The French Naval Officers' sword Model 1837


By  Jean BINCK



During the period of the old French monarchy, the French officers of the "Marine Royale" were mainly from noble families. They carried the épée (smallsword), the only weapon  suited  to their social rank. The sailors were armed with a short boarding sabre.

Customs changed with the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars.   Many noblemen emigrated to foreign countries and naval officers, newly commissioned  from the ranks or from the commercial navy, adopted various styles of short swords, many of these being variations of infantry patterns. The first regulation naval officers' pattern appeared only in 1804 (An XII).

After the collapse of the French Empire, King Louis XVIII restored the old traditions and the regulation officers' smallsword Mle 1816 became the official weapon for naval officers. However, many contemporaneous drawings also show naval officers with naval dirks, a fashion  probably copied from the British navy. Napoleonic sabres bearing no symbols of the Empire were tolerated.

It is along with the revival of the French naval power and the new regulation of 1837 that a new sabre was officially sanctioned for naval officers serving at sea.   The smallsword was subsequently only worn in the service by naval administration officers.

During the major conflicts of the 19th Century, and in the French colonies from Africa to China fighting against pirates or local warlords, this new pattern saw decades of action all around the world.



Focusing on an early Naval Officers' sword Model 1837 made in Klingenthal around 1838-1840.



When looking at this sword, the first thing attracting attention is the profusely decorated half basket guard. It is probably the most ornate French regulation fighting sword ever made. The naval officers were often the first contact that the native tribes of the colonies had with the French government and, in many of these tribes, the rank and power of a man depended on the quality and value of his dress and personal weapons. Therefore, in order to give the best image of the power of France, the naval officers' swords were always richly and profusely ornate.



Though the sword may appear to be just for ceremonial purposes, it is actually  light and swift for combat. The strong short pipe back blade with sharp counter edge is perfectly adapted to close combat on the deck of a ship or a hostile shore.





Blade length & width: 648 mm x 27.5 mm

Blade type: pipe back, double edged for last 205 mm

Guard & hilt: gilt brass

Grip: black buffalo horn

Scabbard: black leather, gilt shape, band and locket. Loose ring on band and locket.

Total weight: 908 g

Sword weight: 713 g

Marking & stamps: on blade spine: Coulaux aîné & Cie à Klingenthal

On ricasso: 2 inspection stamps (crowned B and G in jagged circle)


Collectors may have asked themselves why the two ring scabbard also has a button on the upper fitting and what is the use of the small ring fixed to the lower ferrule of the guard?   In fact, the sword knot passing through the ring is fixed to this button to secure the sword in the scabbard as shown below.