Object Title

Sword and scabbard

Sword and scabbard


about 1786

Object Number



Purchased from Mr Peter Finer (dealer) on (invoice date) 14 May 1990 (Previously deposit A088). Previously sold at Butterfield and Butterfield, (see Anon. 1990, under Publications) and at Sotheby's, 20 March 1967, p. 41, Lot 171 (illus. in cat.).

Physical Description

Gold (or possibly silver-gilt) hilt and scabbard mounts, but not hallmarked. The hilt is of small-sword form. The oval-sectioned, urn-shaped pommel has relief decoration on the body, arranged in three bands (top to bottom): oak-leaves and acorns; a row of 'bright' roundels on a horizontally hatched ground; and a row of vertical acanthus leaves. The flat knuckle-guard and rear quillon, joined by a cylindrical sleeve with an oval flower in the centre (both inside and outside), are decorated on both faced faces in relief with oak leaves and acorns, with oval flowers in the centre of the knuckle-guard and forming the quillon terminal. The 'arms' are in the form of swags of oak leaves and acorns with their outer ends looped over oval medallions. The single, oval shell is decorated on both faces with a border of relief oak leaves and acorns, surrounding a band powdered with 'bright' roundels against a latitudinally hatched ground, with a row of radiating pointed and feathered leaves (stylized acanthus?) inside that and surrounding the blade. The grip is decorated with roundles on a horizontally hatched ground en suite with the similar decoaration on the pommel and shell, with a band of oak leaves and acorns running along the front and rear. In the centre of both faces of the grip is an enamelled oval plaque set within a frame of oak leaves and acorns. The plaque on the outside is painted with an achievement of the arms of the Honourable East India Company; that on the inside with an inscription (black script on a white ground), 'TO / LIEUTT. POPHAM, / OF THE ROYAL NAVY; / IN TESTIMONY OF HIS / HAVING GRATUITOUSLY /

The straight, double-edged, blade, of flatened oval section and with a vestigial ricasso, is decorated for about the first quarter on both sides with gilded decoration on a blued ground. The decoration comprises (from the base) a cross-hatched panel, a foliage sprig, a patera and two further foliage motifs. All the foregoing motifs are fire gilded and are separated by groups of small oval depressions, which are ungilded and may originally have had a bright finish (possibly the tie in with the bands of 'bright' roundels on the hilt).

The black leather scabbard has a gold (or possibly silver gilt) (top) locket and chape, the latter being extended at the top with a plain brass sleeve, presumably a later repair. The locket has a small loose ring, supported on an attached eyelet, and is decorated with relief foliage swags and, on the outer face, with an oval flower at the base. The chape is decorated at the top and bottom with bands of stylized acanthus foliage. There is now no mid-locket and it has probably been lost.

Condition on cataloguing (6 July 2007): The base of knuckle-guard and rear quillon have been bent in opposite directions with the result that the peg on the blade side of the latter and the nearest 'arm of th hilt' no longer engage with their corresponding holes in the shell. Some corrosion marks on blade and the bluing is rubbed. Otherwise in good condition. The scabbard has probably lost its mid-locket (see above), the top locklet is loose and the edges of the scabbard have worn or split near the mouth.


Dimensions: Sword: Overall length: 1008 mm (39 11/16 in.), Blade length: 835 mm (32 7/8 in.), Blade width, by hilt: 25 mm (1 in.), Scabbard: Length: approx. (because locket is loose): 838 mm (33 in.) Weight: Sword: 590 g (1 lb 4 1/4 oz), Scabbard: 72 g (2 1/2 oz)

Inscriptions and Marks

(none visible)


Places Britain

Bibliographic References

Anon., 'Auction Report', Man at Arms, XII, no. 1 (Jan./Feb., 1990), pp. 35 and 37 (illus.).


Caffraria or Kaffraria is at the eastern tip of modern South Africa (PJL from 'The Imperial Atlas').
'Lt. Popham' - Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762 - 1820). Born 12th October 1762 at Tetuan where his father was consul, he was the 21st child of his mother who expired in child birth. Her entered Royal Navy in February 1778, and took part in the action off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780. On 16 June 1783 he was promoted Lieutenant and was employed in the survey mentioned in the citation on the sword. Between 1787 and 1793 he seems to have been engaged in some sort of personal trading to India and the Far East, while carrying out surveys for the East India Company. The Company, claiming infringement of their monopoly, seized his ship in 1793, and Popham put his loss at £70,000 and went to Law. After protracted legal action he was awarded damages of £25,000 in 1805. He subsequently had a rather chequered Naval career, and was promoted Rear Admiral in 1814.
He is perhaps best remembered for his interest in signalling, and in 1803 the Admiralty adopted his system of vocabulary code. It was with Popham's code that Nelson's famous signal to the fleet before the battle of Trafalgar was sent. (notes by BC from DNB; 'Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea', 1976).