I felt the need to write this article about French Napoleonic AN XI / XIII heavy cavalry swords because of the amount of false / misinformation out there on the subject, especially regarding Waterloo captured swords. Part of the problem is the proliferation of so-called experts on the subject, each with their own views and agendas, where those views are too often selfish (they do not want anyone else having a special sword) and / or simple intransigence where they have stated something as fact and will never change their tune, no matter how much evidence is against them, simply out of false pride.
The French An XIII heavy cavalry trooper’s sword is my favorite of all weapons, and I have handled close to a hundred of them over the years. I have exchanged information, observations and ideas with a number of collectors of AN XI / XIII, museums and authors. I believe the following clears up many of the cloudy or sometimes falsely stated areas of these highly sought after Napoleonic French swords. It is a minefield as to whether each sword found in the UK was a war trophy or not (think Waterloo) but, there are so many of them that the notion these were all 60’s / 70’s tourist bring backs is, quite frankly, a joke.
AN XI Vs. AN XIII
Roman numerals used by the French to indicate the years 1802 and 1804 (based on the revolutionary calendar). Regarding Cuirassier sabres their meaning is easy. AN XI (1802) is when the famous Cuirassier sabre used in the Peninsula War, the Russian Campaign and the 100 Days War (Waterloo) was introduced. AN XIII (1804) is when that same sword was given an official model designation by the French. It gets confusing because the French often today refer to the sabre as the AN XI, while the British with their need to be official about everything call them AN XIII’s; they are the same thing (though the sword was improved over the years).
Some experts / authors such as Lhoste and Resek describe the AN XI and AN XIII as different swords by pointing out the junction of the hilt bars into the pommel (earlier sabres having only the knucklebow join the pommel, later sabres having the knucklebow and a union of the three hilt bars join it; this was done to strengthen the hilt) and a difference in blade and / or scabbard design. This is an over-statement, like all swords the manufacturers improved them as time went on. There are no separate AN XI and AN XIII models (see books by Michel Petard), they are the same sword with improvements being made from the originals as you would expect culminating in the final official model in 1804.
But, if you are buying in the UK, the earlier swords are generally referred to as An XI.
Spear Point Vs Clipped Point and Waterloo
This is in context to AN XIII sabres found outside France.
Some collectors and “experts” claim that a spear pointed AN XIII sabre means the sword post-dates Waterloo when it was decommissioned one way or another. This is based on a theory that the French did not modify the original clipped points of AN XIII Cuirassier sabres until after Waterloo; this is not true.
First, it is important to realize that all French heavy cavalry trooper sabres of this era had clipped points when they were made until 1855, except for special orders for spear points made according to Michel Petard (famous French author) during the height of production; the height of production for AN XIII’s was during the final stages of Russian Campaign and just prior to the 100 Days War; 1814 to early 1815, before Waterloo. Most spear pointed AN XIII’s however were not made that way, they were modified by the regiments that used them. It is ironic how some collectors accept the British modified their 1796 Pattern heavy cavalry sabres to spear points prior to Waterloo in response to the superiority of the thrust (penetration) capabilities of the spear pointed French AN XIII and yet somehow claim the French did not have spear pointed blades when it comes to pre-Waterloo French sabres!
You only have to look at the numbers / greater percentage of spear pointed Vs original clipped pointed AN XIII’s that come onto the market in the UK to realize the French had spear pointed most of their AN XIII’s prior to waterloo. How else did all these spear pointed AN XIII’s without post-Waterloo inspection marks (when the fragile brass hilts or scabbards were replaced for example) get to the UK? Are we to believe the British had an insatiable desire to buy them from the French in 1816 and again in 1822 when the hilt design was changed, or in 1855 when the model was replaced? How come many spear pointed sabres can be found in Waterloo Exhibitions at Museums (e.g. the Musee de Centre General Gerard at Ligny in Belgium). Please! The vast majority of AN XIII’s in the UK are war trophies; either battlefield pick-ups or confiscations after the event. Either way, they nearly all are certain to be Waterloo or earlier era sabres.
