Smallsword

1999.02.1

ARMORY TREASURE

This superb sword is both costume accessory and witness to industrial history. Boulton and Wedgwood were two of the leading figures in the Industrial Revolution; Boulton also worked with James Watt in developing the steam engine. Boulton’s civilian dress swords were among the first to be factory-made. Earlier small-swords with false gems inspired the use of cut-steel faceted beads resembling diamonds. The English became masters of the technique, also used on jewelry, buttons and buckles. By the 1780s, Wedgwood and Boulton were fitting such steel articles with jasperware plaques with neoclassical designs inspired by those discovered in Roman and Etruscan ruins.

Installation of this sword supported by the Wedgwood-250 Exhibition USA, Lord Wedgwood and Adele I. Barnett, Co-Chairs.

Description

Norman's type 112 hilt with long, acutely tapered blade of hollow-ground, triangular section. Blade blued for half its length from the hilt, identically decorated faces with etched & gilded trophies, figures & candelabra. Blade insulated from the hilt with a restored white leather washer. The hilt of hard, cut steel, brightly burnished.The elements have alternate rows of plain fillets & faceted beads of spheroid and ellipsoid form. The asymetrically C-shaped knuckle-guard is faceted. The grip tapers to its ends. Ovoid pommel, with tall, faceted neck & button. The sleeve is tall and of rectangular section, with convex sides. The arms of the hilt are feeble and crescentic, linked to the guard and the recurving rear quillon which is finished in a circular terminal of beads.The shell guard is pierced, with an undulating beaded edge. The plate is plain on the underside, and formed as network of faceted beads on iron wires within. The interior of the shell is inlaid with four blue with white elliptical relief plaquettes. Similar plaquettes are mounted on the grip &knuckle-guard faces at mid-height , and pommel faces front and rear. It is possible to identify a number of the neoclassical themes depicted on the plaquettes. See Additional Notes for detailed description of the imagery depicted.

Curator's Comments

At the end of the 18th century, England replaced France as the center of fashion. At the same time there was established a fashion for cut steel jewelry and clothing accessories. Wedgwood (Burslem, England) collaborated with Boulton (Birmingham, England) by the 1780s in applying his plaquettes to Boulton's cut steelwork. Small-swords with such embellishment are the most unusual application of the technique. In addition to ours, such swords are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (42.50.46), Birmingham (AL) Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Musée des Arts Decoratifs (Paris), Castle Museum (Nottingham), Birmingham (England) City Museum, and the Lady Lever Art Gallery (Port Sunlight, England).The following are the themes and images found on the Wedgwood plaquettes of our sword. On hilt shell, reading clockwise with knuckle-guard down: gowned female figure resting on column (Adams, no. 894, 1780); cupid leaning on inverted torch; priestess with serpent (Adams, nos. 898 and 899, 19th c.); repeated Cupid. On grip: (obverse) priestess with serpent; (reverse), gowned female with lyre, leaning back on plinth with idol (Adams, no. 879 left, ca. 1790). Knuckle-guard: (obverse) gowned woman with jug, & eagle at her feet (Adams, no. 893, ca. 1780); (reverse) gowned woman with column as found on shell (Adams, no. 894). Plaquettes on pommel are of oval form. (Obverse) nude youth with cornucopia, & leaning against short column; (reverse) winged nude youth. By the late eighteenth century English craftsmen created a demand for steel beadwork jewelry and produced a wide range of decorative and functional objects that inspired imitations as far afield as Russia. The most unexpected products are the steel and Wedgwood jasperware sword hilts cut and brilliantly polished to resemble faceted diamonds. Birmingham is the most well known production site, location of the factory of the inventor and entrepreneur, Matthew Boulton. Our superb sword is both costume accessory and witness to industrial history. Boulton and Wedgwood were two of the leading figures in the Industrial Revolution. The civilian dress swords from Boulton’s workshops were among the first to be factory-made. Until the first decade of the nineteenth century the men collaborated in the manufacture of high-quality, factory-made steel costume accessories, including swords, inlaid with jasperware. Only eight surviving swords or their hilts are known, and all are of the same fine workmanship.

Bibliography

Walter J. Karcheski, Jr., "Gentlemanly Jewelry," "Man at Arms magazine", vol. 22, number 5 (October 2000): 18-19, ill. on p. 18.
Walter J. Karcheski, Jr., "Curator's Choice. Small Wonder: a miniature armor by E. Granger of Paris," "The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art" (Summer 2001): 170-171.
J. D. Aylward, "The Small-Sword in England" (London, 1960): 81-85.
AVB Norman, Rapier and Smallsword, 390.
Illustrated in Peter Finer section of "Noteworthy Sales," in "The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art" (Summer 2001): 15.
Peter Finer sale catalogue, 1997, cat. no. 51.
Elizabeth B. Adams, "The Dwight and Lucille Beeson Wedgwood Collection at the Birmingham Museum of Art" (Birmingham, AL: The Museum, 1992), notes 146-148, pp. 342-365.
Shena Mason, "Jewellery Making in Birmingham, 1750-1995" (Chichester: Phillimore & Co., Ltd, 1998), illustrated as plate I (when owned by Peter Finer).

Publication & Exhibit History

Photograph in catalog for D.A.R. Museum's exhibit "Wedgwood; 250 Years of Innovation and Artistry." Also the photograph was published in the local areas "Where" magazine.

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