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Thread: Cult of the Small-Sword

  1. #1
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    Cult of the Small-Sword

    Dear friends and lovers of the small-sword:

    I thought we could start a thread devoted to the edification of this little gem. A place to discuss the historical and cultural aspects of the small-sword as well as matters of technical accomplishments and general appreciation and collecting interests. This is for antique small-swords and the exchanges would be in the friendliest of terms, not a place to argue, debate or take issue with semantics, knowing that, as with any area of intense love and interest, words are often used as a matter of illiteration. Bearing in mind the work of J.D. Aylward and his devotion to the subject, we might do well to let his enthusiasm and love of the small-sword guide us.

    Please join me in posting what comes to mind, sharing photos of period examples as we go along.

    Happy study and collecting!
    Tom Donoho

  2. #2
    I was reading about Matthew Boulton the Birmingham industrialist recently, and about the processes he set up at his steam powered “manufactory” with James Watt.

    He seems to have designed or had designed a number of standard smallsword hilts but made the elements independent but complementary to each other. This meant that cutlers could pick a standard hilt or one grip another shell yet another pommel etc. In effect he offers a mix and match approach through his design book which seems to have been used as a sort of mail order catalogue.

    We tend to think of the smallsword as a craftsman made individual weapon as opposed to a munition sabre for example – and rightly so for the most part.
    It is ironic then that from about 1790 it was also one of the first items created on a production line.

    David

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    Good observation, David.

    The small-sword was caught up in the age of industrialization, perhaps? And it must have been interesting to go into the shop and pick and choose the particulars of one's hilt. Maybe this could account for random small-sword parts turning up now and then...we probably assume these came from injured sword hilts when the matter is that they were probably never even assembled and are left over stock parts. Imagine bins of pommels, shells and so on that were never put to use and have come down to us today as odds and ends.

    Even so, with Boutlon's methods, didn't he produce some truly wonderful small-sword hilts, light as a feather and the latest word in elegance, no doubt. I recall reading that Sir William Hamilton (ambassador to Naples, I think I have his name correct) had written to tell Boulton how his hilt was admired and that he could probably move many of them in Naples (a sword country) if the price was not too dear. (Makes one wonder, too, about the atmosphere created by all those hot-blooded Neopolitan men walking about with small-swords hanging at their sides, but that's a tangent...sorry.)

    Boulton was certainly one of the first to recognize the value of the production line, I think, if that's not an overestimate.
    Tom Donoho

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    Re: The Fellowship of Extraordinary Smallsword Collectors!:-)

    I think you've both hit on something here chaps

    When you think about it the smallsword around the end of the C18th was an absolute triumph - because whilst it represented the product of the first highly developed 'production line' (and also the specialisation of so many craftsmen - from 'gripe makers' to gold damascening experts and so on) it was also such a wonderfully well finished item - the majority finished like they were 'one of a kind' custom-made pieces...

    One of those rare compromises that really did work so well...

    I agree totally with your proposal that we keep this thread as a 'sticky thread' (I believe that is the term?) Tom - you might wish to request that the moderators make it so... That way it never disappears and as time goes on we can all continue to add our pearls of wisdom (or otherwise ) and use this as the wonderful learning tool it has the potential to be...

    As for those collectors of 'smallsword replicas' or people with other areas of interest/specialisation who feel compelled (on an all too frequent basis) to indulge in a bit of 'smallsword bashing' - well, they are more than welcome to beat a hasty retreat to any of the other threads on this Forum or in fact, to 'emigrate' to another forum entirely

    Just a few thoughts

    BTW - one question that I might be able to get some input from you chaps on is regarding silver hilts. I know that Aylward makes the point that custom-made silver hilts (where the bullion was provided by the client) were not legally required to be hallmarked - I'd be most interested to know how many of you have encountered such hilts and with what sort of comparative frequency (I'm curious to know how 'unusual' or not my silver hilted smallsword is...)

    John.

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    Thanks, John.

    I respectfully request that the moderators take note of your request and act accordingly. (Thanks to you in advance, gentlemen!)

