Some Notes on American Military Swords

An Entry in Uniclectica's Miscellanea Files


It is not uncommon to encounter at least one military sword during an excursion to an antique shop or flea market. Some basic information about these weapons can help one to appreciate them more, and even to spot a fake.

Dating Officer's Swords

  • Prior to 1821, blades were usually curved; after 1821, they tended to be straight.

  • Up to the mid-1820s, blades were usually blued for approximately half their length, and ornamented with sprays of foliage, military trophies, patriotic symbols and mottoes, quantities of stars (with no relation to the number of states at the time of manufacture).

  • During the 1820s, panels of bright silver etching appeared in the midst of the blue areas.

  • By 1830, the new bright etching became almost universally used over the entire blade. Some blue and gilt swords continued to be made up to 1840.

  • During the 1830s and 1840s, the etching tended to be lightly done; after 1850, however, the etching was much deeper, and after 1860, background areas were frequently frosted or gilded.

The Sword Industry

  • After the Revolution, some swords were made in America, but not generally on an industrial scale. Exceptions to this were Nathan Starr of Middletown, Connecticut, and the Ames Manufacturing Co., of Massachusetts.

  • The great majority of officer's swords were imported from Europe -- mostly from German swordsmiths in Solingen, but also from France, Great Britain, and Belgium. These arms were imported either as complete swords, or just the blades to be assembled in America. General Robert E. Lee's sword and scabbard were French made.

  • Noted resellers of blades include: WH Horstmann and Son of Philadelphia, and Schuyler Hartley and Graham of New York.

  • Well over half of the officers' swords made or sold in America after 1830 are marked either "Ames" or with the names of those other firms, mentioned above.

  • Enlisted men's swords were also imported directly by the givernment, particularly during the 1840s and during the Civil War.


References for this information include the following. If you are interested in acquiring any of these books, simply click on the title. A book request form for those books that are out-of-print may be found at the bottom of the page.

Swords and Blades of the American Revolution 3rd Edition. By George C. Neumann. Published by Scurlock Publishers, 1991. Hardcover. Synopsis: An excellent reference book for swords, bayonets, knives, pole-arms, etc. found in the United States prior to and including the American Revolution. Detailed descriptions and extensive black and white photographs.

Book of the Sword By R. F. Burton. Published by Dover, 1989. Paperback, 336 pages. Synopsis: A fantastic and fascinating biography of the "Queen of Weapons".

Patterson, Jerry E. (1974) "A Collector's Guide to Relics and Memorabilia". Crown Publishers, Inc., New York. Synopsis: A general overview of relics and memorabilia, with some mention of weapons associated with famous (and infamous) people.

Peterson, Harold L. (n.d.) "Swords" IN H. Comstock (ed) "The Concise Encyclopedia of American Antiques", 2 volumes. Published by Hawthorn Books, Inc., New York. Synopsis: A wonderful collection jam packed with overviews of *many* categories of collectibles, written by experts. Hundreds of black and white plates.


Unfortunately, some these books are currently out of print. If you'd like our out-of-print book search associate, McWilliams and Chee, to search for any of these titles for you, simply fill in your name, phone numer, and email address and check off which books you are interested in. This search is absolutely free, and without obligation. If a copy can be located, you will be notified by McWilliams and Chee as to condition and price for your approval. You may then choose whether or not to purchase the book.

Please note that submitting this form does not guarantee you a copy of the book you request. It will only notify us to begin looking for a copy for you.

You may request any combination of these books on the same form simply by checking off the appropriate boxes.

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Books Requested:

A Collector's Guide to Relics and Memorabilia By Jerry E. Patterson. Published by Crown Publishers, 1974. Hardcover.

The Concise Encyclopedia of American Antiques, 2 Volumes Edited by H. Comstock. Published by Hawthorn Books, New York. No date. Hardcover.

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