Telling an AN XIII battlefield pick-up
The signs for a battlefield pick-up, a sword taken from a fallen / injured French Cuirassier are;
a) Some form of damage from being used or having fallen.
b) The lack of / or having a mismatched scabbard; not always but most battlefield pick-ups would be An XIII swords out of their scabbards, as the trooper who held them would most likely have had his sword drawn when he was injured or felled, and because he would likely have ridden or been dragged away by his horse so as to separate the two. A mismatched (different serial number) sword to scabbard is a very good indication it was a fallen sword, shortly after matched to another trooper’s scabbard.
c) The number of grip wire turns; pre-Waterloo swords are unlikely to have more than 11 or 12 turns. Swords that stayed in French military service, if they did not have their hilts removed for the new 1816 and 1822 models, would likely have new grips along the way with 15+ grip wire turns.
d) Waterloo trophies will not have post-1815 French inspection marks (poinçons). And this aspect is the minefield.
When trying to determine if an AN XIII lost its scabbard at Waterloo or at a later date, check the blade condition with the leather grip condition as these both are prone to decay by dampness. If the blade is in very good order but the grip is very poor, if you do not have a scabbard it is likely because the thing rusted away. If the blade and the grip are commensurate with being exposed to the air around them for a very long time, then it is almost certainly a Waterloo war trophy. As I said, some battlefield pick-ups would have involved having the original or another nearby scabbard.
Next, check the hilt and scabbard if you have one for post-Waterloo French inspector stamps. Some, although not all of these are listed here: Klingenthal Inspection Marks – remember Versailles had its own stamps and that many hilts were made in Versailles; I have a reference book of these. Also, these swords were made by mostly Parisian sword / blade makers and are invariably marked to the blade “AP” (“Atelier de precision”) with a licteur (note: most people believe “AP” meant Arsenal Paris, but that is not true; just another belief made “fact”). If nothing is post-Waterloo, the sabre is unlikely to have been carried after the battle, heightening the likelihood it was a war trophy carried home by a British soldier.
Red Balaran Herrings
Many experts point to B under star poinçons on some An XIII hilts as being proof that the sword stayed in service with the French army after the 100 Day War (Waterloo), that the B is the poinçon of Captain Inspector Balaran (1834 to 1836). And yes, Balaran did in fact have a chubby B under star poinçon.
But, first, many of the swords with a B poinçon are clearly not of chubby Balaran; they are a B under crown in a skinny shield, such as this one;
This is clearly the B Crown poinçon of the unknown (unnamed) inspector of the time (1814) at the private side of Klingenthal, Coulaux;
You see, during the time of maximum French production / weapons need just before the 100 Days War (Waterloo), private arms makers such as Coulaux were sequestered in to help. Part of the effort was to return older swords to service, so you will often see the old rack numbers struck out (as above) with a new number and inspection mark; an inspection mark (poinçon) dating the sword’s reissue to 1814 / 1815.
Below is an alleged B star poinçon of Balaran (1834 to 1836) (note, it is much larger than the B crown poinçon example above). I say “alleged” because I have seen some swords with this poinçon with nothing else about them that speaks of being in service post-1815. And this chubby pointy shield bottom poinçon has a different shape to the known above illustrated rounded bottom Balaran poinçon. I therefore very much believe, given there are no other post-1815 features, that the chubby pointy shield B is not a Balaran poinçon either.
In fact, I have handled one sword which has a (damaged) chubby(ish) B under star poinçon which clearly would / could not have been inspected and approved by Balaran, this one;
Look closely, there are original non-French poinçons above, suc as a W poinçon. Then, a later B under star poinçon, and newer rack numbers were punched over older ones (NB: this is quite unusual as normally old French rack numbers were crossed out and the new ones put to the side). The original poinçons I believe are Dutch (it is a W not an M, and it is not Chaterllerault’s reviser Wiedman; it is the wrong shape) which tallies with the scabbard of the sword which has Dutch troop and weapon number style markings and another non-French poinçon to the chape / drag. The sword in question also has a Klingenthal Blade dated April 1814, which is almost certainly a replacement blade as it slightly ill fits the presumed Dutch scabbard.
This Dutch French An XIII I believe saw service under the Napoleonic French Empire when Holland was part of that empire, suffered blade damage, was sent to Klingenthal for a new / replacement blade and, although the blade did not sheath perfectly, was sent back into service with a French Cuirassier under Napoleon (there was a rush / need to provide weapons when Napoleon came back into power after his first exile in 1814). I can see no reason at all why Captain Inspector Balaran would somehow inspect and approve for service this Dutch French An XIII 20 years later; it simply does not make sense and therefore the above B under star poinçon is not that of Balaran and almost certainly dates to 1814/1815.
