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Thread: Wilkinson Sword Characteristics

  1. #151
    Matt Easton pointed out an interesting section from 'Broadsword and Single-Stick' by R.G.Allanson-Winn (1911) in which the author quotes the Encyclopedia Britannica, stating;

    “Mechanical invention has not,” says the “Encyclopædia Britannica,” “been able to supersede or equal handwork in the production of good sword blades. The swordsmiths’ craft is still, no less than it was in the Middle Ages, essentially a handicraft, and it requires a high order of skill. His rough material is a bar of cast and hammered steel, tapering from the centre to the ends; when this is cut in two each half is made into a sword. The ‘tang,’ which fits into the handle, is not part of the blade, but a piece of wrought iron welded on to its base. From this first stage to the finishing of the point it is all hammer and anvil work."
    Is this how swords were still made during the Victorian period and later (Wilkinson, in particular)? If so, is it possible to describe when and the process by which the tang was welded to the blade? It sounds much more like an 18th century process to me...

    Thank you!

    Jonathan

  2. #152
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    Jonathan. Just back from holiday. I have documents which i will post on this very topic of the 'split top of blade and insert tang with hammer welding' and the later tang forged together with blade.
    Robert

  3. #153
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    APOLOGIES FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS POST!

    British Blade Forging.

    The earliest specification that was printed (prior to that makers worked to the ‘Pattern Sword’ was the 1864 sword.
    For the blade manufacture, the specification states:

    The blade is made of the best cast steel. Free from seams and flaws, properly hardened and tempered and the tang made of the best wrought iron, neatly shut on at the shoulders of the blade, the shoulders to consist of an equal portion of iron and steel, the blade to be ground, polished and finished in a workmanlike manner in accordance with the Pattern and Gauges.
    The same details are to be found in the Specifications for:
    • Light Cavalry Sword 1880 (100 ‘Experimental’ made by Mole)
    • Cavalry Sword Light and medium 1881
    • Cavalry pattern 1882 short
    • Cavalry pattern 1882 Long


    For the Cavalry Pattern 1885, the specification (November 9th 1885) states:

    The blade is made of the best cast steel. Free from seams and flaws, properly hardened and tempered and the tang made of the best wrought iron, neatly shut on at the shoulders of the blade, the shoulders to consist of an equal portion of iron and steel,
    Or the blade and tang may be of one piece of steel solid throughout.
    The blade to be ground, polished and finished in a workmanlike manner in accordance with the Pattern and Gauges.


    Henry Wilkinson in Engines of War (1841) page 215 states:
    The present method of manufacturing sword blades of the best quality in England is very simple. The steel is made in Sheffield and sent to the sword cutlers in Birmingham in lengths sufficient to form two blades; the best cast steel is employed; each end is then drawn out by forging to about half the thickness of the bar, leaving a few inches in the centre of the original size, each end in turn serving as a handle to hold it by while forging the other; it is afterwards notched and broken in two at the centre, and the tang which is of iron, is welded on to the thick end, by splitting open one end of the tang, or that part that enters the handle, and the forging of the blade is completed to the desired pattern....

    So it would appear that this method was used by Henry Wilkinson and other sword makers (Mole, Reeves etc)

    In England’s Workshops (1864), in a description of Charles Reeves’s factory, the method is the same and quoted as:
    ...The steel from which swords are made is supplied (by Mr John Sanderson of Sheffield) in long pieces somewhat tapering at each end, and having a square portion in the middle, which being cut through leaves material for two blades, the bisection of the square leaving a shoulder at one end to receive the iron ‘tang’.....

    In Iron of July 18th 1874, the same method was still used and the Iron correspondent reported that –
    ...The workman takes the strip {of steel} and first breaks it or cuts it across the middle. The handle-end of the blade is of iron as this metal bears more knocking about and can be used in a manner that would be fatal for steel. The iron end is then put in the fire and the ‘tang’ or part to fit into the hilt, is forged.

    A description of how cavalry sword blades were forged is contained in a later article (May 8 1886) in The Ironmonger. While it describes the method for forging blades it leaves out in the descriptive any mention of forming the tang. (At this period Wilkinsons had just started using rollers for contract bayonet blade forging)

    A description of Mole’s way of sword blade making is contained in Birmingham Daily Post whose correspondent on a factory visit wrote:-
    ... Swedish Iron which has passed through Sheffield foundries...comes is what are termed sword Moulds – the bars of steel which are broadest in the middle, and which being broken at that point, give each enough material for two blades. Two men are engaged at each hearth....the bar is first heated at the end which will afterwards receive the hilt; and a short tongue is beaten out, upon which the tang, or backbone of the hilt is welded...

