Rare Alabama Contract

James Conning Sword

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    The James Conning manufactured Artillery Officer’s sword shown here was made expressly for the State of Alabama, and is so marked.  “STATE of AlA 1862” is stamped into one side of the knuckle bow.  Its serial number, “141” is stamped into the opposite side of the bow.  All Conning swords are rare, but having the Alabama contract markings makes it one of the very rarest Confederate production swords in existence.  I think it is safe to say that less than five are known to exist.  In fact I can only find record of three, and I have only seen two in my lifetime.  This one is in virtually perfect condition.  The original polished wood grip remains tight; the twisted wire wrap is original and remains as tight as the day it was made.  The brass has a deep, natural un-cleaned patina.  The blade remains bright, is nick free and retains its original point. Even the throat washer is original.  The sword remains sheathed in its original iron mounted Conning made scabbard.  The scabbard is also perfect, without the slightest ding.  I cannot imagine that a better example of this rare sword exists.

     The following information is the most detailed and up to date information relative to James Conning’s sword making.  It is an extract from an article written by Colonel Jeffrey Addicott, titled Now That’s a James Conning.

     James Conning was born in New York in 1815 and was listed as a New York silversmith circa 1840.  In his mid-twenties, however, Conning left the North and relocated to Mobile, Alabama, where he set up shop as a jeweler.  The “adopted Southerner” first appeared in the official Directory for the City of Mobile in 1842, advertising himself as a jeweler and silversmith at 26 Dauphin Street.  By all accounts, Conning quickly adopted the norms and customs of the South, even serving as an orderly sergeant in the Washington Light Infantry during the Mexican War of 1845.  An astute businessman, Conning’s so-called “jewelry” business quickly prospered by evolving into a military supply store.  Accordingly, coterminous with the War with Mexico Conning’s shop offered for sale a wide array of military equipment to include swords.   When the Mexican War ended, Conning’s military sales continued to flourish with regular sales to the United States military, various State militia forces, and private buyers.  By 1856, Conning had firmly established himself as a respected retail dealer, importer, and even manufacturer of all things military to include swords.  

     With the outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861, Conning concentrated his business activities to supplying the fledgling Confederacy with military blades of all types.  With his supply of imported goods and materials sharply reduced by the Federal blockade of Mobile, he turned to the local Parker Foundry for the production of sword blades, which his “good and competent workmen” then hilted and finished in the Conning machine shop.  Conning was no longer an importer/retailer of military goods, but primarily a manufacturer of a large variety of exquisite swords produced for the Confederacy to include cavalry, infantry, and artillery.  He repeatedly advertised his sword business as such in local Mobile newspapers.  Further, many of his war period blades were marked with the words “made by” in addition to his name, “James Conning,” clearly indicating that his shop was manufacturing the weapons on site.  Indeed, Conning was under contract with the State of Alabama to produce both artillery and cavalry sabers, but made and sold officer’s swords privately.  Conning’s service as a sword-maker to the South continued until the fall of Mobile in April 1865.  With the defeat of the Confederacy, Conning returned to business as a “jewelry” store. 

   

 

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