Collecting American Military Swords

The most popular collectible of all American arms are presentation swords which were awards of honor and not intended for combat. Many of these swords are decorated with gold and silver with elaborately etched blades. Also cherished are swords that officers had custom made for themselves, in many cases beautifully crafted of costly materials. Some collectors specialize in swords made by a particular sword maker, such as Nathan P. Ames of Springfield, MA. Ames made swords in the late 1800s. Other collectors concentrate on weapons of one period. The Civil War is the most popular.

Collectors of American Military Swords generally group swords according to the wars in which they might have been used, the Revolution, the war of 1812, the Mexican War of 1846-1848 and the Civil War. Swords of the Revolutionary period can be the most valuable.

Very few American swords made prior to the Revolution were made in America. Most swords were imported from Europe or just the blades were imported, then finished here. American made swords usually had a grip of cherry or maple wood wrapped in wire. A few of these sword makers signed their work, among them silversmiths John Bailey and Ephraim Brasher of New York City. In 1798, Nathan Starr of Middletown, Connecticut was making cavalry sabers for enlisted men. He produced 2,000 swords marking them with “N Starr & Co.” on one side of the blade and “US – 1799” on the other.

A number of other companies also manufactured swords for the United States Army in the post Revolutionary years and leading up to the War of 1812. These swords were called “contract” swords and are not that hard to find. The eagle, adopted as a national symbol in 1782, was a favorite choice of officers as an emblem on their swords. By the time of the Mexican War, many contract swords were made. The best known of these swords is the desirable model 1832. Many swords from the early 1800s saw service again in the Civil War, and examples of swords used in this conflict are also not hard to find. Any sword made for the Confederacy are prized more than those of the Union because far fewer were made. Confederate swords usually include the initials “CS” for Confederate States or “CSA” for Confederate States of America engraved on the blade. Discovering the history of a sword is one of the most interesting aspects of collecting. Many old American swords were engraved with the owners names. Their official military records can tell some fascinating stories and are available to the public.