Rare Model 1839 West Point Cadet Sword by Ames



Rare Model 1839 West Point Cadet Sword by Ames – This sword is one of only 240 of this model produced between 1840 and 1856, and of the only few known examples that remain, one is in the West Point Museum. The double-edged blade is straight, tapered steel with a partial single fuller on each side. Both sides of the blade are etched with one side exhibiting scrolls and a large “US”; the other side has scrolls and a patriotic eagle with a riband etched with “E PLURIBUS UNUM”. The sword has a gilded, cast brass hilt with a silver plated, faux rope design; the hilt terminates in an urn-shaped pommel, embellished with raised leaves. Each langet has a cast, patriotic eagle and 13 stars, in relief. The guards are decorated with stippled panels and relief flowers on both sides of each branch; on the underside of each guard branch are the inset stampings of the initials of the Federal inspectors – “R.C.” (Rufus Chandler – 1831 – 1850) and what appears to be “W.R.” then perhaps “L.” – at this time, we cannot identify this inspector. This rare sword is accompanied by its original steel scabbard that has a single frog mounting stud, near the top of the scabbard. The sword and scabbard are both in overall very good condition; the sword blade has a grey patina that shows some wear from its original owner’s polishing. The hilt retains 85 – 90% of its original silver plating; the quillon, pommel and langets retain 70-80% of their original gilt finish; the pommel is somewhat loose. The scabbard retains a heavy brown patina, and evidences that it was once blued; there is scattered pitting and raised spots of old oxidation and wear. The sword retains its original and extremely rare, finished, pebble-grain, black leather belt frog; the two belt attachment straps are present, but both have detached from the frog proper; this can be readily repaired. Tied around the scabbard is the original, yellow or once gold, cotton sword knot; one of the original fringed, decorative ends remains on the knot. This sword is really very scarce and is a highly desirable, pre-Civil War, Ames contract sword made for West Point and VMI Cadets.

Measurements: overall length of the sword is 32.5”; the blade length is 26.5”; the width of the blade, at the hilt, is 1”; the central fuller 11.5 inches long; the scabbard is 27.5” long.

Additional information about the M1839 Cadet Sword**:

“One of only 240 produced between 1840 and 1856. There are only a few known examples remaining, one of which is in the West Point Museum. Straight tapered steel double-edged blade with partial single fuller on each side and etched. One side with scrolls and large “US”, the other with scrolls and patriotic eagle with banner reading “E PLURIBUS UNUM”. Gilt cast brass hilt with patriotic eagle and stars in relief on each languette. Guards decorated with stippled panels and relief flowers on both sides of each quillon. Cast brass grip with repeating roped patterns, terminating in an urn pommel with relief leaves. Pommel is marked with stamped inspector initials “R.H.K.W.” and “J.H.” for John Hannis or Joseph Hannis, arsenal inspectors from 1844-1864. Complete with steel scabbard with stud on right side, near top. Very good condition, blade has a grey patina and shows significant wear and polishing, some light marks from sharpening on both edges. Hilt retains 30-40% gilt finish overall, hilt and grip are loose. Scabbard retains a heavy brown patina with some areas of heavier patina. A very scarce and desirable pre-Civil War Ames contract sword made for West Point Cadets.”

“Pictured is the regulation U. S. Model 1839 sword for military cadets. Blade decorations are legible but weak as the sword seems to have been extensively polished, as you perhaps would expect from a cadet sword. Decorations on one side consist of oak leaves and acorns at the base of the blade as well as other types of leaves in other areas, a U.S. shield, staff of Hermes, and a large U. S. in a sun burst. The other side has the same oak leaves and acorns plus other leaves, a U.S. shield over crossed cannons, a staff topped by a Liberty Cap, and a standing eagle with the end of a furled banner in its mouth. The words E Pluribus Unum are done in cursive with a dry needle on the banner. Surprisingly, it is known that the Ames Manufacturing Company made these swords but there is no Ames marking on this blade. However, the scabbard is stamped AMES MFG. Co / CHICOPEE / MASS on the reverse. The brass hilt has some gilt remaining in protected areas. The pommel has the inspector’s stamps RHKW (Robert Henry Kirkwood Whiteley who was active from 1854 through 1858) and JH (either Joseph Hannis or James Hawkins). The presence of Whiteley’s stamp would indicate that this sword was one of 100 delivered to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in 1856. No serial numbers or other markings could be found. The iron scabbard may have been blued at one time, however it is now covered with the somewhat dull finish of early nickel plate. Since this model of sword was replaced sometime between 1870 and 1875, this nickel plating may have been done at the Academy. Unfortunately the scabbard throat is missing.

