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Thread: Two unique Naval Cutlass to men that served in the 1st Naval Battalion New York

  1. #1

    Two unique Naval Cutlass to men that served in the 1st Naval Battalion New York

    Here are two unique Naval Cutlasses that I recently acquired. Each one belonged to a member of the 1st Naval Battalion New York. Winfield Scott Proskey served from 1893-1895 as a Seaman, Quartermaster, Chief Gunners Mate, and Ordnance Officer (Ensign). Proskey would go on to serve in the Florida Militia as a Colonel and in the Florida Naval Militia as a Captain. R.W. G. Welling served from 1891-1997 as a Chief Master-at-Arms. Welling would go on the serve as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish American War. Each of these men served together!! See the excerpt from the “Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1893” for the first mention of them being together. Additionally, I was able to obtain some documents and medals that belonged to Proskey from his Great, Great, Grandson. Among the items was a leather bound history titled “The Naval Militia 1894” in it there is pictured both Proskey and Welling on adjacent pages. Proskey is also wearing one of the medals that I obtained. The cutlasses are unique in that they have officer blades with Pattern 1852 scabbards. The grips are markedly different than their Civil War counterparts in that they are thicker and contain only 11 wraps of wire. Each cutlass is identified in a different way, the Proskey cutlass has his name “Winfield S. Proskey” etched on the blade, the Welling cutlass has the following inscription on the top scabbard mount “R.W.G. Welling / Master - at- arms. / 1st Naval Battalion N.Y. / 1891- 1897”. If the Proskey cutlass looks familiar, it was once part of the famous Philip Medicus collection and pictured in the book “American Swords from the Philip Medicus Collection”. The cutlass was in the collection of Norm Flayderman until his death and I obtained it from the collector that purchased it from his estate.
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  2. #2
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    Outstanding!

    The naval militia indeed.

    Cheers

    GC

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    Gene, two very nice officers’ cutlasses with great background material. Does the Welling “SNY” cutlass have Ames and/or other retailer or maker’s names marked on the blade?

    Most people believe production of the M1861 cutlass stopped in 1864, but as your swords show, there was some limited post-CW production. In addition to your swords, there were the cutlasses procured to outfit the USS Niagara during the Spanish American War. Although they were marked with the Hartley and Graham name on the ricasso, they were manufactured by Ames.

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    A similar cutlass was produced in WWI to equip the Aloha.

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    Both the Niagara and the Aloha cutlasses were purchased by wealthy private citizens to outfit the ships as a patriotic gesture. There were, however, less fancy versions directly procured by the government in the late-19th/early 20th century. On 12 May 1892, the Navy contracted with Ames for 95 “broad swords” to be delivered to the Naval Training Station, Newport, R.I. Although not the usual term, I have seen other references to the cutlass as “broad swords” in 19th century Navy correspondence. It is hard to imagine what else was intended if not cutlasses. The Revenue Cutter Service also purchased cutlasses to equip several of its cutters. Charles Pate tells me that his research in the National Achieves shows that between 1892 and 1903, the RCS purchased about 184 cutlasses from Ames. The below cutlass appears to be one of the plain versions purchased by the Navy or the RCS. It is completely unmarked but has the same distinctive grip as all the other above examples with 11 turns of the wire wrap as opposed to the 19 found on CW-era examples.

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    One thing that puzzles me about these late-date M1861 cutlasses is their apparent rarity. In over 50 years of collecting I have only come across two – the above which I purchased from Shiloh Relics in 2015 (they had listed it as a CW import), and a second from another dealer who listed it as a Confederate copy. If almost 300 were procured by the government, I would expect to see more, and I’m sure there are additional examples out there somewhere. If any Forum members are aware of additional examples, I’d love to hear about them.
    Last edited by Richard Schenk; 05-22-2018 at 02:45 PM.

