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Thread: New M1861 Cutlass Markings

  1. #1

    New M1861 Cutlass Markings

    I acquired these two cutlasses this weekend (along with others that I will post later) that have unique markings. The first is an early 1861 pre-Ames serialized example that was serialized by the Navy on the blade (279). There are no other marks on the hilt at all. It contains the Ames marks on the reverse. The second cutlass is a later example marked U.S.N. / D.R. / 1865. No serial numbers on the guard. Pommel marked D.R. Ames marks on the reverse not readable. Note the blade on this example is narrower and shorter than normally encountered. Both were obtained from a prominent Naval collection.
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  2. #2
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    Those are two really interesting cutlasses. I have never seen one of the early cutlasses serialized post production by the Navy which was marked on the blade; I have only seen the numbers stamped on the quillon.

    I really don't know what to make of the 1865-dated cutlass. What is it? The markings and general appearance look authentic, but the last delivery of cutlasses to the Navy was in December 1864. Since this example has no serial number is it perhaps a Revenue Cutter Service cutlass? I know the RCS bought a large number of cutlasses in 1864, but I haven't seen the details on when they were delivered. How much shorter and narrower is the blade? Is the scabbard of reduced size to accommodate the smaller blade? My first thought was that this was a prototype for a modified cutlass, but I've never seen any discussion of a proposed modification and find it hard to understand why one would be considered in 1865. The grip of this example has had the wire removed and the surface covered with a preservative coating which suggests it saw regular service post-war. Do you have any theories?

  3. #3
    IRT to the 1865 cutlass, the width of the blade at the ricasso is 1 1/16" and the length is 23 5/8". The grips are well worn and what is left of the leather does appear to have been "jacked". The scabbard with it is full length with no modification. Some of my thoughts were that the blade may have been re-worked at some point when it may have been returned for servicing or the late contract just skimped on material. Unless a similar blade comes to light we may never know the true story. In the "Collectors' Guide to Ames U.S. Contract Military edged Weapons: 1832-1906" by Hickox he states that no examples were located during this research dated 1863 or 1865. I would think he would not have made this statement unless he believed there were 1865 dated cutlasses out there. Additionally, Mike Niero from the Pirates Liar states on his website "The latest production date found was 1865." I also picked up from the same collection one of the so called variants with the short wider blade as well as a near mint Officer Cutlass that was dated and inspected that came from the Harold Peterson collection. In your Man at Arms article you mentioned the purchase of "gilt cutlasses" was wondering what the reference is for that. I'm sure I read it somewhere but cannot recall right now.

  4. #4
    I just got off the phone with the collector from whom I acquired the 1865 cutlass and picked his brain about it some more. He in over 50 years of collecting has never seen another 65 dated cutlass and believed it to possible be a prototype as he pointed out that the blade does not show any signs of being modified and after looking closer I agree. I guess we will have to wait for another to surface!

  5. #5
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    So my original thought, that the 1865-dated cutlass might be a prototype may be correct. One thing that gives me pause however is that it was inspected and marked like an issue cutlass, which would seem strange for a prototype. I wondered about Hickox's statement the he had not found any 1863- or 1865-dated examples. I wondered about the 1863s because, although not as common as the other dates, I have seen a number of them. As for the 1865 date, I wondered why he would expect to find any when he states the last delivery of cutlasses was made in 1864.

    I had the opportulity to buy Peter Tuite's variant with the short wider blade, but at the time the asking price was a bit out of my range - I believe it was about $4k. I believe this variant was the prototype for the cutlass adopted by the Navy in 1861.

    I'm not sure to what you are referring in your question "In your Man at Arms article you mentioned the purchase of "gilt cutlasses" was wondering what the reference is for that". I don't believe I made such a reference
    Last edited by Richard Schenk; 06-10-2019 at 10:22 AM.

  6. #6
    I was reading your article and under the Officer's Model paragraph the first sentence reads "An unknown number of gilt-hilted "Officers" Model" M1861 cutlasses with a swirled cup guard design and the cutout letters USN" on the bowl of the guard were purchased by the government." Was wondering if there was a reference anywhere that addressed that. I believe I did read that somewhere but can't recall where.

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    You probably first read about "gilt hilts" it in John McAulay's 1999 work "Civil War Small Arms of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps". I think he was the first to use that term. The info itself comes from the NARA holdings of Bureau of Naval Ordnance correspondence and Navy contracts.

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