down by the Ordnance (Pre 1888) on a hardened and tempered blade -
    To be struck, back and edge on an Oak or Hard block of wood. and also flat ways on each face on a table in the usual manner and yo be sprung on an upright standard so as to reduce the blade 4 inches in its length- Blade to be troughed and weighed
    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 09-26-2012 at 12:34 AM.

  13. #13
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    Very interesting sword John. The blade looks fairly narrow?

    I have a numbered and named Pillin:


    It was owned by Major Christopher Erle, who joined the service in 1893 (when I presume the sword blade dates to, probably being re-hilted in 1897). He served in the Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War and eventually died in 1917 from illness in Egypt, whilst serving there. The number on the spine of the blade is 101016.
    Incidentally, mine has the exact same style of scabbard to yours (with part of the frog remaining):



    I also own an earlier Pillin (an 1821 pattern RA or RE sword), I believe dating to close to 1862 when Pillin moved to Gerrard St, but it has no number on the blade and although the blade is marked to "Pillin, Maker" the proof disk has a fleur de lis instead of the usual 'P' that you associate with Pillin's later blades:







    Regards,
    Matt
    Last edited by Matt Easton; 09-26-2012 at 01:29 AM.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Easton View Post
    Very interesting sword John. The blade looks fairly narrow?
    Hi Matt,

    Yes, it's only an inch wide at the ricasso. Clearly a fighting sword, however - it has the kind of "enthusiastic" sharpening I associate with Indian swords! Did Erle serve in India do you know? That scabbard is very similar to mine as you say. One thing that I did notice about my scabbard is that the stitching line up the back is not as ramrod-straight as I've seen on factory-made leather scabbards, and that plus the slightly wobbly engraving on the guard make me think of a locally re-hilted piece, probably in India.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  15. #15
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    Hi John,
    Erle did not serve in India. He was in the Middlesex Regiment of Foot, then the Scots Greys, then back to the Middlesex Regiment and then joined the Imperial Yeomanry presumably in order to get on active service to South Africa. He was wounded at Roodeval and shipped home then went on to join the Hampshire regiment. He left the service in 1913 but then signed back up when war started in 1914, serving in Egypt I believe with a service battalion. He seems to have had a few bouts of illness of some kind and eventually died in hospital in Alexandria, where his grave is.
    My scabbard actually has the stitching up the front edge, which I find quite unusual. The blade is service sharpened, but very carefully.
    Your guard is very interesting and I agree it doesn't look like the work of Pillin. Pillin swords seem to share the common feature of having very fine, almost delicate, etching and decoration. They always look more fragile than Wilkinsons and Moles to me.
    Matt

  16. #16
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    Just found and Interesting piece of information about Pillin.
    I, amongst others have said that the last owner of Pillin was Septimus before being bought by Wilkinsons in 1922-WRONG!!!

    Septimus Pillin died in 1912 and probate granted 5th November 1912. The company was then run by his son Arthur Septiimus Pillin. aged 34 who was born in 1878.
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  17. #17
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    And digging further, it appears that John Burgoyne Pillin and George Alfred had bankruptcy filled against them in 1851!!!!!
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  18. #18
    Hi Guys

    I've got a SJ Pillin Royal Artillery sword, which from a process of not very good exclusion was made between 1881 - 1922.(I think its possibly 1900+ judging by the font used to write his name and address.) Sadly it has no initials. Interestingly it has no royal cypher (unless I'm missing something obvious.) The Serial is 101333

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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Willem Koopman View Post
    I've got a SJ Pillin Royal Artillery sword, which from a process of not very good exclusion was made between 1881 - 1922.(I think its possibly 1900+ judging by the font used to write his name and address.) Sadly it has no initials. Interestingly it has no royal cypher (unless I'm missing something obvious.) The Serial is 101333

    Hi Willem,

    We may be able to narrow it down a little more for you from swords owned by two other Forumites - Matt E. has a sword numbered 101016, which we believe (from the date of its owner's commission) to date from around 1893. And Martin J. has one numbered 104956 which dates to 1910 at the latest. So assuming Pillin sold his swords approximately in the order they were numbered (as opposed to making batches of numbered swords for stock and only selling them years later) yours looks like it was made between 1893 and 1910.

