Long way round for the Saxony sword

Mark van den Boogaart

The trouble with collecting antique arms is that of all the things you might find marked on a gun, sword or anything else, what you won’t find is: My name’s Dave, I live in (location), I made this sword on (date), because (reason). Now that doesn’t mean there’s never any information, for instance the British liked to mark up their guns, kept very good records and spoke and wrote in English. The French on the other hand generally made arms that look, well, French. And if you really know your stuff, the history of Japanese arms is clearly recognisable.

Then there were the Prussians, friend of the novice antique arms collector. The Prussians liked the idea of a stocktake, they liked to track their equipment and know who had what. Furthermore, they liked stamping their gear with big hammers so the history of Prussian equipment is usually right in front of you.

It’s for this reason I like collecting Prussian swords, a case in point being a recently-purchased short sword. The short sword in question is more properly known as a Sachsen Infanterie Faschinenmesser or Saxony Infantry Fascine knife, designated an M1845 it was very similar in design to the M1841 Prussian Infantry Sidearm. A fascine? It was a bundle of sticks bound together and stacked one on top of the other to protect infantry and artillery from indirect fire. So a Faschinenmesser or Fascine knife is a machete-like tool used to hack, cut and trim the sticks used in making the fascine. 

But you said you like Prussian, not Saxony swords? Well, it’s both. As history would have it, in the mid-1860s the Kingdom of Saxony sided with the Austrian Empire during the Austro-Prussian War. The outcome of this fraternal war between the various German states was ultimately Prussian victory and the incorporation of defeated armies into the Grand Prussian Army. Interestingly, this incorporation of armies also included their arms.

Looking at my M1845 it was obviously designed for a foot soldier and is in no way decorative or ornate, while the materials used in its build were simple, robust and very effective. The leather scabbard is in excellent condition for something possibly 170 years old and while superficially damaged, shows no sign of significant deterioration or shrinkage. After a very light clean it does show signs of overzealous cleaning by previous owners, but for a 19th century soldier’s sword it’s in a highly collectable condition.

Among its many markings it carries the Royal cypher and Royal crowns of King John of Saxony (1854-1873) so that’s the Saxony part. The Royal cypher also gives us a possible build date post-1854 and as to its manufacture, the blade is stamped with the knight’s helm of W.R. Kirschbaum & Co of Solingen, Germany.

But it also carries numerous Prussian Army regimental markings. There are actually two separate regimental markings on the cross guard including 107.R.E.1.211, which has been erased with a single strike through, the other being 134.R.H.398. Finally, the brass fitting on the leather scabbard shows another regimental marking of 103.R.12.139 which probably means somewhere in its history the original scabbard was replaced.

In considering all this information, research indicates the R implied reserve. Not to be confused with reinforcements, reserves were support troops, often provisional forces brought together to ‘fill out’ the numbers of more formal regiments. With that in mind, I believe R.E. equates to Reserve Ersatz or Reserve Replacements and R.H. for Reserve Haubitze or Reserve Howitzer. In researching the numbers, the 103rd, 107th and 134th were all Royal Saxon Regiments within the Grand Prussian Army, the 103rd being first raised in 1709 in Bautzen (Saxony), the 107th in Leipzig (Saxony) in 1708 and the 134th in Plauen (Saxony) in 1881.

It also carries a clear U on the blade, scabbard, cross-guard and handle and I reckon it stands for Unfathomable - that is, I’ve no idea what the U means. Finally there’s a crown mark on the brass scabbard fitting and while I can’t make it out, it does appear different to the other Royal Cypher and Crown stamps, so the scabbard may be older than the sword.

So in summary it’s an Infantry man’s side-arm. Designed for pioneering more than fighting it formed part of a soldier’s kit and no doubt was used for other tasks like cutting firewood, building a shelter and maybe chopping the heads off chickens.

It was made sometime after 1854 and was the property of two armies and possibly a number of soldiers. It was in service until at least 1881 and considering its age, it’s probable service and the fact it somehow made its way from Solingen, Germany to Saxony to Brisbane, Australia, it’s holding its age very well and makes for a fine, collectable sword.

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