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The Collector’s Minute: Civil War Regulation 1860 Naval Cutlass

by Mike Wilcox (04/05/10).

An enlisted seaman’s U.S. Navy Regulation 1860 Naval cutlass was the work-horse weapons of the Navy since before the Civil War. Examples with its original riveted leather scabbards often sell for less than $1,500.

An enlisted seaman’s U.S. Navy Regulation 1860 Naval cutlass was the work-horse weapons of the Navy since before the Civil War. Examples with its original riveted leather scabbards often sell for less than $1,500.

One of the work-horse weapons of the U.S. Navy since before the Civil War was the Regulation 1860 Naval cutlass. They were made by the Ames Company first in Cabotville, and later in Chicopee, Mass. It replaced the earlier, 1841 design, which was a short, heavy broadsword also made by Ames, but not really suited to close-quarter naval engagements, and not much loved by those who had to use it.

The model 1860 cutlass was ideally suited for vaval work. It measured 32 inches long overall, with a 26-inch blade, weighing in at just two and a half pounds. The design for this cutlass was copied from the French naval version, which they’d used since before 1800 for repelling enemy sailors or boarding of enemy vessels. Like the French versions, it had a single-edged, slightly-curved blade, its wooden grips were covered with leather bound with brass wire. The pommel at the lower end of the handle was of brass, a helmet-shaped cup protecting the hand of its wielder at close quarters. The cutlass with the plain guard was used by enlisted men and those with cutout U.S.N. in the guard were issued to officers. Other than this detail, they were identical.

The model 1860 was issued longer than any other regulation blade, and were successfully used during the Civil War on land and sea (300 were issued to the army), through the Spanish American War, and was issued to sailors aboard U.S. Navy gunboats sailing in the Far East from 1898 into the 1930s.

In all, some 22,300 model 1860s were produced. Today’s value for them vary considerably, depending on condition and whether they are accompanied by their original riveted leather scabbards. Civil War-period issued examples in decent condition are a bargain, often selling for less than $1,500. More battered examples without a scabbard can often be knocked down at auction for less than $400.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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