A Silver-Hilted Small-Sword made for a Child, together with its Scabbard c. 1720-30

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Item ref: 4151

  • England, probably London
  • Iron alloy (steel), silver, wood, leather
  • 62.5 x 8.5 cm


Private collection, United Kingdom

"The grand distinguishing mark of a gentleman is the wearing of a sword," so it was stated in Connoisseur magazine in 1754. The same sentiment had long existed in London society and it followed, therefore, that a gentleman’s son should wear one too when on public display, certainly in extension of his father’s social standing as much as in the assertation of his own. We need not look far for evidence of this dress code, it comes in the formal portraiture of the late 17th and 18th century, and in a wide selection of diminutive swords held in museum collections: a selection of these were included in an exhibition held in 2002-04 at the Royal Armouries in London and Leeds entitled ‘Princely Armours and Weapons of Childhood’.

The adult-sized hilts of small-swords of the early Georgian period frequently drew on the iconography of the Classical Age, this being the core subject of a boy’s education and therefore one familiar to the majority of the sword-cutlers’ clientele. The hilts made in smaller scale would naturally reflect similar themes, although most often without the closely studied detail lavished on corresponding adult hilts. The present hilt is such an example, while the overall constructional style clearly adheres to the current fashion, the imagery of the relief decoration is a little vague, but in its miniaturisation it remains quite charming.