It comes to auction from the descendants of Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757-1808), a doctor and fellow ‘man of letters’ who met Franklin after the American statesman was dispatched to France to become US ambassador in 1776.
At the time, court swords (or dress swords) were often carried at official functions as part of a ‘gentleman’s attire’. Franklin however is known to have abstained from carrying a ceremonial sword (or wearing a wig and formal suit) when meeting the French elite – he was opposed to what he saw as the ‘waste of wealth’ on Royal trimmings.
Swords as Gifts
Yet Franklin appears to have brought the ornate silver-hilted small-sword with him to Europe and would have been aware of the significance that such items carried as gifts in conferring recognition and personal connection.
Franklin is thought to have given the sword to his younger companion Cabanis when he left France at the end of his nine-year spell.
Cabanis and Franklin were described as “kindred spirits” who, despite a 50-year age gap, shared a love of the sciences and philosophy. “Franklin was very much the father figure that Cabanis looked up to,” said Howard Dixon, Christie’s specialist in Arms & Armour.
The sword has never left Cabanis’ family and has been consigned to Christie’s by his descendants Ariane and Emmanuel de Lipkowski.
Dixon said the 3ft 5in (1.03m) sword which dates from around 1760 was “stylistically almost European in style but not quite”. It has a rectangular silversmith’s mark to the scabbard locket – the ‘SS’ mark relating to Samuel Soumaine (c.1718-1769) who was Franklin’s neighbour in Philadelphia.
Indeed, Franklin owned several other pieces of silver attributed to Soumaine which also carried the same mark.
The blade of the sword measures 2ft 10in (85 cm) and it housed in a 3ft 7in (1.08m) case.
It will be offered at the Fine American Furniture, Silver, Outsider and Folk Art sale at Christie's New York on September 20.