Fine Antique Arms & Armour

Scottish Military Basket Hilted Backsword probably of the 91st Foot dating to the Middle to Third Quarter of the 18th Century Ref: 12.42

Price: £2,150

Item Description:


A representative example of a Scottish military basket hilted backsword from the middle or third quarter of the 18th century. The sword is typical of a type manufactured in England for lower ranks in Highland Regiments, such as The Black Watch, and fencible regiments, for service in the Scottish Highlands, before and after the 1745 Rebellion, and overseas, particularly in the Americas. The swords were more often than not funded by regimental colonels from their allowances.


The pommel design is unique to this sword type being an exaggerated cone-shape with an integral wide pommel button and three incised vertical flutes which radiate from the pommel button. Incised into the pommel is the letter "B" and below this the number "91". This, almost certainly, refers to a unit of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders Regiment of Foot, first formed in 1759. It was disbanded in 1763 and reformed a number of times, eventually becoming the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1881.


The hilt has the usual appearance of Scottish 18th century basket-hilted swords but is different construction, being largely formed from a cut plate to which some features, such as the frontal loop guards, are forged. The front and side plates are pierced with circles and triangles. The spirally grooved wooden grip is original, retains much of its leather cover and wire binding, now incomplete. The sword hilt is tight and secure.


The single-edged blade has a short ricasso with a single short fuller to the front, and with two main fullers extending down the blade in parallel underneath the back blunt edge, the top fuller terminating a fifth of the blade length from the tip after which the blade becomes double edged, and the lower fuller extending to within a few inches of the tip. The overall sword length is 39.5 inches (100 cm) and the blade is 33.25 inches (85 cm) long.


In general the sword is fair condition with light pitting all over (now cleaned). The pommel has worn through in one small part where the metal was seemingly thinly forged. Anthony D Darling in his "Weapons of the Highland Regiments 1740 to 80" (Historical Arms Series No 33) devotes a section to this sword type commenting that few have survived to the present day. The general use of the sword by enlisted infantrymen in the British Army was abandoned in 1768 apart from companies of grenadiers and Highland Regiments. In 1783 the 42nd handed in their swords to the Halifax Ordnance Depot. In 1784 the issue of swords to lower ranks was discontinued completely in Highland Regiments except for pipers, drummers and sergeants. Issue to grenadiers was also discontinued.


Those swords which have stamps on the blade tend to belong to three main English contracted makers of this sword type based in London and Birmingham - Harvey, Drury and Jeffries. The absence of a blade makers mark on this example probably indicates a date of manufacture of the sword to the earlier period of production, probably in Scotland, at the time of the first raising of the 91st Foot, beforer mass production of this sword type started in England.


To enquire about this item please click here:

Click a photograph for a large version