European Small-Sword

  • Dated: circa 1790-1800
  • Place of Origin: Switzerland, Geneva (blade: Germany, Solingen, early 18th)
  • Medium: hilt: gold with blue translucent enamel; blade: etched, blued and gilded steel
  • Measurements: Overall length 97.00 cm (38 3/16 inches); weight 0.43 kg; blade length 81.00 cm (31 7/8 inches); hilt length 16.50 cm (6 7/16 inches)

This example shows the small-sword at its latest and most refined stage of development. Though highly reflective of French taste, it was probably fashioned in a Swiss workshop under French influence or by a French craftsman working in Switzerland. Worn publicly as an emblem of social rank, this sword was likely custom-made for an affluent individual to use on formal or court occasions.

So-called because of its short blade, the small-sword emerged as the light and quick weapon of choice for aristocratic civilians during the 1700s. Such a sword was traditionally suspended at about mid-thigh from the left side of a belt, the hilt exposed through the opening of the gentleman’s coat.

Highly visible, the hilt invited lavish decoration through precious materials such as gold and enamels, as seen here. Considered a type of masculine jewelry at that time, small-swords featured a variety of hilt styles that went in and out of fashion. Many were decorated to match personal costume, and jewelers worked on the finest small-swords of the day.

Source: Copyright © 2014 Cleveland Museum of Art

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