Small Sword With Hilt-Case and Scabbard thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Small Sword With Hilt-Case and Scabbard

ca. 1775 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This sword probably belonged to Admiral Lord Leveson Gower (1740-92), a distinguished naval officer and MP. The sword is effectively a dress accessory decorated with cut steel studs and pierced and with a very slender, flexible, blued blade. From around 1640, light swords with short, flexible, pointed blades appeared in response to new fencing techniques that emphasised thrusting at speed. They were worn increasingly with civilian clothes as 'small swords', offering a means of self-defence but largely denoting status for the well-dressed gentleman.

The sword's hilt was probably made in Woodstock near Oxford. Woodstock steel was renowned for its quality. The studs decorating the surface of the hilt are fitted individually and threaded onto the main body. Similar works from Birmingham, including the renowned factory of Matthew Boulton, made rivetted studs that were not removable and lack the same definition. A contemporary diarist, Sylas Neville, wrote, "Steel goods and gloves are the two staples of Woodstock. Their watch-chains, sword hilts &c are more highly polished and better standard than those of Birmingham. They polish all with hand. Their studs screw, and everything they make can be taken to pieces and cleaned whereas the Birmingham studs are rivetted."


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Sword
  • Small Sword
  • Case
  • Scabbard
Materials and Techniques
Steel, forged, cut and facetted
Brief Description
Small sword with case and scabbard, cut steel hilt and sheath mounts, English, ca. 1775, Woodstock
Dimensions
  • Length: 96.5cm
  • Case depth: 11.0cm
  • Case length: 27.2cm
  • Case width: 15.7cm
Credit line
Given by Mrs I.G. Hodgson
Object history
This sword probably belonged to Admiral Lord Leveson Gower (1740-92). Gower came from a naval family and entered the navy young becoming a port captain by the age of twenty. During the Seven Years War he served in the Mediterranean and his ship, The Quebec, captured a French privateer carrying 18 guns and 125 men. He also served in the Bay of Biscay and Newfoundland before rising to Admiral. Gower also served for two brief periods in 1784 and 1790 as a Whig MP representing Appleby in Westmoreland and in Newcastle-under-Lyne. In 1792 he died after suffering a fit while shaving.



The sword was acquired by the Museum in 1957 when it was given by Mrs J.G.Hodgson, a descendent of the admiral.



Historical significance: This sword hilt was probably made in Woodstock near Oxford. Woodstock steel was renowned for its quality. The studs decorating the surface of the hilt are fitted individually and threaded onto the main body. Similar works from Birmingham, including the renowned factory of Matthew Boulton, made rivetted studs that were not removable and lack the same definition. A contemporary diarist, Sylas Neville, wrote, "Steel goods and gloves are the two staples of Woodstock. Their watch-chains, sword hilts &c are more highly polished and better standard than those of Birmingham. They polish all with hand. Their studs screw, and everything they make can be taken to pieces and cleaned whereas the Birmingham studs are rivetted."
Historical context
This sword is a dress accessory decorated with cut steel studs and pierced and with a very slender, flexible, blued blade.



From around 1640, light swords with short, flexible, pointed blades appeared in response to new fencing techniques that emphasised thrusting at speed. They were worn increasingly with civilian clothes as 'small swords', offering a means of self-defence but largely denoting status for the well-dressed gentleman.



Small swords were items of male jewellery. By the 1750s, their elaborate hilts, mounted with precious stones and fine enamelling, were the products of the goldsmith and jeweller rather than the swordsmith. They made fitting rewards for distinguished military and naval service. With their blades tucked away inside scabbards, it was their ostentatious and expensive hilts that established their importance.
Summary
This sword probably belonged to Admiral Lord Leveson Gower (1740-92), a distinguished naval officer and MP. The sword is effectively a dress accessory decorated with cut steel studs and pierced and with a very slender, flexible, blued blade. From around 1640, light swords with short, flexible, pointed blades appeared in response to new fencing techniques that emphasised thrusting at speed. They were worn increasingly with civilian clothes as 'small swords', offering a means of self-defence but largely denoting status for the well-dressed gentleman.



The sword's hilt was probably made in Woodstock near Oxford. Woodstock steel was renowned for its quality. The studs decorating the surface of the hilt are fitted individually and threaded onto the main body. Similar works from Birmingham, including the renowned factory of Matthew Boulton, made rivetted studs that were not removable and lack the same definition. A contemporary diarist, Sylas Neville, wrote, "Steel goods and gloves are the two staples of Woodstock. Their watch-chains, sword hilts &c are more highly polished and better standard than those of Birmingham. They polish all with hand. Their studs screw, and everything they make can be taken to pieces and cleaned whereas the Birmingham studs are rivetted."
Bibliographic Reference
Coe, Michael D. et al, Swords and Hilt Weapons, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 1993, ISBN 1-56619-249-8, p. 71
Collection
Accession Number
M.29-1957

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record createdNovember 4, 2002
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