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French AN XIII Cuirassier Sabres Article

I felt the need to write this article about French Napoleonic AN XI / XIII heavy cavalry swords because of the amount of false / misinformation out there on the subject, especially regarding Waterloo captured swords. Part of the problem is the proliferation of so-called experts on the subject, each with their own views and where those views are too often selfish (they do not want anyone else having a special sword) and / or simple intransigence where they have stated something as fact and will never change their tune, no matter how much evidence is against them, simply out of false pride.

I have exchanged information, observations and ideas with a number of collectors of AN XI / XIII, museums and authors. I believe the following clears up many of the cloudy or sometimes falsely stated areas of these highly sought after Napoleonic French swords.

AN XI Vs. AN XIII
Roman numerals used by the French to indicate the years 1802 and 1804 (based on the revolutionary calendar). Regarding Cuirassier sabres their meaning is easy. AN XI (1802) is when the famous Cuirassier sabre used in the Peninsula War, the Russian Campaign and the 100 Days War (Waterloo) was introduced. AN XIII (1804) is when that same sword was given an official model designation by the French. It gets confusing because the French often today refer to the sabre as the AN XI, while the British with their need to be official about everything call them AN XIII’s; they are the same thing.

Some experts / authors such as Lhoste and Resek describe the AN XI and AN XIII as different swords by pointing out the junction of the hilt bars into the pommel (earlier sabres having only the knuckebow join the pommel, later sabres having the knuckelbow and a union of the three hilt bars join it). This is nonsense, like all swords the manufacturer improves them as time goes on. There are no separate AN XI and AN XIII models (see books by Michel Petard), they are the same sword with slight improvements being made from the originals as you would expect culminating in the final official model in 1804.

Spear Point Vs Clipped Point and Waterloo
This is in context to AN XIII sabres found outside France.

Some collectors and “experts” claim that a spear pointed AN XIII sabre means the sword post-dates Waterloo when it was decommissioned one way or another. This is based on a theory that the French did not modify the original clipped points of AN XIII Cuirassier sabres until after Waterloo; this is not true.

First, it is important to realize that all French heavy cavalry trooper sabres of this era had clipped points when they were made until 1855, except for special orders for spear points made according to Michel Petard (famous French author) during the height of production; the height of production for AN XIII’s was during the final stages of Russian Campaign and just prior to the 100 Days War; 1814 to early 1815, before Waterloo. Most spear pointed AN XIII’s however were not made that way, they were modified by the regiments that used them. It is ironic how some collectors accept the British modified their 1796 Pattern heavy cavalry sabres to spear points prior to Waterloo in response to the superiority of the thrust (penetration) capabilities of the French AN XIII and yet somehow claim the French did not have spear pointed blades when it comes to pre-Waterloo French sabres!

You only have to look at the numbers / greater percentage of spear pointed Vs original clipped pointed AN XIII’s that come onto the market in the UK to realize the French had mostly spear pointed their AN XIII’s prior to waterloo. How else did all these spear pointed AN XIII’s without post-Waterloo inspection marks (when the fragile brass hilts or scabbards were replaced for example) get to the UK? Are we to believe the British had an insatiable desire to buy them from the French in 1822 when the hilt design was changed or in 1855 when the model was replaced? How come many spear pointed sabres can be found in Waterloo Exhibitions at Museums (e.g. the Musee de Centre General Gerard at Ligny in Belgium). Please! The vast majority of AN XIII’s in the UK are war trophies; either battlefield pick-ups or confiscations after the event. Either way, they nearly all are certain to be Waterloo or earlier era sabres.

Telling an AN XIII battlefield pick-up
The signs for a battlefield pick-up, a sabre taken from a fallen or injured French Cuirassier are;
a) Some form of damage from being used or having fallen.
b) The lack of a scabbard; not always but mostly battlefield pick-ups would be An XIII sabres out of their scabbards as the trooper who held them would most likely have had his sabre drawn when he was injured or felled, and because he would likely have ridden or been dragged away by his horse so as to separate the two, plus the scabbards would have been more prone to being damaged as the trooper and / or horse often would have fallen on them.

