An Cut-Steel Hilted Small-Sword, Probably by Matthew Boulton, Birmingham, c. 1800

2502 2

Item ref: 2502

  • England, Birmingham
  • Steel, leather
  • 103 cm / 40.5 in


Private collection, United Kingdom

Bashford Dean, ‘Court Swords and Hunting Swords’, no. 110, p.53, plate LXXXI

The superb quality of this sword immediately suggests Matthew Boulton as its designer and maker. Incomparable in the production of English decorative cut steel, Boulton (1728–1809) was a dynamic commercial force but strangely had no background as an artisan. He founded his Soho factory in Birmingham in 1762, collaborated with Josiah Wedgwood in the addition of porcelain plaques to some of his hilts and employed between 800 to 1,000 men, not including out-workers.

A range of 171 of Boulton’s original designs for cut-steel sword hilts are included in the sixty-four-page manuscript in the Birmingham City Archives entitled The Boulton and Watt Pattern Books. The first sheet is dated 1775 and the manuscript continues through the 1780s; there are in total about 1,469 design drawings. 

In the promotion of his steel products Boulton was tireless, with sales throughout Europe. In the furtherance of international marketing he made a special point of cultivating the ambassadors and consular officers of St James’s, notably Sir William Hamilton at the court of Naples and Lord Cathcart, ambassador to Russia. The archive in Birmingham contains much evidence of his correspondence, including with Benjamin Franklin.

Swords with very similar hilts are preserved in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.