This exceptional American Civil War edged weapon has a 30.25″ single edged, spear point blade with a 6″ false edge and a 19.25″ stopped median fuller. The pommel cap is patterned as a “Dolphin Head” sea serpent and peened to the gilt brass hilt with solid guard and folding counter guard (with latch hole to engage the stud on the reverse of the scabbard throat). The face of guard is cast with the Confederate Naval insignia consisting of a fouled anchor superimposed on a pair of crossed cannon, all surrounded by cotton plants and tobacco leaves. The sea serpent pommel cap merges into a scaled backstrap that terminates in a ferrule behind the guard, with a knuckle bow that joins the guard to the pommel cap terminating in the serpent’s mouth. The grooved wood grip is covered in off-white shagreen (ray or shark skin) with 7 wraps of triple-strand wire, the center of each wrap being coiled with the flanking plain pair. The reverse ricasso is etched with a six-line Firmin address, reading: FIRMIN & SONS / – 153 – / STRAND / & 13 / CONDUIT St / LONDON. The reverse of the blade is etched with a variety of intertwined scrolls and vines leading to crossed cannon over a fouled anchor motif transitioning to ripened cotton plants. The obverse blade is etched with a six-pointed star on the ricasso surrounding a round impression where a small disc (reading “PROVED”) would normally be located. The blade is etched with the same pattern of intertwined foliate vines as found on the reverse leading to a wonderful Confederate Second National Flag (Stainless Banner) surmounting an anchor then again terminating with cotton plants. The brass mounted leather scabbard has elaborate knotted rope motifs at the suspension mounts and a pair of intertwined and heavily detailed sea snakes at the drag. The reverse of the throat has an applied maker plaque that reads in seven lines: FIRMIN / & / SONS / 153 STRAND / & / 13 CONDUIT St / LONDON. The scabbard is seamed along the back and has an applied black finish over the leather.
The Confederate “Dolphin Head” Naval Officer’s Sword was based upon the English Pattern 1827 Lion’s Head Naval Officer’s Sword and retained the solid guard with folding counter guard of the English sword pattern, but introduced new decorative motifs including the sea serpent pommel cap with scaled backstrap as well as the Confederate Naval blade and guard designs. The design of the sword has been attributed to George T. Sinclair of the Confederate Navy. The swords are ONLY encountered with two different retailer markings. The first patterns were made by Robert Mole of Birmingham and bear the marks of Courtney & Tennent of Charleston, SC. The second variation is the Firmin retailer marked sword, whose actual maker (or makers) are not currently known but the swords may have been manufactured by the famed maker, Wilkinson, under contract. Both versions of the swords from the two retailers exhibit two variations in the blade etching with the primary difference being in the presentation of the Confederate National Flag. The known Courtney & Tennent variations use the Confederate 1st National Flag with three wide horizontal stripes and a square canton. One type depicts 11 stars in a circle within the canton and another version leaves the canton blank.
The two known variations of the Firmin blade etching depict a 1st National Flag as well, but with a 13-star St. Andrews cross in the canton with the difference in the etching being that one variation is frosted, while the other one is deeply etched without frosting. This sword shows the same standard deep etching as described in the second variation with the 13-star St. Andrews Cross in the canton, but without the three horizontal stripes. This sword actually depicts a Confederate 2nd National Flag which a flag not previously known to appear on these swords.
The 2nd National Flag was not adopted until May 1 of 1863 and it is generally believed that the production of any of the “Dolphin Head” swords did not commence until the end of 1862 or very early in 1863. Up until that time, the 1st National Flag was still in use. The appearance of a 2nd National Flag on this blade suggests that this sword was a later production item likely not produced until after May of 1863.
To date, this is the only example known with this pattern of etching as the central theme on the obverse blade. All of the other etching conforms thematically to the expected decorations found on other known examples of Firmin marked Dolphin Head swords. The other interesting feature of this particular sword is the address panel on the scabbard throat. All previously known Firmin swords with this panel only have a two-line marking the reads “Firmin & Sons” over “London”. This address panel has also only been associated with swords with frosty etching, not deep etching. This is the only known example with this multi-line panel providing the complete Firmin address. Again, it would be assumed that like the change in the etching of the flag, this would indicate an evolution in production or possibly a custom manufactured sword for a specific Navy officer. Courtney & Tennent marked swords are slightly more common than Firmin marked examples but neither is common and a Dolphin Head is usually one of the most coveted of acquisitions for any advanced Confederate Naval collection. The actual number which have survived is estimated to be less than thirty in the entire world.