For some strange reason, perhaps a particular regiment or for ceremonial purposes, the French did still make / maintain An XIII swords after 1815/1816 (1816 being when the new 1816M heavy cavalry sword came into being, much like the An XIII but most notably with a forward facing edge to the guard / hilt). So you will find An XIIIs that date to around the time of Balaran, so his actual poinçon actually will appear on some, but not many of these swords. And these later An XIIIs are not as well made as the originals in my opinion.
It is also worth remembering, that many of the original An XIII blades were removed from their Napoleonic hilts and re-hilted into the later 1816M and even later still 1822M (some at least had straight blades, though the vast majority and official model spec were slightly curved). So finding original untouched An XIIIs with post-1815 poinçons is rare. For me, with the French purse very tight at the end of the 100 Days War, as there are plenty of examples to prove this, the original An XIII blades were remounted into 1816 and even 1822 model hilts as the blade were very much still well made / serviceable and not a lot different to the new 1816M blades.
I am fairly sure that the B under star poinçon on the above Dutch French An XIII is the chubby variety. But, just to make matters worse / confusion greater, I have found another, skinnier B under star stamp on several An XIII’s (see below). The below example shows this unknown / different, possibly a Coulaux inspection stamp against a weapon number of 1550, where the blade was dated January 1815. Because of this fact (the blade date), and where existing serviceable hilts receiving new blades (because of battle damage to the blade) entailed the old hilt getting additional newer rack numbers & poinçons (with the old rack numbers crossed out), this hilt is almost certainly original to the blade and thereby of approximately the same date due to there being only one rack number.
Because the B under star poinçon below (note also: with a speckled / egg shell type effect background) is much skinnier than the alleged (chubby) Balaran poinçon, my judgment is that it could not be for Balaran.
Here is what I believe is a definite Balaran poinçon (see the stamp and letter are both chubbier, and the B is slightly at an angle with the shield base rounded as per the illustrated Balaran poinçon seen further above) on an An XIII which was in service with the French army in 1834 and perhaps beyond;
And I believe this above example is the reason some collectors feel that all B under star or crown poinçons mean post-1815. You see, to confuse matters further, for some unknown reason, there were a few An XIII’s made / kept in service long after the sword model was officially superceded / replaced, and the above example is from the hilt of just such a later An XIII. I have not seen many of these, but they do exist. Unfortunately the blade of this one was apparently rubbed down and then electroplated, so the date inscription and poinçons could not be seen (this may also mean that there were no poinçons / date inscription, so the blade could also be post-1815).
In addition, I have also seen pre-Waterloo dated rehilted An XIII blades and even complete original swords with an alleged Balaran poinçon, which would mean some swords stayed unmodified (the blades were not removed and rehilted into later model hilts) and in service for many years. Yet I can find no trace of any mention of any French heavy cavalry troopers carrying An XIII swords in battle after 1816, so again the alleged Balaran hilt poinçon seems to be debatable.
Just to confuse matters more, the An XIII sword example below has a September 1814 dated blade but with a hilt with a single rack number (more than implying the hilt is original to the blade) and two particular poinçons; one appears to be the same as the Dutch French hilt’s star over B poinçon, and also a C under star which is for (Captain inspector) Colliot de la Hattais (1832). The C Star stamps indicates the B Star stamp could not be for Balaran, because Colliot de la Hattais was the inspector before Balaran, and I can think of no likely reason why both Colliot de la Hattais and Balaran would inspect and stamp the same An XIII with a single rack number and earlier blade so close together in time, as there is only one rack number (so no need to Colliot de la Hattais to inspect in 1832 and then very soon after for Balaran to inspect in 1834). The likely truth again therefore is that the mystery B star poinçon dates to around 1815, and this sword stayed in service with the French (without being converted to an 1816M) and then was reinspected by Colliot de la Hattais in 1832 as was quite likely to happen with an aging weapon.
As you can see on all three of the above examples, there are other markings that could be old, rubbed out poinçons, but I do not believe so, as I have inspected each and there is no apparent reduction of the original hilt. And the official French method for giving a hilt a new rack number was to simply strike out the old.
