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Military Presentation Sword, Mexican-American War

Military Presentation Sword, Mexican-American War, 1859, Steel, Silver, Gold Plate and Brass
Unknown Artist

Evans Sword cropped

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Thomas W. Evans Collection

The sword is but one example of a category of weapons known as "Presentation Swords." While these objects might have been useless in the heat of the battlefield, they were nevertheless marks of the high esteem or the favorable reputation of their users. For it was with swords like the one seen here that the government of the United States (and later on the navy and the army) recognized the value, bravery, and prowess of its most prestigious soldiers. The style and motifs, specifically the chain, pommel, and the hilt, suggest the artifact was made following the style of Mexican-American War presentation swords. Nevertheless, as objects of art sometimes embellished with gold and precious gems, these swords usually took years to be funded, commissioned, and created. 

This sword was originally presented to Francis H. Saltus, an American living in Paris during the mid-19th century. Saltus presented the sword to Dr. Evans in the traditional manner of gift-giving established by European royalty. While the exact way in which it arrived at Dr. Evans’ collection remains a mystery, one possible explanation lies in the traditional gift-giving traditions of European nobility. Evidence dating back to the 14th century shows high-class families and even monarch giving away to friends and guests previous objects of great significance (including weapons of all kinds) that were given initially given to them as gifts as well. This sort of exchange was not only popular, but deemed a noble endeavor. It is then likely that Francis Saltus gave his sword to Dr. Evans as an esteemed, reputable gift to an esteemed, reputable guest.