When trying to determine if an AN XIII lost its scabbard at Waterloo or at a later date, check the blade condition with the leather grip condition as these both are prone to decay by dampness. If the blade is in very good order but the grip is very poor, if you do not have a scabbard it is likely because the thing rusted away. If the blade and the grip are commensurate with being exposed to the air around them for a very long time, then it is almost certainly a Waterloo war trophy. As I said, some battlefield pick-ups would have involved having the original or another nearby scabbard.

Next, check the hilt and scabbard if you have one for post-Waterloo French inspector stamps. Some, although not all of these are listed here: Klingenthal Inspection Marks - remember Versailles had its own stamps and that many hilts were made in Versailles; I have a reference book of these. If nothing is post-Waterloo, the sabre is unlikely to have been carried after the battle, heightening the likelihood it was a war trophy carried home by a British soldier. Some people point to a B in a pointed shield poincon and believe this to be the mark of inspector Balaran (Klingenthal inspector from 1834 to 1836) seen on hilts and scabbard throats and cite this as proof these sabres are post-Waterloo;

But the B is not the B Star of Balaran in a shield with a rounded bottom and less pronounced points;

It is the B Crown of the unknown (unnamed) inspector of the time (1814) at the private side of Klingenthal, Coulaux;

You see, during the time of maximum production need, private arms makers such as Coulaux were sequestered in to help. Part of the effort was to return older swords to service, so you will see the old rack numbers struck out (as above) with a new number and inspection mark; an inspection mark dating the sword's reissue to 1814 / 1815.

Below, in fact, is the poincon these so called collectors claim to be that of Balaran (1834 to 1836) (note, it is much larger than the B crown poincon example above);

But even then I disagree that this is the poincon of Balaran (which would date the sword hilt inspection to 1834 - 1836). Why? Look at it! Does it look like the official drawing of the poincon for Balaran? No! Wouldn't it be a good idea right now for me to show a photo of an actual struck Balaran poincon? Sure, but I have never seen one! The problem is, if you search for a Balaran poincon on Google for example, all you turn up are presumptions, no absolute examples.

I have found another B stamp on An XIII's which clearly are pre-1816 because they are the only hilt poincon / inspection stamp, so it was applied when the sword was originally hilted. The below example shows this unknown, probably a Coulaux inspector, inspection stamp against a weapon number of 1550 (the blade was dated January 1815).

Further, the French changed their hilt design in 1816, and I have encountered a few An XIII blades in the 1816M hilt, which means the French (who were strapped for cash after Waterloo) rehilted usable blades into the new style hilts. So why would an intact An XIII remain in service until 1834 to 1836; the blade, perhaps yes; the hilt, no, no, no! The idea that An XIII's stayed in use to 1834 - 1836 and beyond gets even harder to believe when you realize they changed their sword model again in 1822. Even if some An XIII's remained intact in service with reserve cavalry units after the 1816M hilt change, there would have been many 1816's to pass to reservists in 1822 when the model changed again. So it does not make sense that a An XIII with its original hilt would have remained in service in 1834-1836; I think the notion is ridiculous.

I buy swords from both the UK and France, and I see nothing to presume An XIII's continued intact in service after the 1816M. I have bought post-Waterloo An XIII's (dated early 1816 to the blade spine) with no different poincons to those known to have been taken from the battlefield at Waterloo. Post-Waterloo, pre-1816M An XIII's are incredibly rare, as they did not need to make many if any. I believe that probably all but a tiny few serviceable An XIII's had their blades removed and rehilted in 1816. I do not believe it possible that any An XIII's remained in service past 1822. In my opinion, if you buy an An XIII from the UK, it is a Waterloo or shortly thereafter war trophy. If you buy one in France, it is one that was spirited away from service in 1816 or before. I think some of those in the UK were probably bought in france at some stage, but not that many. So, if a AN XIII comes from the UK, I believe you are 95% sure the sword came from Waterloo or shortly thereafter.

