A (probably) Reeves-Wilkinson undecorated sword of exciting provenance

A newly acquired sword of mine is this 1897 Infantry pattern sword with an unmarked economy/fighting blade bearing a proof slug marked ‘R’ which I believe to be late Reeves, a belief corroborated by British Military Swords from 1800 to the Present Day by John Wilkinson Latham — the book shows an example of a Reeves proof slug from later in the 1900’s, but it is my belief that this impressed ‘R’ is a Reeves slug from the 1890's.

Proof slug examples in John Wilkinson Latham’s book
The impressed ‘R’ proof slug

A particularly noteworthy thing about this sword is that it has a second damaged proof slug on the reverse side to the ‘R’ slug, this damaged slug bearing the ‘HW’ of Wilkinson.

The slug is badly damaged, but is clearly the ‘HW’ of Wilkinson

It also has a serial number on the spine, and the serial number correlates with the pattern and time period for it to be a Wilkinson. The sales ledger entry for this serial number shows that it was one of a list of purchases made on the same day by officers of the London Volunteers bound for South Africa in January 1900. It also mentions that all of the officers purchasing swords on this page ordered a ‘dull’ hilt, which matches the lack of polished finish on the sword.

The relevant pages from the Wilkinson sales ledger here — note that every filled in sales entry on this page is a sale to an officer of the London Volunteers, all on the same day, 03/01/1900

This leads me to believe that either:

  1. Wilkinson was somewhat overwhelmed by the workload created by the sudden demand for swords to fight in the Second Boer War and sent bare blades to Reeves to be finished, as Reeves was all but bought out by Wilkinson at this point in time.
  2. The manufacture of the sword was botched in some manner by Wilkinson (The HW slug is damaged, and is inlayed into the wrong side of the sword) and it was sent to Reeves to reproof, finish, furnish and then sent back to be sold as seconds.
  3. That the sword was damaged or otherwise somehow compromised during its time in South Africa, and that it was reproved with the ‘R’ upon its return (or perhaps prior to the owner setting off to fight in WWI, this seeming to have been his fighting sword – I would expect his usual blade to have been made out to the London Irish Rifles).

Personally I think option 2 is the most likely.

The guard bears Victoria’s cypher, which further solidifies the date of manufacture. The guard and grip are in generally good condition but are held on with a hex nut, something that I would normally associate with a later repair but that in this case may indicate the economy nature of the fit and finish (or may simply be from a later tightening of or repair to the grip).

Some evidence that Reeves-made blades of this period were not serial numbered was posted on the forum Sword Forum International in 2008, the images shown here:

Images posted on Sword Forum

The sword pictured is an example of an 1896 Cavalry sabre, clearly carrying the same proof slug and with no serial number on the spine of the ricasso. This proves to some degree that Reeves sabres of the late 1890’s were not numbered as standard, meaning that the serial number almost certainly is one of Wilkinsons, with the date of manufacture lining up with the Wilkinson number sequence perfectly.

An 1892 Wilkinson number from my collection on the left, and the number of the sword in question on the right — this matches Wilkinson's 1900 numbers.

There is also the example below of an 1845 pattern blade married to an 1897 pattern guard with the cypher of George V. This one is something of an oddity due to the blade, but may have been an Army Service Corps or Royal Artillery officer moving to an infantry regiment and updating the guard of his sword accordingly. It is also possible that the 1845p blade was a special order. Other than that, this seems to fit the general bracket of very late 19th century and very early 20th century.

An 1845/97 pattern sword bearing the impressed ‘R’ slug, this one from Dominic Winter Auctioneers.
Chart of Wilkinson serial numbers, created by and used with the permission of Matt Easton

The chart here to the left has been put together by Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria and Easton Antique Arms, and is used here with his kind permission (please note his website in the sources section for more invaluable research articles).

It shows the serial number range of Wilkinson, and the approximate years that these serial numbers were produced in. As can be seen here, 37321 is a very early 1900 number, as the earliest known serial number from 1900 was 37290 and this was a high production period for Wilkinson due to the Second Boer War. This correlates with the ledger, the sword being sold on the 3rd of January 1900.

Bt.-Colonel Edmund George Concanon DSO TD

The ledger shows the purchaser of Wilkinson sword number 37321 was Edmund George Concanon/Concannon, a stockbroker from London and Captain of the London Irish Rifles, going to South Africa as a Lieutenant of the City of London Imperial Volunteers. He set off from Southhampton on the 15th of January 1900 on board The Garth Castle, arriving at Cape Town on the 31st of January. Concanon earned the Queens South Africa Medal with seven clasps for his service, those being the Cape Colony, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and Belfast clasps. Multiple of these are awarded for participation in the battles of 1900. For his service he was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in despatches.

Edmund George Concanon in uniform

His service during the war is quite well documented in The Record of the Mounted Infantry of the City Imperial Volunteers by Guy H. Guillum Scott and Geoffrey L. McDonell (McDonell worked at the stock exchange, so quite possibly knew Concanon personally). The book includes a message from Major General Smith-Dorrien to then-Colonel Mackinnon, which sings the praises of Concanon and his mounted infantry.

Letter transcript taken from The Record of the Mounted Infantry of the City Imperial Volunteers

On his return Concanon was presented with a large silver trophy by friends at the stock exchange and was entertained to dinner at the Constitutional Club, there being presented with an inscribed plate.

Brevet Colonel Edmund George Concanon in civilian clothing during his later years

Remaining in his profession as a stockbroker, by 1911 Concanon was a Major in the London Irish Rifles, being further promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1913. In March of 1915 Lieutenant-Colonel Concanon arrived in France in command of the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles, but handed over command of the battalion in May 1915 due to sickness. His wartime career did not entirely end here however, as he was appointed Commanding Officer of the 32nd (City of London) Battalion in 1918, and was further promoted to Brevet Colonel in October of 1924. He passed away in 1959.

(Multiple mentions of Concanon can be found on the London Irish Rifles website listed in my sources, including references to his popularity amongst the men)

Sources:

https://www.dnw.co.uk/media/auction_catalogues/Medals%2020%20Aug%2020.pdf

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Amateur military/British Imperial history enthusiast and collector (esp. British firearms and swords)

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Vexed Cassidy

Vexed Cassidy

Amateur military/British Imperial history enthusiast and collector (esp. British firearms and swords)

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