    Hmmm. Hallmarks. I do know that there are true silver hilts devoid of them. Not sure why it is so. Perhaps David could shine some light on this.
    Tom Donoho

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    Brass/Bronze Hilts and Blade Configurations - An Observation

    I have read that brass/bronze hilts were thought to be the least desirable. But I have handled some excellent ones, not heavy at all and well balanced with their blades and the casting finished to a high degree. Of course, these were also given the gilt treatment so, maybe, they were considered as the best of such hilts, being referred to as ormolu hilts. I have handled a Rococco pattern with all metal grip that felt pretty good in the hand, and an all metal hilt (including the grip) in the neo-classical form with a chain knuckle guard fitted to a fine 35" (long, but suits this hilt very well) blued and gilt blade of 3 cornered form. The neo-classical one is actually light and very well balanced. The Rococco one is fitted to an oval-to-hexagon blade with fine etched motifs...not as well balanced but still pretty good...and the edges are true enough to leave a nasty cut should an opponent attempt a grab and the owner give it a quick twist or pull.

    Contrary to popular belief, a 3 cornered blade does not define the small sword as being a small sword...many small swords are fitted with oval-to-hexagon, diamond, oval or flat blades...the whole package defines what makes a small sword a small sword I think. Does that sound accurate?

    Any perssonal experiences with these hilts or blade types, please do share?

    Oh. It seems that the English and members of the German states had a penchant for edged blades while the French most definitely prefered the needle like point. (Is this reflected in their respective schools of fence?) Of course, this is a generalization is all.
    Last edited by T. Donoho; 09-22-2005 at 10:43 PM.
    Tom Donoho

  7. #7

    Separate threads please!

    [i]
    I agree totally with your proposal that we keep this thread as a 'sticky thread' (I believe that is the term?) Tom - you might wish to request that the moderators make it so...[/B]
    I for one lose interest in looong sticky threads - the extra effort involved in finding the way to the end of a multipage monster eventually outweighs the potential interest that might be found inside. Also, the title of the thread becomes less and less useful as a guide to the contents.

    Just my tuppence worth.

    Paul

  8. #8
    Hey everyone.

    I've been a member for a number of months now, reading and watching, making random posts here and there. I first got into antique swords after a long conversation with my Uncle. He seemed to think that buying replicas was a waste of money... and boy was he right! But being the age I am... 18... It's all just part of the learning curve.

    To make a long story short... I have decided that I would like to take my sword collection into the direction of the Small-sword.

    I was at the Met in New York and quickly fell in love with all of those Small-Swords. I still have the picture if you guys would like to see them.

    So. Since i'm fairly young. I thought it would be best to ask those of you whom have been collecting Small-Swords and swords in general, how I should start my collection? What kinds of research should I look for? Are there books out there that I should look into getting? Any tips or general information would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance!

    Bryan

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    Hi, Bryan!

    Glad to have you join this thread.

    I fell in love with the small sword (SS) around 16 (was during the Bicentenial and I had just read through Neuman's Swords and Blades of the American Revoultion, which features a number of small swords) and got my 1st antique SS around 18. Of course, they were easier to come by then and at a lesser price too. But you are not to young to anticipate your 1st genuine period piece, and I wish much luck as you make the search.

    Yes. The Met has some fine examples. Please do post the photos you mentioned if you will.

    A good book (a mainstay) is The Small-Sword in England by J.D. Aylward, 2nd Ed. dated 1960 or so but still a very good book on the topic by one who clearly loved his collecting interest. Maybe John Oliver can suggest other books...he has been adding to his library recently, I believe.

    Please do feel free to ask questions about the SS at this thread...we are here to share and help.

    Oh. Might I ask what drew you to the SS?

    P.S.

    Study lots of photos of antique examples, get to know the developmental traits of the SS (blades and hilts) and its artistic and technical merits. Pictures reveal so much. Add to that by handling some genuine SSs and you will do fine.
    Last edited by T. Donoho; 09-25-2005 at 12:42 AM.
    Tom Donoho

  10. #10
    I'm not sure when I exactly fell in love with them. I was first trying to get my hands on any antique sword out there. I visited a local flea market... where I found a 1820's (I have forgotten the exact date) Infanty Officers Sword. It was in pretty good shape. No battle damage on the scabbard, a light coat of rust in certain areas. But the price was much more then I could afford and I wasn't sure he would actually lower the price if I tried to haggle it.

    I think it might have been when I was browsing through Michael Long's website and I was studying the details on the SS's. They were very detailed and much different from the others.

