COLLECTION: Mechanical Arts & Arms

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"Figure of Eight" Naval Cutlass

c. 1740-1750
Origin: Europe, Great Britain
OA: 33 1/8" Blade: 28 1/8" x 1 3/8"
Iron, steel and wood
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 2005-265
Label:Called a "Figure of Eight" cutlass for the distinctive shape of its handguard, this pattern evolved as the standard British "Sea Service" sword during the first quarter of the 18th century. Equally unique is its tubular iron grip, which hides a wooden mandrel inside of it. To prevent glare and rust during long periods in the hold of a man-o-war, these swords were "blackened," and this example shows much of its original black coating.

The first significant quantity of these swords first arrived in the American colonies early in the French & Indian War. When all sorts of arms and supplies were being requested from the Crown by Virginia and North Carolina in 1754, 3000 of these cutlasses were dispatched from stores kept at the Tower of London.

Still serviceable at the start of the Revolution, some 1500 of these cutlasses, complete with scabbards, were still kept in Williamsburg's Powder Magazine, as per the inventory of June 5, 1775. Furthermore, Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists have recovered a number of detached "Figure of Eight" hilts at the Anderson/Armoury site, suggesting they were being re-hilted during the Revolutionary War.

Mark(s):Both blade faces struck with a "fleur de lis," now very worn.