  4. #4
    We have discussed the SNY cutlass in the past. The blade is totally unmarked, the only other mark is a number "1" where the normal CW period serial number would be. I mentioned that I know of 2 others with the same SNY configuration. I will be examining one at the Gettysburg show next month and have been trying to examine another in Tidewater Virginia (that I was sent pictures of) but the owner has not yet committed to meeting with me. I also find these last cutlass interesting and think they are definitely "sleepers" with there own separate history. I remember both of your last cutlasses being offered, only with I would have picked one up myself. In reference to the late contract information you discuss, do you know where that may be found, I would love to have a copy for my reference library. I will look at Fold3 to see it may be in there. I am tempted by the Niagara cutlass that the Horse Soldier has but the Proskey cutlass just set me back a bit so I may have to wait for one. I also was going through some old catalogs and found that Dale Anderson offered a pair of "Aloha" cutlasses back in the 80s for 1,400. Wish I could have afforded them then. (by the way my first name is Gerald and I go by Jerry)

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    I was having a bit of a senior moment when I wrote the above note. Not only did I get your name wrong, but I also referred to the 1892 contract as being with Ames, whereas I know perfectly well it was between the USN Bureau of Clothing and Provisions and the William H Horstmann Co. It can be found in the National Archives RG 217, Entry 232, Box 125. Why would the Navy want new swords, and why not order them directly from Ames? My tentative response would be that after 30 years, the on-hand cutlasses were probably getting very dog-eared, and a spit-and-polish training base might want some shiny new ones for ceremonial use. The question of why they would order them from Horstmann rather than directly from Ames is really puzzling. Don’t really know, but ever since 1869 Horstmann had had the Navy contract for supplying swords to the Marine Corps, so maybe it was just comfortable to use their accustomed supplier. I did some limited searching of the archives for contemporary correspondence from the Bureau on the topic, hoping to find some answers. Unfortunately, so far I have found nothing relevant. Charlie Pate suggested a couple other record groups to check, and I hope to do so when I next get to the Archives.

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    Jerry. I know you are one of the most knowledgeable folks out there on Navy swords. What do you make of this 1864-dated M1861 cutlass?


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    There are a couple strange things about it. First, it has no serial number. Since it is dated 1864, it is unlikely one of the 600 or so sent out before Ames received the order from the Navy to serial number each cutlass. It is possible the 1864 blade could have been mated with an earlier hilt somewhere along the way. It is not at all uncommom to see such mismatches, probably made in the course of repairs/refurbishment, but it doesn’t seem to be the case in this instance. The second thing is the single letter “D” for the inspector mark. Almost all inspected cutlasses were stamped with the initials “D.R.” for contract arms inspector Danial Reynolds. Clearly this was purposely struck as a single letter. My understanding is that the punches inspectors used to mark inspected weapons had all their initials on a single punch, so it is not likely a case of having forgotten to punch in the second initial. Sometimes an off-center mis-strike results in only a partial impression, e.g. the first letter of the mark, but clearly this wasn’t the case here. So I’m curious to know the significance of the single “D”.

    I tentatively think it might be a US Revenue Marine/Revenue Cutter Service cutlass. In previous correspondence with Charlie Pate, the well-known author on American military small arms, he stated the Revenue Cutter Service bought about 1000 cutlasses from Ames during the CW, including a significant number in 1864. He was of the opinion these RCS cutlasses would not have had serial numbers. I disagreed with him at the time, primarily because I thought unserial-numbered cutlasses would be much more common if the 1000 or so RCS-purchased examples lacked serial numbers. Now I’m not so sure. Since then I have encountered a number of seemingly genuine cutlasses without serial numbers, including this one. I know of at least one other 1864-dated cutlass without a serial number, but that one had the usual “D.R.” inspectors mark.

    What do you other Forum members think? Is this a RCS cutlass? What is the significance of the “D”? Did the RCS perhaps have someone other than Daniel Reynolds inspect their cutlasses?
    Last edited by Richard Schenk; 07-18-2018 at 11:30 AM.

