Two French officers' swords in the 'fantaisie' style
Throughout the 19th century in France, as well as the
standard regulation models of officers' swords, we sometimes
find non-regulation or 'fantaisie' swords. In French these are
generally described as "sabre d'officier de fantaisie".These
followed some elements of the standard patterns, but introduced
unusual elements, such as different blade cross-sections, or
especially wide or long blades, or extra bars to protect the
These two swords pictured below (currently in the
author's collection) are marked to Petitfils and share extremely
similar blades. The blades are 93cm and 94.5cm long and although
taking the general outline of the 1882 pattern French cavalry
blade, are longer, narrower and lighter. In function, these are
like single-edged rapiers, being very slender and nimble in the
point, and as such clearly seem to be specialised thrusters.
One assumption is that these are officers' 'dress'
swords, but both these swords are excellently constructed and
critically, both are very extensively and well
service-sharpened. The top (cavalry) example below is service
sharpened for 40cm of the front edge and 10cm of the back
(false) edge. The bottom (infantry) example is service sharpened
for 60cm of the front edge and 12cm of the back (false) edge.
It's impossible to say why or when they were service sharpened,
but given that these swords probably date to around 1900, it is
possible that they were sharpened at the start of WW1. Or
perhaps they were carried in turbulent colonial regions. It is
also possible that they were simply sharpened because the owners
wanted sharp swords, or potentially even for self defence or
The top example shown below with a cavalry style hilt
has the slightly shorter and narrower blade (marked to Coulaux &
Co of Klingenthal), while ironically the wide and longer one has
an infantry officer's style hilt of 1882 pattern. The Coulaux
name on the blade and Petitfils mark on the hilt presumably
means that the latter was hilting blades by the former. Though
in the case of the infantry officer's sword the Petitfils mark
is on the blade.
Given that these blades are approximately of 1882 style
and the infantry officer's sword hilt is of 1882 style, we may
assume that these date to after 1882 (although blades and hilts
of these styles did actually appear before the regulation models
of 1882). French dealers and auctioneers who have sold similar
swords tend to date them to the 1890s or around 1900.
Apart from their general size and outline, with very
similar blades and proportions, as well as the Petitfils company
connection, there is another factor in common between them; both
have aristocratic monograms on their hilts. These are pictured
below - the infantry officer's sword having an engraved coronet
with initials (now rubbed almost away) underneath, while the
cavalry officer's sword has a coronet and initials inlaid in
silver in the pommel.
Were these swords perhaps an unofficial way of gentlemen
(no longer having titles under the Republic) showing their
aristocratic status? It seems very coincidental that both
swords, being rather unusual specimens, both have aristocratic
Whatever their exact place in the history of French
swords, they are intriguing weapons, are extremely well made and
for a fencer are very pleasant swords in the hand.