This sword is one of ten "elegant swords" awarded by the Continental Congress to various officers for meritorious action against the British during the American Revolution. Owing to lack of funds, the swords were not executed until 1785–86. They were made not by an American craftsman but by one of the finest fourbisseurs (sword retailers) in Paris. The decoration, in part prescribed by Congress, includes the coat of arms of the United States on one side of the grip and an appropriate presentation inscription on the other. This example is inscribed "Congress to Col. Willett, Oct. 11, 1777." These congressional swords are the first in a long tradition of specially designed presentation swords that would be awarded to America's military leaders throughtout the next century.
#4413. Smallsword of Col. Marinus Willett (1740–1830)
Inscription: On the reverse of the blade: LIGER fourbisseu de S: A Msgr Le Duc de Chartre & Comte de Clermont Rue Coquilliere à Paris; on the grip: Congress to Col. Willet Oct. 11 1777.
Marking: Paris silver marks include: (1) crowned P with 85 (on base of grip, pas d'ane and shell guard; wardens mark for 1785–86; (2) interlaced L's (on base of grip, pas d'ane, and shell guard; charge mark for small work, 1783-1789); (3) a parrot's head (on button of pommel, knuckleguard and base of grip; discharge mark for small work, 1786–1789); (4) maker's mark consisting of the letters CL, surmounted by dots, flanking a sword in pale the point in chief (on pas d'ane and shell guard).
Colonel Marinus Willet (1786–d. 1830; awarded to him by Congress in 1777; by descent through the family to George Willet Van Nest); George Willet Van Nest (until d. 1916; bequeathed to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "American Decorative Arts," February 1988–January 1991.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arms and Armor: Notable Acquisitions 2003–2014," November 11, 2014–December 6, 2015.
United States Continental Congress. Journals of the Congress: Containing the Proceedings from January 1st, 1777, to January 1st, 1778 (1778), p. 412.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Accessions." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (July 1917), pp. 159–60.
Dean, Bashford. Catalogue of European Court Swords and Hunting Swords: Including the Ellis, De Dino, Riggs, and Reubell Collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929. p. 44, no. 88 (a smallsword by the same maker, with an almost identical inscription).
Belote, Theodore T. American and European Swords in the Historical Collections of the United States National Museum. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1932. pp. 22–23 (similar swords presented by Congress).
Society of American Sword Collectors. "A Patriot's Sword." Bulletin of the Society of American Sword Collectors (1950), pp. 12–15.
Thomas, Howard. Marinus Willett, Soldier-Patriot, 1740–1830. Prospect, N.Y.: Prospect Books, 1954. p. 231 (this sword mentioned in Willett's will).
Brown, John Brewer. Swords Voted to Officers of the Revolution by the Continental Congress, 1775–1784. Washington, D.C.: Society of the Cincinnati, 1965. p. 7.
Moore, Warren, and Funk & Wagnalls. Weapons of the American Revolution: and Accoutrements. New York, 1968. p. 158, no. E-58, ill.
Peterson, Harold L. The American Sword, 1775–1945: A Survey of the Swords Worn by the Uniformed Forces of the United States from the Revolution to the Close of World War II. New rev. ed. ed. Philadelphia: Ray Riling Arms Books Co., 1968. p. 191 (portrait of Col. Willett).
Hamilton, John D. "Elegant Continentals: Swords Presented by the Continental Congress." Man at Arms (September 1986), pp. 25–31, 34.
Nickel, Helmut. "Arms and Armor from the Permanent Collection." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Summer, 1991), pp. 48, 64, ill.