  7. #7
    Richard, We have discussed these in the past. I have one in my collection and have seen many for sale over the years. The markings are all the same with a single D. The Ames markings on the reverse are all in block letters and not the typical Ames scroll and none are serialized. They are all correct cutlasses. I hope they turn out to the RCS contract cutlasses as that could explain the lack of serial numbers however they are still marked USN. Maybe they went to the navy first as I believe the RCS fell under the Navy during the war (not certain of this). Here are pictures of mine.
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  8. #8
    Here are some pictures of others from my files. Only difference I can see is the periods after the USN is not present on all examples.
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  9. #9
    Also I was able to get pictures of the third SNY cutlass that is in the New York collection. Identical in all respects. No number stamped on the guard like my presentation one. Blade identical, was not able to see the scabbard it was in fragile condition and the collector did not want to bring it, but by accounts it is identical. Here are picture of mine and this one, and the first example I discovered. Note the grips are also identical with the 11 wraps. Also took pictures along with the "Proskey" cutlass.
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    Last edited by GC Roxbury; 07-18-2018 at 05:40 PM.

  10. #10
    This is the first one that I was sent pictures of.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GC Roxbury View Post
    Richard, We have discussed these in the past. I have one in my collection and have seen many for sale over the years. The markings are all the same with a single D. The Ames markings on the reverse are all in block letters and not the typical Ames scroll and none are serialized. They are all correct cutlasses. I hope they turn out to the RCS contract cutlasses as that could explain the lack of serial numbers however they are still marked USN. Maybe they went to the navy first as I believe the RCS fell under the Navy during the war (not certain of this). Here are pictures of mine.

    You are correct, during the CW the RCS was under the Navy. Just as the Coast Guard now falls under the operational control of DoD in war time, so did the RCS fall under the command of the Navy in wartime. I don't remember the exact details, but this was directed by an Act of Congress, I believe it was in 1797. In the War of 1812 it was a RCS vessel which captured the first British ship, and in the CW, it was the RCS's ship Harriet Lane which fired the first shot of that war.

    Based on your comments, I would be surprised if these odd non-serial numbered cutlasses were not from the large RCS purchase made in 1864. Charlie Pate did some fairly extensive research in the National Archives on RCS weapons procurement. He gave me a year by year breakdown, but I can't find it right now. IIRC, however, it seems to me some 600+ of the 1000 cutlasses RCS purchased were ordered in 1864. Since the RCS was operating under the Navy at the time, the "USN" stamp would make sense. Since they were apparently procured under a separate contract, it would be reasonable if they were not serial numbered in the same series as the Navy-contracted cutlasses. I would guess the "D" is for whomever inspected the swords. Perhaps it was Daniel Reynolds who used the single initial to differentiate these cutlasses from the ones he inspected for the Navy contract. All this is speculation, of course, until someone can find a period document addressing the issue.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by GC Roxbury View Post
    Richard, We have discussed these in the past. I have one in my collection and have seen many for sale over the years. The markings are all the same with a single D. The Ames markings on the reverse are all in block letters and not the typical Ames scroll and none are serialized. They are all correct cutlasses. I hope they turn out to the RCS contract cutlasses as that could explain the lack of serial numbers however they are still marked USN. Maybe they went to the navy first as I believe the RCS fell under the Navy during the war (not certain of this). Here are pictures of mine.
    Is there an inspection mark on the pommel of your sword? There is none on the pommel of the cutlass I pictured.

    For what it's worth, the 1864-dated cutlasses Ames made for the Army also had the Ames name in block letters rather than the usual scroll. I don't know if there is any significance to this since the block letter variant is also found on some serial-numbered Navy cutlasses.

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    Last edited by Richard Schenk; 07-19-2018 at 06:36 AM.

  13. #13
    There are no inspector marks on the pommel of my cutlass nor do I recall there being any on the other examples I have examined in person. I hope to find an Army cutlass for my collection oNE of the's days. Shold have bid higher on that one!!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by GC Roxbury View Post
    There are no inspector marks on the pommel of my cutlass nor do I recall there being any on the other examples I have examined in person. I hope to find an Army cutlass for my collection oNE of the's days. Shold have bid higher on that one!!!!
    So you were my competition on the Army cutlass! I had hoped no one else would notice it was an Army cutlass, not a run-of-the-mill Navy, and that I would get it dirt cheap. Unfortunately for me, that didn't happen. I still think the price was very reasonable for such a rare sword. My top bid was actually considerably higher - I really wanted this one.

