Label

"Some time ago…I read in some gazette…announcing that a celebrated artist had presented, or was about to present to the President of the United States a sword of masterly workmanship, as an evidence of his veneration &c. &c. I thought no more of the matter afterwards, until a gentleman with whom I have no acquaintance, coming from and going to I know not where, at a tavern I never could get information of, came across this sword (for it is presumed to be the same) pawned for thirty dollars; which he paid, left it in Alexandria, nine miles from my house, in Virginia with a person who refunded him the money and sent the sword to me. This is all I have been able to learn of this curious affair. The blade is highly wrought, and decorated with many military emblems…" George Washington to John Quincy Adams, Philadelphia, September 12, 1796

This exquisitely crafted sword was one of the most enigmatic, and perhaps tragic, gifts ever given to George Washington. Months after Washington received it, a letter arrived from the man who engraved it, Theophilus Alte of the world-renowned swordmaking-center of Solingen, Prussia. Alte wrote that his son Daniel was to have presented it to Washington in hopes that the president, "as the only man I know…who acted in an uninterested manner for the happiness of his country," would protect him in the United States. Although the fate of Alte's son will probably never be known, the father's sword survives as a material expression of the heartfelt, global veneration for our nation's first president.

Description

Horseman's broadsword. Gilt stirrup-form guard with two, upturned quillons, cast integrally with the knucklebow. Pommel and backstrap cast as a single component. Grip is covered with leather and bound with spiral wound metallic wire, and is reinforced with a gilt metal ferrule (which keeps the bottom end of the backstrap). Two-edged, steel blade is of flattened lenticular form. Decorated with engraved, etched and gilded emblems, scrollwork and text, which includes: on the outer face, the figure of staff officer trampling under each of his feet a lion and a unicorn, the words "GEORGE WASHINGTON" in a banner above; and on the inner face, an inscription addressed to George Washington (in German): "VERTILGER/ DES DESPOTISM/ BESCHUTZER/ DER FREIHEIT/ BERHARRLICHER/ MANN/ NIMM VON/ MEINES/ SOHNES/ HAND/ DIES SCHWERD/ ICH BITTEDICH/ Theophilus Alte/ zi Solingen." (Translated: "DESTROYER OF DESPOTISM, PROTECTOR OF FREEDOM, STEADFAST MAN, TAKE FROM MY SON'S HANDS THIS SWORD, I PRAY THEE Theophilus Alte at Solingen.")

Date

1795


People


Geography


Material/Technique

Steel (blade); brass, copper, gold (hilt); wood, leather, copper (grip)


Dimensions

Overall: 39 1/2 in. x 1 3/4 in. (100.33 cm x 4.45 cm)


Credit Line

Gift of Alice L. Riggs, Col. E. F. Riggs, the Rev. T. L. Riggs and Miss Jane Agnes Riggs, Vice Regent for the District of Columbia, 1924


Signed

“Theophilus Alte at Solingen” etched into the blade’s ricasso.


Object Number

W-85


Colors (Beta)


Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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