    Here is the picture from the Met. Sorry I couldn't get to close... but you get to see them all.



    I guess my first question is this...

    Where should I be looking to find Smallswords. Obviously there are websites like Michael long, but they can be very pricey.

    And my next question... whats the average price range of the SS?

    Thanks!

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    Looks like a great collection, Bryan.

    When going through arms and arms dealers, one will probably pay a premium price, although some will negotiate if they really want to move the item. Good items sometimes turn up at generalist dealers who have no real idea what they have. Patience and persistence is the key. I would rather hold out for that good item than a piece of junk. Support of other collectors is helpful, too...they are a valuable resource to exchange thoughts with about potential purchase items.

    I can send you some links if you like...just advise where to send them.
    Tom Donoho

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    Hi Bryan,

    There are a few serious smallsword types on SFI - and you're already starting to get some advice from Tom - I *strongly* recommend you get yourself *the* smallsword reference that you have to have:

    "The Small-Sword in England" - J D Aylward...

    THIS is your most important smallsword reference - get the 1945 first edition *or* 1960 second edition - either book is fine...

    My understanding from David Critchley is that the main difference is an additional listing of swordsmiths/cutlers - but at some point in time you can always pick up the two volume set "Swords for Sea Service" (May & Annis) which has an excellent list of sword makers/cutlers and their trademarks/proof stamps and so on...

    The book Tom mentioned:

    "Swords and Blades of the American Revolution" by Neumann - IS an extremely useful reference - and I'd probably also recommend:

    "The School of Fencing" by Domenico Angelo (to understand the weapon fully its good to understand how it was *used* I think - and you can't get better than Angelo)

    "European Swords" by Anthony North (V&A Museum - GREAT colour pictures of smallswords too - the Dresden porcelain hilts and all

    "The Price Guide to Antique Edged Weapons" by Leslie Southwick (great pictures of smallswords and rapiers/etc. - good information too)

    "The Rapier and Small-Sword 1460-1820" by A V B Norman

    and - also on the 'functional' side of things more - GREAT overview of western swordsmanship:

    "Old Sword Play - Techniques of the Great Masters" - by Alfred Hutton (this chap was a professional soldier and was one of the last generation to *really* use swords in combat - his book was written to Educate other professional soldiers to the art of swordsmanship but has a broader purpose also of dealing with the art of Rapier and dagger, broadsword and buckler, the smallsword, etc, etc...

    I hope you find this helpful - you'll also encounter a range of interesting and odd individuals on SFI who seem to 'have it in for the smallsword' for one reason or another - those who think that the only real sword is something that weighs 10 pounds, has a 50 inch cutting edge and takes two men and a dog to lift it They seem to experience utter shock and dismay when the *fact* is presented to them that a weapon that weighs (in most cases) less than a pound can be effectively used to defeat an opponent armed with virtually any type of sword - all he needs is a decent smallsword and a reasonable level of smallswordsmanship

    You will find more than a few heated debates/exchanges - but at the end of the day there *was* a reason why so many of the greatest masters of the sword either turned their hand to (or specialised in predominantly) teaching the smallsword over all other swords...

    Yes - there was the *money* - the aristocracy of England and France were the main clientele of Messrs. Angelo and others - but it goes beyond that - the smallsword truly does represent the end/perfection of an evolutionary cycle - a perfected weapon that was perfected just in time to be laid aside in favour of the flintlock and percussion cap pistol and in time to see the beginning of the end of our sword wearing society and culture.

    At any rate, I digress - I hope the books I've referred you to will aid you as you learn about that most perfect of swords and wonderful object d'art - the smallsword!

    John.

    PS A little about me - I'm an 'old' European sword collector who 'lost his way' for a while and got caught up in Japanese swords/other things for a while - but who has now 'returned to the fold' upon the realisation that the study and enjoyment of the swords our ancestors wore is good enough for me
    Last edited by John Oliver; 09-25-2005 at 11:11 AM.

  13. #13
    Thanks for the information everyone!

    Yes! I already have "The Rapier and the Smallsword by A.V.B Norman". Great story behind it too! I wrote an essay about hobbies in my last year of highschool... which was infact last year... about this time. My teacher read it and then a few weeks later confronted me with this very book! She remembered my essay and picked it up for me. I offered to pay her for it... but she insisted that I didnt, mainly because it only cost her 75 cents... Canadian!