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    As we discussed above. there are1864-dated Ames M1861 cutlasses with no serial numbers and with a single “D” inspector’s mark. I speculated these were part of the 1864 RCS purchase of cutlasses, and that “D” was the individual the RCS/Navy used to inspect them. I hoped to find evidence to support this hypothesis in the RCS records in the National Archives and alsoto perhaps identify who this inspector "D" might be. Haven't done so yet.

    I had not previously seen this “D”-mark on other swords, but I recently encountered an 1862-dated Ames M1840 musician’s sword with what appears to be an identical mark – could possibly have been made with the same punch. If so, it would indicate “D” wasn’t someone brought on board by the RCS or the Navy in 1864 specifically to inspect cutlasses, but rather someone already employed to inspect weapons at the Ames facility. What do you think? Have any Forum members encountered other examples of this "D" mark?

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  16. #16
    That would appear to be an identical stamp. Great detective work. I saw another 64 marked cutlass in an auction listing this past November. The only variation I have seen on these markings is that some have periods after the U.S.N. and some do not USN. I know there is a good story behind these cutlasses and I'm sure you will smoke it out.
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    A well-known dealer has the below-pictured cutlass listed as an "Experimental US M1860 Cutlass" and states it was a prototype for the officer's version. It clearly is not that. My first reaction was that it was a fantasy piece, a total fake. Looking at the grip, however, I wonder if it could possibly be a late production piece made for a Naval militia group or similar. The grip has the same fewer/wider bands as the NY Navy militia and other late-production examples shown in the above posts. No idea why they would add groves to the cup, but who knows? The sword is totally unmarked. What do you think?


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  18. #18
    I have seen this one on their website. I think it is correct but like you say not what he says it is. I remember going to Robert Abels shop in the early 70s and he had one of these although can't remember the grip configuration.) Additionally, I know of another collector that has one just like it. he actually told me about it after I showed him by SNY cutlass and he mentioned his had the same grip configuration. Will you be at Baltimore? I will have a display with the NY Naval Militia cutlasses.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by GC Roxbury View Post
    I have seen this one on their website. I think it is correct but like you say not what he says it is. I remember going to Robert Abels shop in the early 70s and he had one of these although can't remember the grip configuration.) Additionally, I know of another collector that has one just like it. he actually told me about it after I showed him by SNY cutlass and he mentioned his had the same grip configuration. Will you be at Baltimore? I will have a display with the NY Naval Militia cutlasses.
    Thanks for the info. With other examples out there, I would agree it is probably authentic, but an authentic "what?" is the question. I would guess a Naval Militia/National Guard element cutlass, but that is just a guess with no evidence to support it. If they would drop a "0" from the price I might buy it just to examine it closer, but not at the current asking price. I wouldn't pay that much if it was in fact a prototype and had faultless provenance and documentation.

  20. #20
    Well here is another New York Naval Militia piece, this time a M1852 variant! SNY in place of USN, SNY etching on the blade. No wire left and no scabbard. Retailed by Ridabock & Co. New York.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GC Roxbury View Post
    Well here is another New York Naval Militia piece, this time a M1852 variant! SNY in place of USN, SNY etching on the blade. No wire left and no scabbard. Retailed by Ridabock & Co. New York.
    You beat me to it! I was just going to post pictures of this sword to this thread. Were you the high bidder? If so, congrats. All I have are the photos.

    You say the sword has no scabbard, but one was pictured with it in several of the auction photos.

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    It is obviously different than the standard M1852 scabbard, but I wondered if it could still possibly be original to the sword. I was quite skeptical it was, however, given how closely the rest of the sword followed the USN pattern.

  22. #22
    The scabbard is definitely wrong for the sword. The length does not match the blade and the curvature of the sword blade does match the straight scabbard. Mounts were also reversed. Anyway I bought it for the sword to go with the SNY cutlass.

  23. #23
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    Very neat! I have not seen this SNY Officer sword before. Heck, I did not even know they existed.

    Congratulations.
    "You can't please everyone, so you have to please yourself." Ricky Nelson

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