Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Baskethilt Sword

A Baskethilt is an early modern period, heavy, straight bladed sword with a handguard shaped like, well, a basket.  I know,  I know -- hence the name.   Most people associate baskethilts with Scotland.  While the sword type was popular in the Scottish highlands, it  also saw use across Europe from the 14th - 19th centuries.   Note, however, that a baskethilt is not a claymore.  A claymore is a long, straight, bladed Scottish sword of Medieval origin.  Rather than a basket, it has a simple cross guard.   Mel Gibson carried a claymore in Braveheart.   Liam Neeson fought a duel with a baskethilt in Rob Roy.  

The baskethilt blade, while typically straight, is also found curved and slightly curved.   The type has seen use by both  a mounted and foot swordsman with the only real difference being the length of the blade.   Think about it --  long blades are better for horseman who need the length to reach opponents on foot.  Blade types can be of either backsword (with a flat spine) or broadsword (double edged blade).  

The sword shown above is an 18th century 3/4 basket backsword of English origin.  While the hilt offers good protection to the hand, because of the basket it also restricts mobility.  Further, the horseman faces a challenge when the need arises to hold the horse' reigns with the right hand.  The 3/4 basket, meaning that it only has 3 panels to the guard rather than the customary 4, leaves protection to the outside of the hand while opening the inside to increase mobility.  This particular sword dates to circa mid 18th century and was in my collection a few years back. 

Those who have a desire to own a baskethilt should be prepared to spend a significant amount of money for the genuine item.   Because the sword form is associated with Scottish  Highland clans, it is very popular among collectors and people if Scottish ancestry.    The collector should also beware of reproductions and fakes.  Be on thr lookout for the mating of an original hilt with a later blade.  It is not uncommon to find an original 17th or 18th century English or Scottish basket matched to an incorrect blade such as a 19th century Ethiopian kaskara. The Ethiopian blade appears very similar the correct earlier blade, but is typically stamped with crescent moons.  Also watch out for Victorian reproductions as well as the official British pattern 1828 sword for officers of Scottish regiments.  While the baskets of the pattern 1829 swords look very similar to the 17th and 18th century versions, the blades are significantly smaller and the whole assembly comes apart easily  by the loosing of the pommel nut.  This is so that the basket may be replaced by a simple cross guard for full dress or gala functions.  The 19th century swords also typically have a fishskin grip whereas the earlier swords will usually have a leather, bone, horn or wood grip. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the 19th century pattern sword.  It has the same rugged looks and appeal of the older versions. However, it would be very disappointing to find out that you paid the price tag of an 18th century sword, but only got a sword worth several thousand dollars less. 

The sword depicted above is a British pattern 1828 manufactured by Wilkinson Sword in 1860.  It is also formerly of my collection.  Another one that I wouldn't mind owning again.  With a Wilkinson, information regarding the date of manufacture and the intial owner may be obtained.   I cannot remember the name of the individual who initially purchased this sword. I did research the fellow years back, but unfortunately I did not obtain any information about him.   The blade on this sword is fairly stout, so it probably was not made for a non-military carrier such as a pipe band major.   My guess is that the owner was a militia officer.