    I have read through much of it... taking in bits of information here and there. Great condition the book is in too.

    I shall listen in and keep myself informed.

    You can contact me through bczerneda@cogeco.ca with those links Tom.

    Thanks again everyone.

    Look to the future!

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    Yes. And besides the point you covered, John, I must add that the SS, addition to its other merits, just plain looks smart! (But you did actually cover this, too, I think, with your remark about it being an objet d'art...is there another sword that can claim objet d'art status, I don't think so.)

    And, keeping it light, I can only think of what someone told me in response to all that nonesense from others saying that the SS was not an effective sidearm: turn them loose in a local park armed with their sabers or cut-and-thrust swords and set others upon them trained in the use of SSs with their disabling and deadly stabs, all the while they are writhing in agony and pain they can run about the park proclaiming at the top of their lungs that the SS was not an effective sidearm if they like. La!

    Just had to get that out. It is not picking on other swords or those who like them. Just meant to illustrate that the SS was in fact a serious sidearm for serious folk seriously trained in its use. That's all I am trying to convey and, in that sense, my remarks are in keeping with the edification of the SS...which is what this thread is supposed to be about, not sabers, spadroons or any other weapon.

    Happy hunting, Bryan!

    Oh. Those books John suggested are all good ones...glad he brought them up!
    Tom Donoho

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    Originally posted by T. Donoho
    And, keeping it light, I can only think of what someone told me in response to all that nonesense from others saying that the SS was not an effective sidearm: turn them loose in a local park armed with their sabers or cut-and-thrust swords and set others upon them trained in the use of SSs with their disabling and deadly stabs, all the while they are writhing in agony and pain they can run about the park proclaiming at the top of their lungs that the SS was not an effective sidearm if they like. La!

    Just had to get that out. It is not picking on other swords or those who like them. Just meant to illustrate that the SS was in fact a serious sidearm for serious folk seriously trained in its use. That's all I am trying to convey and, in that sense, my remarks are in keeping with the edification of the SS...which is what this thread is supposed to be about, not sabers, spadroons or any other weapon.
    I don't recall anyone ever claiming that the smallsword was not an effective weapon--it was simply noted that it is not really useful for military application.

    In addition, the smallsword was hardly the only "serious sidearm" that "serious folk" "seriously trained" with.
    Last edited by David Black Mastro; 09-27-2005 at 02:51 PM.
    "Pray forget not to have your Broad-Sword, made according to my Pattern; for the Parliment has, and it will with your Postures in my wrestling-Book, cut the Small-Sword out of fashion" --Sir Thomas Parkyns, to Lord Thomas Manners, 1720


    "We begin with the Small-Sword, which we must allow to be the nearest Inlet to the relative Arts, and when we are upon the Back-Sword, their near Affinity will appear more clearly." --Captain John Godfrey, Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, 1747

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    Originally posted by T. Donoho
    Contrary to popular belief, a 3 cornered blade does not define the small sword as being a small sword...many small swords are fitted with oval-to-hexagon, diamond, oval or flat blades...the whole package defines what makes a small sword a small sword I think. Does that sound accurate?

    Any perssonal experiences with these hilts or blade types, please do share?

    Oh. It seems that the English and members of the German states had a penchant for edged blades while the French most definitely prefered the needle like point. (Is this reflected in their respective schools of fence?) Of course, this is a generalization is all.
    Well, as I mentioned on the other thread, Philibert de la Touche noted that the art of cutting had long been neglected in France in his day (circa 1670). He was one of the few French masters who still advocated the use of the cut--something which was still possible with the transitional swords of his day.

    By the time of Angelo, the concept of a predominantly thrusting sword that still had some cutting capacity was something relatively unfamiliar to the practitioners of Escrime Francais (which was of course based around the use of the smallsword)--Angelo even went out of his way to mention that the Spanish rapier had two cutting edges, and that espadachins trained in the Spanish system still made use of cuts.

    The Italians likewise retained some rapier-like qualities to their swords at this time, and they even had a method of smallsword-and-dagger fencing.

