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Firmin & Sons Confederate "Dolphin Head" Naval Officer's Sword

30.25" single-edged, spear point blade with 6" false edge and a 19.25" stopped median fuller. 5.5" "Dolphin Head" sea serpent motif gilt brass hilt with solid guard and folding counter guard with hole to engage the stud on the reverse of the scabbard throat. The face of guard is cast with the Confederate naval insignia, consisting of a fouled anchor superimposed on a pair of crossed canons, surrounded by cotton plants and tobacco leaves. The sea serpent pommel cap includes a scaly backstrap that terminates in a ferrule behind the guard, with the knuckle bow that joins the guard to the pommel cap terminating in the serpent's mouth. The grooved wood grip is covered in off-white shagreen with 7 wraps of triple-strand wire, the center of each wrap being coiled with the flanking pairs plain. The reverse ricasso is etched with the six-line Firmin address, reading: FIRMIN & SONS / - 153 - / STRAND / & 13 / CONDUIT St / LONDON. The reverse of the blade is etched with a variety of intertwined scrolls and vines, leading to the crossed canons over a fouled anchor motif and finally transitioning to cotton plants. The obverse blade is etched with a six-pointed star on the ricasso surrounding a round impression where a small disc reading "PROVED" would normally be located, but is now missing. The blade is then etched with the same pattern of intertwined foliate vines as found on the reverse, leading to a Confederate Second National Flag surmounting an anchor, and again terminating with cotton plants. The brass mounted leather scabbard has the usual knotted rope motifs at the suspension mounts and a pair of intertwined snakes at the drag. The reverse of the throat has an applied address plaque that reads in seven lines: FIRMIN / & / SONS / 153 STRAND / & / 13 CONDUIT St / LONDON. The scabbard is seamed along the back and has an applied black finish over the leather.

The Confederate "Dolphin Head" Naval Officer's Sword was based upon the English Pattern 1827 Lion's Head Naval Officer's Sword, and retained the solid guard with folding counter guard of the English sword pattern, but introduced new decorative motifs including the sea serpent pommel cap with scaled backstrap, as well as the Confederate naval blade and guard designs. The design of the sword has been attributed to George T. Sinclair of the Confederate Navy. The swords are encountered with two different retailer markings. The first were made by Robert Mole of Birmingham and bear the marks of Courtney & Tennent of Charleston, SC. The other variation is the Firmin retailer marked sword, whose maker (or makers) are not currently known. Both versions of the swords from the two retailers exhibit two variations in the blade etching, with the primary difference being in the presentation of the Confederate national flag. The two known Courtney & Tennent variations use the Confederate 1st National Flag with three wide horizontal stripes and a square canton. One version depicts 11 stars in a circle within the canton, the other version leaves the canton blank. The two previously known variations of the Firmin blade etching depict a 1st National Flag as well, but with a 13-star St. Andrews cross in the canton, with the difference in the etching being that one variation is frosted, while the other one is deeply etched without frosting. This sword shows the same standard deep etching as described in the second variation with the 13-star St. Andrews Cross in the canton, but without the three horizontal stripes. Thus, this sword actually depicts a Confederate 2nd National Flag, a flag not previously known to appear on these swords. The 2nd National Flag was not adopted until May 1 of 1863, and it is generally believed that the production of the Dolphin Head swords did not commence until the end of 1862 or very early in 1863. At that time, the 1st National Flag was still in use. The appearance of a 2nd National Flag on this blade suggests that this sword was a later production item, likely not produced until the very end of 1863 or even during 1864. To date, this is the only example known with this pattern of etching as the central theme on the obverse blade. All of the other etching conforms thematically to the expected decorations found on other known examples of Firmin marked Dolphin Head swords. The other interesting feature is the address panel on the scabbard throat. All previously known Firmin swords with this panel only have a two-line marking the reads "Firmin & Sons" over "London". This address panel has also only been associated with swords with frosty etching, not deep etching. This is the only known example with this multi-line panel providing the complete Firmin address. Again, it would be assumed that like the change in the etching of the flag, this would indicate an evolution in production, during the latter part of the war. While certainly not a scientific analysis, based upon known examples and sales, it does appear that the Courtney & Tennent swords are slightly more common than the Firmin marked examples. However, neither is remotely common and a Dolphin Head is usually one of the most coveted of acquisitions for any advanced Confederate naval collection.

Condition:

Very good. Blade with a medium pewter patina and deep etching that remains almost completely intact and fully visible. There is some scattered light surface oxidation and discoloration present on the blade, along with some tiny areas of very light pitting; primarily along the edge. Some small nicks are present along the edge of the blade as well, and the brass "PROVED" disk is missing from the obverse ricasso. The guard and hilt have a lovely, deep mustard patina, and retain only minute traces of gold gilt in the protected recesses of the casting. All hilt decorations remain crisp and clear with only the high edges around the sea serpent's bulbous eyes showing some light wear and loss of definition. The wrap remains in very good condition with light wear and the wire remains in place, with some small areas of minor looseness. The scabbard remains about very good with some finish loss, surface scuffing and scattered wear. The seam down the center of the back appears solid and essentially complete. The throat mount shows a small casting flaw below the knotted rope hanger mount. The mounts all have a nice, uncleaned patina and remain solidly attached to the scabbard. Overall a very nice and solid example of a very scarce Confederate Naval Officer's sword.

Estimate: $15,000 - $25,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium
$21,150
10/31/2018

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