The so called 1816 scabbard (AKA Mark 3 Scabbard)
This is another aspect often used to try and deny an AN XIII having been a Waterloo war trophy. In 1816 the French approved the Mk 3 / 1816 scabbard for AN XIII Cuirassier sabres, so every sabre with one of these Mk. 3’s is claimed by some to show it is a post-Waterloo acquisition; nonsense! Just like the AN XI (1802) Vs AN XIII (1804) sabre scenario / explanation, the MK.3 scabbards too were made ahead of the model date, in this case before Waterloo. The French would introduce a new piece of equipment and it would become official at a later date; the reverse of what happened with British patterns. Mk. 3 scabbards were made from 1814 and you can find examples of these on sabres in Museums known to have come from Waterloo, such as the Musee de Centre General Gerard in Belgium. We have handled several examples where the blade spine is dated pre-Waterloo, the hilt has only one serial number (so it can be dated to the same date as the blade) and where the serial number on its Mk 3 scabbard is the same; thus proving beyond all reasonable doubt Mk 3 scabbards were made before Waterloo as well as after.

Mk. 1, Mk. 2 and Mk. 3 scabbards.
Mark 1 scabbards were too flimsy, so they were replaced. Mark 2 scabbards were too heavy (often made of iron) and were replaced. Mark 2 scabbards had lyre shaped chapes. Mark 3 scabbards have guitar shaped chapes. Some people claim the Mk. 3 scabbard was introduced to accommodate the spear point blades; nonsense. Spear points for French Cuirassier blades were not regulated (ordinarily made that way) until 1855; spear pointed blades are mostly in service modifications made by regiments. You can tell this is true by putting an original unmodified clip pointed 97 cm bladed sabre into a Mk. 3 scabbard; it fits perfectly.

The number of grip ring binding turns.
One of the useful ways of spotting fake / reproduction AN XIII’s is the number of ring turns for the grips twisted wire bindings. Most authentic AN XIII’s have around 11 turns. The most common reproductions have 15 or 16. But, some authentic AN XIII’s do have more turns, 15 or 16, though these are in the minority. It seems the reason for an authentic AN XIII to have 15 or 16 turns is a) that it is an early sabre with the original grip, b) that the hilt has been re-griped according to later preference, c) that the sabre was help by a dragoon, not a cuirassier or d) that the sabre was issued to Dutch / Belgium Cuirassiers when those countries were part of the French Republic.

How to spot fake AN XIII’s
This mostly relates to AN XIII sabres with blades marked to Klingenthal
1) Blades with October 1813 dates to the spine are most often fakes. In any event, check the date on the blade’s spine with the little round inspection marks (poincons) on the forte / ricasso here: Klingenthal Inspection Marks - If they do not agree with each other, the blade is not authentic.
2) Some reproductions do not have a lower ferrule where the grip meets the front guard; almost every authentic AN XIII has a lower ferrule though please note, very early production versions and those made for Dutch / Belgium Cuirassiers may not (though the majority do).
3) The junction of the guard with the pommel is often wrong with reproductions; both the knucklebow and a union of the 3 hilt bars should join the pommel, unless the sabre wqs made in 1802 or 1803.
4) The quality of the poincons, in particular the wreathed B of Bick is often poorly done on reproductions; also many reproductions only have two not the correct three poincons.
5) Reproductions generally have pigskin made to look like leather grips; check the colour and quality.
6) Reproductions often have thinner ring binding gauges; make sure the twisted wire is thick like it should be.

Check known reproduction wholesaler sites such as Military Heritage AKA the Discriminating General, WorldWide Arms and Stromlo Swords to compare.

Finally
Bear in mind most but not all AN XIII blades were made in Klingenthal - so some authentic blades will have totally different markings.

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