    The Germans, on the other hand, differed from other smallsword users, in that they typically preferred a hanging guard, more often associated with cut-and-thrust fencing.
    "Pray forget not to have your Broad-Sword, made according to my Pattern; for the Parliment has, and it will with your Postures in my wrestling-Book, cut the Small-Sword out of fashion" --Sir Thomas Parkyns, to Lord Thomas Manners, 1720


    "We begin with the Small-Sword, which we must allow to be the nearest Inlet to the relative Arts, and when we are upon the Back-Sword, their near Affinity will appear more clearly." --Captain John Godfrey, Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, 1747

  17. #17
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    Originally posted by T. Donoho
    Even so, with Boutlon's methods, didn't he produce some truly wonderful small-sword hilts, light as a feather and the latest word in elegance, no doubt. I recall reading that Sir William Hamilton (ambassador to Naples, I think I have his name correct) had written to tell Boulton how his hilt was admired and that he could probably move many of them in Naples (a sword country) if the price was not too dear. (Makes one wonder, too, about the atmosphere created by all those hot-blooded Neopolitan men walking about with small-swords hanging at their sides, but that's a tangent...sorry.)
    What specific year are we talking about here?

    I ask this because Neopolitan fencers, being under strong Spanish influence, were largely resistant to the smallsword. They preferred the cup-hilt rapier. Even what the Spanish finally adopted the smallsword as the espadin, it typically differed from its French counterparts--the finger rings were usually still functional, for example.
    "Pray forget not to have your Broad-Sword, made according to my Pattern; for the Parliment has, and it will with your Postures in my wrestling-Book, cut the Small-Sword out of fashion" --Sir Thomas Parkyns, to Lord Thomas Manners, 1720


    "We begin with the Small-Sword, which we must allow to be the nearest Inlet to the relative Arts, and when we are upon the Back-Sword, their near Affinity will appear more clearly." --Captain John Godfrey, Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, 1747

  18. #18
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    Do you have a favorite SS style?

    For beauty derived from pure form, I am partial to the early Georgian silver hilts c. 1720-40. The later cut-steel hilts are light as a feather and very well balanced. For artistic achievement, the French SS of the period of Louis XVI is truly wonderful. Colonial American SSs are beautiful in their unpretentious, provincial style.
    Tom Donoho

  19. #19
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    Probably not much point in me posting this time Tom <large smile> - you know *exactly* what my addiction is

    I *love* late C18th cut steel hilters - they are (as you have so rightly pointed out) light as a feather and superbly balanced - I have one such smallsword and only hope I manage to find a few more of the same quality - an absolute gem of a piece - and a magnificent weapon too - fast, responsive and terribly lethal - a work of art and an extremely efficient killing implement as well...

    I am also very drawn to the high end gilt/russet pieces as well - from the Louis XVth/XVIth periods - absolutely wonderful...

    John.

  20. #20
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    Those russet-gilt hilts are gems! The SS as an objet d'art, for sure.

    Still, one of my favorites is the simple colonial American hilt I have, japanned iron hilt with simple wooden grip and a wide 3 corner blade...it just bespeaks the colonial experience, I think.
    Tom Donoho

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    Small-sword, c. 1790

    English neo-classical ormolu hilt.

    Ooops! Need some kind advice on how to get pics posted to this forum. Tried the attachment method...but would like to post directly to the thread without a link. Thanks in advance.

    SEE BELOW POST WITH PHOTO.
    Last edited by T. Donoho; 10-02-2005 at 01:17 AM.
    Tom Donoho

  22. #22
    Hey everyone,

    Its great to hear about all of these swords... but it would be much more educational for me if you guys could post pictures with your comments.... if thats at all possible. Don't go out of your way... but i'd love to see everyones favourite or their collection.

    I have started a small fund for myself and i've been putting aside small portions of money, hoping to save up for one of these brilliant smallswords

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    Neo-classical hilt, c. 1790...

    Ormolu (gilt-brass/bronze) hilt.
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    Last edited by T. Donoho; 10-02-2005 at 01:15 AM.
    Tom Donoho

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    Neo-classical hilt, c. 1790...

    Blade of above small-sword (3-cornered, 35" long).
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    Last edited by T. Donoho; 10-02-2005 at 01:28 AM.
    Tom Donoho

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    French small-sword, c. 1750...

    Ormolu hilt.
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    Tom Donoho

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