United States: 1792.
The curved, double-fullered blade. 36 inches long by 1 ½ inches at the ricasso, is engraved on both sides with an extremely early version of the Great Seal of the United States, featuring a “frog-legged chicken" eagle. Above the seal are scrolls and below, a panoply of arms. The iron-mounted, stirrup-hilt has a heavy guard with a forward-turned, circular quillon and its cross-guard features a rather unique, diagonal profile to its face. The flat pommel has an integral backstrap, the front of which is secured by an iron ferrule at the front of the grip contiguous to the cross-guard. The center of the pommel cap features a raised capstan rivet securing the tang of the blade. The leather-wrapped, wooden grip features coiled silver wire set in its spiraling, grooved channels. Overall length is 40 inches. A very nice and massive American horseman's saber of high quality, clearly intended as an officer’s fighting weapon. Blade and hilt retain a dark pewter patina, with some battle nicks to edges, while the leather on the grip very good with a few, scattered spots of surface flaking.
This Federal-era saber descended in the famous and influential Van Rensselaer Family of New York until acquired some 20 years ago by the late Peter Tillou, a noted collector and dealer in fine arms and artwork. It was featured in the 2013 Sotheby’s exhibition, Liberty or Death (illustrated on pp. 46-47 of the accompanying catalog) and subsequently sold to a private collector. Although no specific Van Rensselaer family member was identified as the original owner when acquired by Tillou, research on the military service of the various family members offers only one plausible—and a most compelling—attribution, Major Solomon Van Rensselaer (1774-1852).
Solomon Van Rensselaer (1774-1852) was the son of Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, a Revolutionary War general and a member of a powerful Dutch patroon family. He was born at the family country seat at Greenbush, New York, raised there and across the river at their city home in nearby Albany. In 1797 he married his cousin, Harriet Van Rensselaer, and they had five daughters and one son who survived to maturity.
Van Rensselaer's father obtained a commission for young Solomon as a cornet in the US Light Dragoons in 1792, subsequently promoted to lieutenant in the same year. He served in Anthony Wayne's Legion during the Ohio Valley Indian campaigns. During the decisive victory at Fallen Timbers, Van Rensselaer led his men in a charge to reinforce the hard-pressed left flank of the Legion infantry. After sabering a warrior, he was shot in the breast--the ball exiting his left shoulder. “With blood rushing from his chest, mouth, and nose", according to one eyewitness, he refused to leave the field until the Indians had retreated. In 1795 he was promoted to captain and to major in January 1799. This miniature of the valiant cavalry officer was painted by Robert Field in 1797 (courtesy, Albany Institute Collection). The following year, when President Jefferson reduced the army and purged the Federalist officers from it, Van Rensselaer received an honorable discharge.
He was adjutant general of the New York State militia from 1801-11 and 1813-21. A lieutenant colonel of the New York Volunteers, he served his cousin, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, as an aide-de-camp. During the initial stage of the battle of Queenstown Heights in October 1812, he led the first wave of militia across the river and was again badly wounded. He was then evacuated to the New York side and weeks later returned to Albany to a hero's welcome. That ended his military career but advanced his political career. Van Rensselaer was elected as a Federalist to the US Congress and served from 1819 to 1822. He resigned to become postmaster of Albany from 1822-39 and again from 1841-43.