Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Surgeon’s Sword

By Chuck Franson, Registrar, AMEDD Museum, Summer 2013

Beginning in 1840 and continuing for 62 years, U.S. Army Medical Officers were required to purchase a dress sword. This sword was completely ceremonial in purpose and was not considered an implement of war, unlike cavalry sabers or foot officer’s swords. The regulations called for a “small sword and scabbard, according to pattern in the Surgeon-General's office.” Even though the published details are vague, the M1840 sword is easily recognized.

The 1840 medical sword in the collection of the AMEDD Museum has a blade marked “Solingen” indicating that it was manufactured in Solingen, Germany, a city with a long history of cutlery manufacturing. The imported blade was transformed into a sword by the G. W. Simons & Brother Company of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. This company began in 1839 and by 1860 was manufacturing a diverse array of gold and silver items including gold and silver thimbles, pencil cases, tooth and ear picks, cane heads, bracelets, studs, seals and badges. With the expansion of the Army due to the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1861, Simons added officer’s swords to their product line.

The sword has a double-edged straight blade, etched “United States Medical Staff” on the obverse, and on the reverse an eagle and a banner with “E Pluribus Unum.” The hilt has an English style “M S” (for Medical Service) in silver on a shield-shaped langet, sitting above 13 stars enclosed by a wreath. The hilt has an acorn-shaped pommel, with scroll shaped double quillon. The hilt and scabbard are decorated with acanthus leaves, a very popular decorative motif of the period. The hilt, scabbard and fittings are made of gilt over brass, with the blade being of steel. The reverse langet was frequently engraved with the name of the officer purchasing the sword. The langet on this sword is unfortunately blank The Medical Officer’s sword was discontinued in 1902, when regulations prescribed the M1902 sword for all officers except chaplains.



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