To make things easy / simpler, I would summarize;
B under Crown skinny poinçon = definitely pre-Waterloo
B under Star skinny poinçon = 99.99% likely pre-Waterloo
B under Star medium / chubby(ish) pointy bottom poinçon = 99.99% likely pre-Waterloo
B under Star chubby rounded bottom poinçon = Balaran, 1834, maybe! (check other facits of the sword)?
The so called 1816 scabbard (AKA Mark 3 Scabbard)
This is another aspect often used to try and deny an AN XIII having been a Waterloo war trophy. In 1816 the French approved the Mk 3 / 1816 scabbard for AN XIII Cuirassier sabres, so every sabre with one of these Mk. 3’s is claimed by some to show it is a post-Waterloo acquisition; nonsense! Just like the AN XI (1802) Vs AN XIII (1804) sabre scenario / explanation, the MK 3 scabbards too were made ahead of the model date, in this case before Waterloo. The French would introduce a new piece of equipment and it would become official at a later date; the reverse of what happened with British patterns. Mk. 3 scabbards were made from 1814 and you can find examples of these on sabres in Museums known to have come from Waterloo, such as the Musee de Centre General Gerard in Belgium. We have handled several examples where the blade spine is dated pre-Waterloo, the hilt has only one serial number (so it can be dated to the same date as the blade) and where the serial number on its Mk 3 scabbard is the same; thus proving beyond all reasonable doubt Mk 3 scabbards were made before Waterloo as well as after.
Mk. 1, Mk. 2 and Mk. 3 scabbards.
Mark 1 scabbards were too flimsy, so they were replaced. Mark 2 scabbards were too heavy (often made of iron) and were replaced. Mark 2 scabbards had lyre shaped chapes. Mark 3 scabbards have guitar shaped chapes. Some people claim the Mk. 3 scabbard was introduced to accommodate the spear point blades; nonsense. Spear points for French Cuirassier blades were not regulated (ordinarily made that way) until 1855; spear pointed blades are mostly in service modifications made by regiments. You can tell this is true by putting an original unmodified clip pointed 97 cm bladed sabre into a Mk. 3 scabbard; it fits perfectly.
The number of grip ring binding turns.
One of the useful ways of spotting fake / reproduction AN XIII’s is the number of ring turns for the grips twisted wire bindings. Most authentic AN XIII’s have around 11 turns. The most common reproductions have 15 or 16. But, some authentic AN XIII’s do have more turns, 15 or 16, though these are in the minority. It seems the reason for an authentic AN XIII to have 15 or 16 turns is a) that it is an early sabre with the original grip, b) that the hilt has been re-griped according to later preference, c) that the sabre was help by a dragoon, not a cuirassier or d) that the sabre was issued to Dutch / Belgium Cuirassiers when those countries were part of the French Republic.
How to spot fake AN XIII’s
This mostly relates to AN XIII sabres with blades marked to Klingenthal
1) Blades with October 1813 dates to the spine are most often fakes. In any event, check the date on the blade’s spine with the little round inspection marks (poinçons) on the forte / ricasso here: Klingenthal Inspection Marks – If they do not agree with each other, the blade is not authentic.
2) Some reproductions do not have a lower ferrule where the grip meets the front guard; almost every authentic AN XIII has a lower ferrule though please note, very early production versions and those made for Dutch / Belgium Cuirassiers may not (though the majority do).
3) The junction of the guard with the pommel is often wrong with reproductions; both the knucklebow and a union of the 3 hilt bars should join the pommel, unless the sabre was made in 1802 or 1803.
4) The quality of the poinçons, in particular the wreathed B of Bick is often poorly done on reproductions; also many reproductions only have two not the correct three poinçons.
5) Reproductions generally have pigskin made to look like leather grips; check the colour and quality.
6) Reproductions often have thinner ring wire binding gauges; make sure the twisted wire is thick like it should be.
I have seen other earlier reproductions with “Mfure Impale du Klingenthal” to the spine (there should be more after, either Coulaux / Coulaux frères or the month and year), no poinçons, and thin vinyl over this grip twist twine (with no twisted grip wire).
Bear in mind most but not all An XIII blades were made in Klingenthal – so some authentic blades (such as Atelier de precision blades) will have totally different markings.