Swiss Arms Research Report, 2003

By Derek Wassom
ARMA Scholar

In August 2003, I was lucky enough to do some hands-on study with antique Medieval weaponry and it was an experience that was as enlightening as it was splendid. I advise everyone who is studying Western Martial Arts or anyone with an interest in European martial history to try when ever the opportunity arises to handle these beautiful and elegant, yet effective and deadly objects. Doing so will give you an opportunity to acquire more understanding of how these weapons could be used, and also that the modern replicas have a long way to go before they can even compare to these wonderful and complex instruments of war.

The place I visited was the Fischer Auction House in Luzern, Switzerland, which has a large arms and armor auction about every year. I was first made aware of the Fischer by reading John Clements' report of his research visit in 1997.

As soon as I walked into the place I was completely blown away by the amount of weaponry and armor available to see, touch, smell, and bid for their September, 2003 auction. From bronze spearheads, to assault rifles, they had it all. There were hundreds of pole-weapons from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century from all regions of the world. Halberds, spears, pikes, lances, bills, partisans, Luzern hammers, spiedos, and poll axes were covering the walls on two floors. Their armor ranged from a bronze helm from 1800 BC to twentieth century military helmets. Sadly, I was unable to see many of the older items; because they did not have them in the building at the time (the items were not to become public until the eleventh of September). There also were swords of all shapes, sizes and countries ranging from 1400 BC up until present-day military sabers. There were so many smallswords on-hand I didn't have near enough time to see them all. Dr. Rudolf Beglinger (the gentleman running the shop) allowed me to handle, measure, and photograph any pieces I wanted, but I was on a time schedule so I didn't get to as much as I would have liked. I concentrated most of my time on six different swords, unfortunately not as thoroughly as I would have liked.

The six swords I chose were two rapiers, two sabers, and two longswords/bastard-swords. The first sword I examined was a beautiful swept-hilt rapier from Germany. circa 1620/30. This was a wonderful sword. It was light in my hand, and it was extremely well balanced. It felt like an extension of my body, without having to first "get used to it". I could feel its thrusting ability. I didn't want to thrust with it; it wanted to thrust all on its own. The hilt was flawless with beautiful flowing rings, straight quillons, and a wire wrap grip. The quillons came to "trumpeted" ends that were hexagonal in cross-section. The wrap was braided steel with metal slats along the sides, and felt very comfortable in my hand. The blade was long and thin, rigid, had no edge, and it came to a pencil point. I measured its thickness and width along three points of blade. [See sketch 144]. The over-all length was 111cm. I didn't have any device to weigh this specimen, but I would estimate it to be around 1-2lbs. By the way….bidding started at only $2000.

The second sword I examined was an Italian cup-hilt rapier. circa 1650. I never was a fan of cup-hilts, but this has completely changed my mind. The decorative work on the cup, quillons, knuckle guard, and pommel were exquisite. The pictures do not do it justice. The weight was about the same as the first rapier I handled, but it seemed quicker, with the balance point closer to the hilt. The edgeless blade was longer and thicker, and more flexible in comparison, but it tapered more rapidly to an even more acute point. [See sketch 154]. The "edge" had some trauma to it, but it looked too recent, as though the previous owner had whacked it about some. Like the first one, this sword felt alive in my hands, and "wanted" to thrust by itself. Bidding started at $7000.

The third piece was a 17th century saber. It was short at only 84cm, and wasn't in as good a condition as the previous two specimens. The blade was flat with a very short fuller running along 5/6ths of the way, coming to the tip where it changes to have a false edge. [See cross section 145]. The false edge had trauma to it as if it was repeatedly hit with another sharp object. It also had a beautiful pattern engraved along its length.

The hilt was loose, but simple and elegant in design with a leather wrapped grip (probably a replacement). The pommel had a nice nook in it that felt extremely comfortable when I slipped my pinky down into it. This sword "wanted" me to cut with it. It probably weighed around 2.5lbs, as best I can recall. Bidding started at $3500.

 

The fourth piece was a Swedish cavalry saber, circa 1620/30. I loved this sword! It was 101cm long with a deep fuller running along about 3/4ths of the way down the spine of the blade. The cross-section flattened dramatically 3/4ths of the way down, actually widening slightly. [See sketch 149]. The hilt was very pretty with its pommel curving toward the hand making it superbly comfortable. This sword felt wonderful and I wanted to flourish it around (but I don't think that would have set well with Dr. Beglinger). It obviously could deal out some very devastating cuts. Around 2lbs. Bidding started at $3000.

The fifth and the sixth swords were the ones I was looking for. Dr. Beglinger moved me up to the other floor, and there they were, too beautiful for words [see the large image above]. The first was a German longsword, circa 1600. The blade was long and had three small fullers about 1/6 down the length of the blade. [See sketch 137]. The blade had no sharp edge, no sharp point, and as far as I could tell it seemed to have been that way originally --but perhaps they were just polished down. "Solengen" was stamped on the ricasso. The hilt was magnificent, with clamshells plates covering the hand, and nice looking "S" shape quillons. Over all, this entire sword was 129cm long and so light!

The balance just seemed right. I never understood it when someone would say, "It's just there" in regard to the feel of a good sword, but now I do. This sword really did feel "just there", but I could also feel that it had a "just wanting to thrust through someone's head and chop off their arm" feeling. Holding it, its quickness and tip control felt outstanding, yet at about 2-3lbs, to me this sword seemed like it may have been able to deal out some devastating cutting wounds. If only I had brought a raw pork shoulder…. Bidding starts at $7000.

The last sword I researched was my favorite of the group. It was an Italian long sword with side-rings dated to 1570. Bidding starts at $5000. It was about 118cm long, the hilt being a bit longer, and the blade a bit shorter compared to the German one. The blade had two fullers along the first third and the blade tapered down almost to a point, but was a little rounded off. This blade also had no sharp edge; it was completely blunt (by design?) [See sketch 130]. The hilt was beautiful. The decorative artwork around the (loose) pommel, cross, and rings made it even more a pleasure to handle and behold. The balance point was very close to the hilt making the thing feel as quick as lightning. I transitioned through some guards, because I just had to. It flowed like water. It also screamed "cutter" to me. It felt like it would have no problem cutting a man in two. If the hilt weren't so loose, I think I would have ran off with it. You got off easy this time Dr. B…

 
 

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