“Details on the M1839 Cadet Sword are somewhat murky. Due to the special relationship of the Virginia Military Institute with the War Department at the time, the government ordered 12 of these swords for VMI in 1840. Supposedly the 12 were delivered on May 14, 1840. However, a tally in 1841 found only 8. Were 4 not delivered or, more likely, did 4 swords depart for reasons unknown? VMI received another 8 of these swords on May 1, 1841 and yet another 20 on April 15, 1847. West Point received 100 of these swords on November 30, 1849 and another 100 on July 25, 1856. All contracted from the N. P. Ames Company or the Ames Manufacturing Company as the name became in the late 1840s. There is an unknown contract. A letter from the Chief of Ordnance to Ames dated April 14, 1840, states “Twelve swords, of the kind called “Cadet Swords” as such as have been furnished to the Military Academy, are required for the Virginia Military Institute”. This is the only mention of these U. S. Military Academy swords that has been found. It is implied that Ames made these swords but it can not be said for certain. The swords were probably delivered in 1838 or 1839 since correspondence indicates the USMA was in dire need of cadet swords in 1837 and Ames would have had to tool up to produce a new pattern of sword. Of course, the number of swords delivered will remain unknown unless some record is found.”

Model 1839

“Cadet swords made from 1839 to 1872 are very rare. The hilt is made of solid brass and the wire wrap grip is silver-plated. Only 200 swords were ordered for West Point and there are only a few known examples of 1839 swords. West Point has two, the Springfield Museum has several more, and there are a few in collectors’ hands. The Springfield Armory Museum is said to have several prototypes of this sword. Harold L. Peterson points out in his book, The American Sword, that the Springfield Armory ordered the swords in odd lots of 40, 18, and 20. In all, a total of 200 were received.”

In his book, Cadet Gray (p. 40) Fredrick Todd says:

“The Board of Visitors of the Military Academy made a study of this matter in 1837, and reported to the Secretary of War that there was “a great want of swords to supply the cadets who, from time to time, act as commissioned and non-commissioned officers of their battalion. The present swords were used during the Revolution, are worn, scarcely capable of use any longer, and entirely unfitted for the purpose. A plan of a sword is understood to be in the War Department.

The Board finally recommended a new West Point sword be adopted and issued to cadet officers, and two years later, in May 1839, these new swords arrived. They were straight-bladed with a brass hilt. The guard formed a simple cross—and this fact has led to the story that they were modeled after the swords carried by the Crusaders. It is more likely that they were modeled after the style of sword carried by the Finance Corps.

Two years later, the Commandant ordered cadet officers always to wear the sash when the sword was worn and specified which sergeants were entitled to this privilege. Twice since, the design of the cadet sword has been somewhat modified, but it still retains the simple cross design of 1839.”

Model 1839 West Point Cadet Sword

The first distinctive West Point cadet sword appeared in late 1840. A small sword with straight cross quillon, shield shaped langets, wire wrapped grips and an urn pommel. This sword was made by the Ames Manufacturing Company, Chicopee, Massachusetts. It is believed that cadet swords were purchased by the Ordnance Department for the U.S. Military Academy and V.M.I. In any event, cadet swords were inspected and die-stamped with the inspector’s initials. Hickox points out that V.M.I ordered the sword before the U.S. Military Academy did, and requested that the V.M.I. sword be marked appropriately, leaving the choice to N.P. Ames. Ames did not furnish cadet swords to the Academy prior to April 1840. The original order for 100 swords was not recorded. Hickox can only show 2 delivery dates to the Academy for cadet swords, 100 on 30 November 1849 for $11.00 each, and another 100 on 25 July 1856 for $10.00 each. Both orders were probably of the same pattern.

The regulations of 1839 are the last to mention cadet swords, when it was stated that cadets were to wear the swords worn by the Pay Department, a gilt-mounted small sword with a black scabbard.”



THE AMERICAN SWORD 1775-1945 by Harold L. Peterson