British Blue and Gilt blades from the Napoleonic Wars
Dear Collector and enthusiast.
I have always been a great admirer of the Napoleonic blue and gilt blade and have put together some examples here that represent the sheer beauty of these blades. They are primarily British but I will be adding some examples from other countries in the near future. Check back to see what I have added.
Historical background and techniques of the Sword Maker
The decorating of a sword blade with blue and gilt became popular in Britain from the late-18th Century onwards (most notably from the 1780’s through to the 1850’s). It was primarily the domain of officers due to the considerable cost of acquiring such a blade type. It was also common for officers (through financial necessity or personal preference) to carry a sword without any blade decoration whatsoever. Many collectors assume that because a blade is plain, it must have been carried by a non-commissioned officer. This is not true. I have actually encountered some very fine plain blades of such quality and temper that they could only have been carried by an officer.
Blades from the time of the Napoleonic Wars were either blued, acid etched or left plain. The decoration was applied at this stage and common motifs seen on British sword blades of the period include the “GR” royal cypher for King George III (1738-1820), the royal coat of arms, regimental badges or the officer’s initials (very rare) martial trophies such as stands of arms, mounted horsemen or standing officers (usually brandishing a sword), suns and moons and scrolling foliage.
The blueing was achieved by heating together both gold and mercury to a sufficiently high temperature and applying to the blade. The mercury was burnt off during this process and the gold decoration was left to adhere to the etching. Suffice to say that those employed in the decoration of blue and gilt sword blades were constantly inhaling the mercury fumes and suffered considerably. Their working life was normally quite short and miserable. Health and safety was not a consideration then!
Above: Blue and Gilt blade decoration from a British Napoleonic Yeomanry Officer’s Sword
See below for more blue and gilt blade decoration from British 1786/96 Pattern Infantry Officers’ swords…
Here is a superb and rare example of a British Napoleonic silver-mounted horse-head cavalry officer’s sword. The blade is marked to the spine with JJ Runkel of Solingen, Germany. Condition of the blade is very good and the decoration is still bright and sharp.
© British Napoleonic Blue and Gilt Sword Blades article by Harvey Withers – www.harveywithers.co.uk