    Thanks for sharing the pics - the lack of cypher is fairly unusual and in that respect is similar to mine.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  20. #20
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    Revisiting a head ache Pillin Sword

    Hi Guys

    I have had a Pillin Scottish Field Officer’s sword in my collection for some time with the initials PAK added to the blade at a later date. I have spent a lot of time trying to narrow the date on the blade when it occurred to me that it may have been rehilted at the time it changed hands. I have reviewed a selection of Army lists between 1881 and 1906 and cannot find anyone with these initials other than a chap in the 21st Lancers who is obviously not a fit.

    The sword turned up in the USA so I was wondering if P.A.K. served in a militia or volunteer unit in Canada which might account for no reference in Hart’s. Does anyone have access to lists for the following units in Canada?

    Argyll and Sutherlands
    Royal Scots
    Royal Scots Fusiliers
    Kings Own Scottish Borderers
    Gordon Highlanders

    This sword numbered 99070 features the steel distinctive thistle scrolled decoration over the hilt; with buckskin liner- the blue silked edges have been removed. The guard still retains its original nickel plating. Excellent fishskin grip with wire binding. The blade has narrow double fullers on both sides and is etched with floral designs and regimental badge, along with the motto. One side shows the makers name and address: “S.J. PILLIN MANUFACTURER 31 GERRARD ST SOHO LONDON”. The other face of the blade has the proof mark -brass disc, and last owners initials: “PAK.” The sword has also had two owners. The original owner had his initials on the blade, and then it belonged to another officer who erased the original initials, and had his own engraved on the other side. The leather scabbard still retains some nickel plating on its steel mounts.

    I am assuming it is unlikely to be a family member as the new owner has completely removed the old initials. The second owner's initials are very clear; however I have been unable to identify him thus far. It is possible that he did not serve in the same regiment i.e. Argyll and Sutherlands.

    Blade made by London Maker Pillin, Septimus John 1881 – 1912 at 31 Gerrard St, Soho.

    What is making me lean towards the guard belonging to a different regiment to the sword is that as far as I know, this type of guard with the thistle decoration was worn by Field Officers of the Royal Scots, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Gordon Highlanders according to Robson, and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders wore the Engineers type guard.


    Cheers Cathey and Rex
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  21. #21
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    Cathey:

    I have a FO sword to a volunteer batt. of the A&SH, and another to the Gordons. The former is a scroll hilt, and the latter has the Gordon's badge motif, front and center. But yours, lacking a badge on the face of the guard, is unique in my [albeit limited] experience. I have access to some CDN records and will have a look.

    Mark

  22. #22
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    Hi Mark

    I neglected to mention that the blade is clearly marked with the regimental badges, along with the motto of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, no regimental number so must be post 1881.

    Cheers Cathey

  23. #23
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    The boars head etching is the same as the 5th Royal Scots Canada (Black Watch) and that also gives a Canadian connection.
    I do agree that many Canadian swords are found in the US.

  24. #24
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    Hi Wil

    The blade has the Boars head which is the crest of the Argylls and the Motto: - 'Ne Obliviscaris' (do not forget) on the other side it has the cat which is the badge of the Sutherlands and the Motto: - 'Sans Peur' (without fear). So I think the blade is definitely Argyll and Sutherland, however you may be right that someone from the 5th Royal Scots has re-used the blade with a different hilt. Getting hold of names of Officer’s in Canadian Scottish Regiments is proving quite difficult. Wil, I don’t suppose you can point us in the right direction to track down these lists. Given I now believe the hilt to be newer than the blade I will need to extend my search into the early 1900’s.

    Cheers Cathey and Rex

  25. #25
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    Hello Cathey, I can ask as I don't have lists on hand. The sword was most likely not in an area where swords were produced, having the initials engraved rather than etched.
    I have a Pillin sword that dates 1873 due to the officers commission, but it has no serial number.

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