The number of historical relics that go missing and are never seen again is unknowable. Certainly, though, it is not a small number – though decay, through carelessness, through the loss of personal collections into estate sales and long term storage many artifacts of bygone days have vanished into obscurity. Finding one of these relics, recovering what was lost with virtually no trail, is incredibly rare – which is what makes the Alexandria sword, also known as the “Harriet Dean Sword,” so unique.
In 1414, a peace treaty was brokered between the kingdom of Cyprus and the Sultan of Egypt. After the peace treaty (which ended a long and difficult conflict), the Cyprian King Janus made a gift of several swords to Sultan al-Mu´ayyad Shaykh. By the report of historians Sultan al-Mu´ayyad Shaykh was a humble man and a lover of architecture and scholarship, demolishing a prison and commissioning a mosque in its place as well as many religious monuments. The swords he received as a gift from King Janus of Cyprus were sent to the Arsenal at Alexandria, where a sizable collection of medieval arms and armor existed.
In 1904, medieval armor expert Bashford Dean founded the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Arms and Armor. As a curator of this collection Dean went on numerous trips around the world to purchase relics, both for the Met exhibit and for his personal collection. One such visit brought him into contact with the Alexandria Arsenal in 1919, which even centuries later was in excellent condition due to Egypt’s dry climate. Among the articles that returned with Dean were a matched pair of swords with an Arabic inscription indicating it was a gift of the Sultan to the Arsenal collection. Dean continued to expand both his and the Met’s collection until his untimely death in 1928, at which time one of the matched pair of 15-th century longswords was bequeathed to the Met’s collection (and became known as the “Bashford Dean Sword,” while the other went to Dean’s beloved sister Harriet Dean.
Harriet kept the sword until her death in 1943, at which point (like so many other relics of European history) vanished without a trace. For over 70 years the Harriet Dean Sword evaded capture, a white whale for so many curators and historians who hunted it for collections both public and private. The sword was thought lost, and became well known in academic circles despite its absence from the public eye. And lost is where it would have stayed, had an arms-and-armor expert working for an auction house not agreed to view a collection of weapons that was being consigned to an estate sale. There, in a small Texas restaurant, he was astonished to be staring at a picture of the Harriet Dean Sword, the last sword of the Alexandria Arsenal.
Our latest renaissance longsword is an homage to the lost sword of Alexandria, a sword commissioned by a King, gifted to a Sultan, purchased by a curator, inherited by a sister, lost to time, and finally found again by a collector like so many of our customers. We invite you to hold this reflection of history in your hands.