Small sword


The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

This dress sword was made in around 1785. It is decorated with pastes, imitation rubies and enamels all designed to catch the sunlight and sparkle. Its triangular section blade is designed for thrusting and piercing clothing and flesh. The sword is a civilian weapon whose primary role by this period was as a dress accessory. This sword's blade has been shortened and would originally have been worn at the left hip in a leather scabbard with silver mounts to match those of the sword.

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 gold and silver 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 and were worn at important royal, civic and family occasions. With their blades tucked away inside scabbards, it was their ostentatious and expensive hilts that carried their thrust.

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  • Title: Small sword
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1780/1789
  • Location: France
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 610 mm, Width: 90 mm hilt, Depth: 65 mm hilt, Length: 451 mm blade, Length: 159 mm hilt
  • Provenance: Given by Sir Eric Millar
  • Medium: Silver set with pastes, pearls and enamelled plaques

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