Early in my bayonet collecting experience, I obtained a French M1866 Chassepot bayonet on eBay. I wanted one because I did not have a M1866 and the M1866 had a huge influence on bayonet design. I could also see that this one was an unusual and desirable variation, having a modified scabbard to fit the belt frog for the German M1871 sword bayonet. When I received it, I was pleased to see that it was an early piece, made in December 1867.
So far, the emerging story is that the bayonet was made in France in December 1867 and, given the modification, was likely captured by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.
I shared my new find with my BCN colleagues via e–mail. The noted author of many bayonet books, Anthony Carter, wrote back from England, asking for any markings on the bayonet. Anthony, once the biggest bayonet dealer in Britain, no longer collected bayonets, just the data from bayonets. In addition to the usual script on the blade spine, there was a funny little marking on the ricasso. He was working on a book about the M1866 Chassepot bayonet (which remained unfinished when he passed away in 2002) and asked if I would send him a picture of the marking. I had just bought my first digital camera and, for the first time ever, was able to send pictures.
He wrote back that the marking was the trademark of a blade maker in Germany (what!). Here is what he wrote:
"That odd mark on the blade of your French M 1866 is the trademark of Gustav Felix in Solingen. The firm is still in business, but even they aren't sure what this mark represented, most likely a hot air balloon they think. Several Solingen firms supplied blades to the French Arsenals. The Tulle Arsenal seems to have acquired a lot of blades from Gustav Felix in 1867."
So the story is that the French purchased the blade from Gustav Felix in Solingen, Germany. It was assembled into a M1866 Chassepot bayonet in December 1867 at the French Imperial Arsenal at Tulle. The bayonet was captured by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The Germans modified the scabbard, by replacing the frog loop with a German frog stud, and probably issued it as a sidearm to a policeman or security guard. Bayonets like this were issued to Landsturm
(Home Guard) Units or used as sidearms until the end of the First World War.
The German tradition of having government officials carry sidearms dates back a few hundred years and was maintained until the end of the Second World War. Bayonets were officially classified as sidearms (seitengewehr
So, there you have it: From Germany, to France, then back to Germany.
© Ralph E. Cobb 2011 All Rights Reserved