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RE: USN 1860 Cutlasses
Fri Dec 2, 2011 22:32

Hi Bill,

The M1860 Naval Cutlass was in service for a very long time, though rarely used in battle. The days of boarding parties swinging onto enemy ships in conquest was pretty much over long before the Civil War. But these cutlasses were still in the navy arsenal as late as WWII, when your father encountered your examples. A friend of mine told me a story about sailors on a naval base near where he grew up during WWII hacking piles and piles of these cutlasses into pieces for scrap brass and steel, vital for the war effort.

Most of the enlisted version of this cutlass that survive today are in pretty rough shape. The leather scabbards are almost more valuable than the cutlass itself because the scabbards were so delicate. Also, many of the scabbards were discarded and the cutlasses stored in racks on deck, exposed to a constant barrage of salt air and water.

From the markings on your cutlass blades it is clear that they were manufactured under Federal contract for the US Navy, not for state issue. "21M 739" means that cutlass was the 21,739th one manufactured of the M1860 pattern. Most of the letters you mentioned are initials of government inspectors. "48" was likely a rack number, which designated where the cutlass should be stored.

Placing a value on these is impossible without seeing them, and add to that the difficulty of a very volatile current market. As in all collectibles, condition is everything. Both your cutlasses have condition issues that would lower their value. Collectors like to see strong, crisp makers' and inspectors' marks. They prefer bright unpitted blades and complete, strong scabbards with all rivets intact, and undented brass cups on the hilt. Civil War swords displaying early war dates command a premium. There is a controversy among experts concerning if the original grips were wire wrapped or not. The brass wire tended to turn green with verdigris from exposure to sea air. Some experts believe the cutlasses were never issued with wire wrap, others believe the wire was removed at sea. I own a cutlass that has the original leather and wire wrap intact. In many examples I've seen the grips were coated with tar, presumably for protection and to aid in a firmer grip.

But despite any condition issues, these still are original Civil War artifacts that could have seen service in the Civil and Spanish American Wars as well as WWI and even WWII. Very generally i would put a value of these per your descriptions somewhere between $500 and $850 each.


  • U.S.N. 1860 Cutlassesbill4432, Fri Dec 2 09:16
    I have two 1860 U.S.N. cutlasses with original scabbards that came to me through my father, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1941 and served on four-piper destroyers escorting merchant... more
    • RE: USN 1860 Cutlasses — Ric, Fri Dec 2 22:32
      • cutlassesbill4432, Wed Dec 14 06:40
        Ric, Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed response. One of the scabbards is in pretty good shape,I'd think. It's not missing any rivets and has the belt attachment. The other is missing... more
        • RE: CutlassRic, Wed Dec 14 21:42
          Bill, You're welcome. Enjoy the cutlasses. They're a great souvenir passed on to you from your Dad. Best, Ric
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