Friday, February 3, 2012

Booty: A Hero's Cutlass

Speaking of David Porter, Thomas Cochrane and Jack Aubrey, as we were on Wednesday, I thought it only fitting to introduce you to the kind of cutlass that the former would most probably have carried. Porter’s handsome sword would, sorry to say to the British Brethren, have made the other two pea green with envy.

Pictured above is the now very rare but in its heyday surprisingly ubiquitous “Baltimore pattern” naval cutlass. This sturdy and gorgeous piece of steel was the go to sword for naval officers from 1804 on. The one shown above is in the collection of our mate Mike over at The Pirate’s Lair. According to their website, it was acquired by them from the Drechsler Collection; prior to that it was in the possession of Samuel Kaplin.

The Baltimore cutlass was developed in the fledgling U.S. from designs popular in both Britain and France, but with improvements that proved very worthwhile. One of these was the so called figure eight handle made of metal rather than wood, to better protect the user’s hand. Some grips were of turned wood, usually oak, covered with metal. These would probably have been made custom for well to do officers. Men like Porter, who had known the life of a foremast Jack, would have carried the standard issue weapon, at least early in their careers.

Another improvement was the blade. Earlier cutlasses which had one edge that was “false” while the other was sharp. In the case of the Baltimore pattern, both edges were sharp, making the cutlass twice as deadly. The point of the blade was also “clipped”. This point was sharper and less rounded, making stabbing as with an epee blade more effortless and, again, deadly.

Authentic Baltimore cutlasses are stamped, usually on the hilt, with the initials “US”. As noted over at The Pirate’s Lair, this is an indicator that the sword was indeed issued for military service. Of course, these types of cutlasses are very rare today. Most of those in private collections that are not family heirlooms turned up in or around Baltimore, thus the modern name. Baltimore was a central port for the U.S. up until the Civil War and may very well have been a common place to stage sales of surplus naval equipment from the late 18th century until the mid-19th. This may explain the concentration of surviving cutlasses in this area, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Having only ever fenced with an epee Musketeer-style myself, I would love to get my hands on one of these testosterone-fueled weapons. I can only imagine the satisfying – if gory – hacking that such a hefty, double-edged sword would afford. But, alas, my wallet is far lighter than my ambition. Should any of the Brethren have upwards of $16,000 U.S. to invest, however, Heritage Auctions has a Baltimore pattern cutlass fit for a Commodore available here.

Header: Baltimore pattern cutlass via The Pirate’s Lair website where you can find more pictures and links to more information about these swords


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! That is very cool. Unfortunately, I'll have to stick with replicas on my budget...

Pauline said...

Indeed. Better it be where lots of people just like me can enjoy it, even if only via the web or under glass.

Blue Lou Logan said...

A double-edged edged cutlass??? Holy Dismemberment, Batman!

Not too off-topic, and I'm sure you'll understand, try to picture how many times my jaw dropped the last time I perused the antique stores of the Vieux Carre. Never have I been so overwhelmed by antique weapons as the French Quarter. Merde!

Pauline said...

An excellent point, Lou. Lots of people are unaware of how well stocked NOLA is when it comes to antique weapons. Our mate Captain Swallow has found a number of (unfortunately expensive) old flintlocks in the Quarter. Andrew Jackson would have drooled over so many arms back in 1814.