An Italian Noble Guard saber
Until 1970 the Vatican had its own military units. Devided in the Swiss Guard, The Palatine guards and the Noble Guards. The latter was an elite unit of 90 man tasked as personal guard of the Pope. The Noble guard was established in 1801 by Pope Pius VII as a heavy cavalry dragoon unit.
This sword was made by Wester & Company during the reign of Pope Pius IX who reigned from 1848 until his death in 1878.
Italy, Vatican issue, ca. 1840
Materials: Steel, Iron, Velvet, Buffalo horn, Brass
In 1804 the Noble Guard had its first important role, escorting Pope Pius VII to the Notre Dame in Paris to witness the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte. After that the Noble guard was only required to serve as guard in the Pope’s Palace in the Vatican. During the reign of Pope Pius IX the Noble Guard was active in all Papal States in Italy, in 1870 the force was reduced to 70 man and merely equipped with a sabre. After 1904 all horses were sold and the guard became purely ceremonial.
The members of the Noble Guard were often noble man or had noble ancestry and were mostly inhabitants of Rome. The function was non-paid and uniforms and arms had to be acquired at own expense. Although the Vatican was compensating the expenses made.
A fine example, with full steel hilt, which is rare because most known examples had brass casted hilts. The model had influences of the French heavy cavalry sword. A large basket with four bars ending in a coffin hilt pommel and with a slightly curved guard. The hilt was made of horn with braided brass wire to maintain a better grip. The blade was made by Wester & Co in Solingen and of a very fine quality. The spine is straight and ends in a double edged tip. Two fullers run down the blade ending up in the tip. The blade is engraved with the coat of arms of the Vatican and a cartouche with ‘ W PIO IX’ which is the Italian pronunciation of Pius XI.
Fitted with a steel scabbard with two suspension rings and a non-assymetrical shaped chape.
Wester & Co
The sword maker is Isaac Wester, a well known sword maker who worked in Solingen and produced a large amount of blades for the Swiss and for the Union forces during the American civil war. His workshop was active from 1820-1890 and likely stopped producing in 1885 not being able to compete with large quantity manufacturers such as Weyersberg Kirschbaum & Co. according to Carters ‘German knife and sword makers’. The hilt is in French style, but the Italians preferred the straight hilt and pommel over the more rounded French hilt types which were mainly made for the United States Army in 1861-1865.
Condition: Very good, some ware due to age, the originally blued and gilded blade is worn, but the engraving is still in very good condition. Some brass wires on the grip show a little movement. Blade tip is slightly oxidized. A further very rare, unusual example of a Vatican Noble Guard sabre.
Blade length: 83.6cm
Blade thickness: 8mm
Total length: 104cm
– J.A Carter’s ‘German knife and sword makers’
– Richard H. Bezdek’s ‘German swords and sword makers’
Copyright by Antiques by the Sea- 2020
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