Our Top Five... Collectible sword sales of 2010

Swords have been with us since the 3rd century BC, as soon as metalwork developed to a point when blades could be extending beyond the length of a dagger without it being likely to bend or snap too easily, with the name simply meaning 'to wound'.

They are unlike many weapons which have accompanied been used alongside them in that they have only ever really been used in battle, unlike bows & arrows and spears which may be used for hunting, or axes which have more domestic roles.

For that reason swords are used as symbols of power and also in ceremony. Their use is bound up with concepts of honour and pride in a way that few other weapons are. Retiring soldiers are rarely given ceremonial coshes out of respect, nor has Queen Elizabeth II ever knighted anyone with an axe.

With that in mind, here are our Top Five collectible swords from last year:

Protecting the Emperor

In October, Italian auction house Czerny auctioned a wealth of historic militaria.

Among the auction's highlights was a rare bayonet from the French Cent Gardes - the elite squadron of one-hundred horse guards which personally protected Emperor Napoleon III.

Bearing the mark of the Imperial manufacturer, Chatellerault, and the date 1814, its blade is straight, widely-grooved and single-edged and it sold with a listing of €5,500.

Robert the Bruce's Crusade

Over the summer last year, one of the swords sold by Bonhams was a silver hilted broadsword with an old blade. It had been passed down through the Douglas family to Sir Alec Douglas Home of the Hirsel, former British Prime Minister.

The blade bears the inscription of a wild man (wodewose) with a heart on his left breast between the inscription 'For Strength In Stier This [the heart] I Bier' (for strength in battle this heart I bear).

Sir James Douglas sword
Sir James Douglas/Robert the Bruce sword

This illustration recalls the earlier sword carried by James Douglas on the ill-fated crusade to the Holy Land which ended in Moorish Spain whilst he was carrying Robert the Bruce's embalmed heart. The sword sold for £10,800.

A gift from a Prince to a hero

Back in the spring, Dominic Winter Auctions had a sale of medals, militaria and military books. The auction offered 340 collectibles of many different kinds. But there was a stand-out piece.

The General Officer's pattern mameluke style presentation sword, was given to General Sir Dighton Probyn in 1876 following his accompanying of the young Prince Edward VII on a tour of India.

Dighton Probyn had been honoured with the Order of the Bath and the Victoria Cross amongst many other awards for his acts of bravery at the Indian mutiny, which included taking on five or six opponents in hand to hand combat at once.

The sword has a complex inscription down the blade, and the hilt is of heavy quality cast brass with applied silver devices of the Prince of Wales crest on the front langet and his initials AE on the other. It also contains ivory.

The sword beat its estimate to bring £10,000.

A sword fit for a samurai

For its beautiful workmanship, and exceptionally lethal appearance, a katana sold in November stands out. The Bicchu-Aoe juyo katana (longsword) dated back to 1361.

It was only the second blade by Tsugunao to have been offered for sale in the West for over twenty years, the first being a tachi blade, dated 1347, from the Walter Compton collection, sold at Christie's in 1992.

During the period of 1350-1370, Aoe smiths tended to produce blades with tight, clear ko-itame-hada, distinct from the chirimen-hada which was associated with earlier Aoe work, and the rarity of the blade helped it to its £90,000 value.

The Sultan's Silver Sword

Some swords are, of course, purely ceremonial in which case they became examples purely of beauty and ostentation.

Whilst you wouldn't want to face anyone wielding the Ottoman presentation kilic which sold at Hermann Historica in the autumn, it's likely that its owner would fight unarmed rather than risk damaging it, as it is simply too valuable:

The full-length curved blade is decorated with precious metals all the way along, its hilt (pictured above) is decorated with diamonds and emeralds and it slips into a scabbard which had the tughra of Sultan Abdul Hamid I carved into its silver.

It would be almost an honour to be attacked with that.


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