    So all makers appear to be using approximately the same methods.

    The conclusion is that the blade being forged as a single entity comes about, for the Government swords, around 1885, but Henry Wilkinson certainly forged blades with tang in their entirety from about the 1870’s when they acquired a Ryder Hammer.
    Here is a photo from an old newspaper clipping showing (1878) Wilkinson’s legendary blade smith (before Tom Beasley!) Bill Bonner. Forging a tang on a blade.

    After 1885 when Wilkinsons started rolling blades, the tangs were formed on the Ryder and this combination continued up until 2005.

    Here are the operations for Blade Forging from a 1902 Wilkinson document:-
    Operation

    Crop to Billet
    Ryder Hammer ([To lengthen billet to blade length and to reduce thickness
    Roll Blade (Roll the Ryder hammered 'rough blade' billet to Pattern - There were Rolls for all patterns of blades, except some which were entirely hand forged)
    Ryder Tang (Using the Ryder Hammers, shape and draw out the tang)
    Hand Hammer top leading edge
    Thread Tang (Military 1/4" Whitworth thread)
    Grind
    Shoulder File
    Harden
    Temper/Straighten
    Strike/Deflection Test
    Proof Stamp
    Number Blade
    Polish
    Etch
    Final Inspection
    Pass to Fitters


    There were additional operations for curved blades such as Cavalry, R.A. etc which after " SHOULDER FILE" had the additional operation before Hardening of:- Curve Blade
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    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 09-16-2011 at 04:01 AM.

  4. #154
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  5. #155
    Thank you very much, Robert! Really fantastic information, and counter to my assumptions.

  6. #156
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    Why some swords are scarce.

    Found this in a Copy of the Wilkinson Gazette, Wilkinsons WW2 monthly Newsletter.
    Interesting and I bet they were mainly Household Cavalry (Wilkinsons got a big order in 1946/7 and 1908 Troopers.
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  7. #157
    From "Our Veterans of 1854, by a Regimental Officer" (Col. C. T. Wilson, Coldstream Guards): "As these isolated engagements [at Inkermann] took effect beard to beard, officers had occasionally opportunities of testing the sort of stuff out of which their swords had been forged. Wilkinson's cutlery stood the trial well -- not so the handiwork of less careful armourers. At any rate, I can assert that my recreant blade, which had been bought of the tailor who rigged me out on appointment, bent like a thing of pewter over the thick skull of an unpleasantly forward Calmuck. To all expectant ensigns of my acquaintance do I exhibit this goose-begotten tuck, with the hope that its disloyal curve may be unto them warning against an inconsiderate and all-in-the-lump purchase of their equipments."

  8. #158
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    Great quote-thank you
    I shall add it to the Files!
    Robert

  9. #159
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    Wilkinson Sword at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

    besides, guns and elaborate swords displayed, the catalogue lists the following which is most interesting.:-


    1851 Great Exhibition: Official Catalogue: Class VIII.
    WILKINSON and SON, 27 Pall Mall — Manufacturers.

    A series of all the regulation swords in use in the British army and navy, as originally submitted to the Commander-in-Chief and to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, by the exhibitor, and approved and adopted by general orders:-

    (a.) Regulation Infantry sword, as by general order dated March 10, 1845.
    (b.) Regulation sword for Royal Engineers.
    (c.) Light Cavalry and Royal Artillery sword.
    (d.) Heavy Cavalry sword.
    (e.) 1st Life Guards' sword.
    (f.) 2nd Life Guards' sword.
    (g.) Royal Horse Guards' (Blues) sword.
    (h.) Regulation Highland claymore.
    (i.) General officers' cimeter.
    (k.) Admiral's dress cimeter.
    (l.) Regulation sword for Royal Navy, as per Admiralty order, dated November 23, 1847

    7. A sword worn by some of the Irregular Cavalry in India; the hilt of steel, electro-plated with silver; the scabbard of German silver.

    8. A coat of chain mail, of tempered steel, electro-plated with silver; also a pair of gauntlets, bridle, etc., of the same material, as worn by some of the Irregular Cavalry in India.

    9. Two helmets, covered with electro-plated steel chain mail, in gold and silver, to be used without a plume.

    10. A Highland claymore, copied from an old one by Andrea Ferrara.

    11. Regulation and other sword belts.

    12. A Highland dirk, as designed and manufactured by the exhibitor, for Her Majesty's 74th Highlanders.

    13. A series of illustrations, showing the different stages of the manufacture of sword-blades: —


    Sword hilts, scabbards, etc., in various stages of manufacture.
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    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 10-10-2011 at 08:43 AM.

  10. #160
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    Very interesting Robert. I wonder why the Royal Engineers sword was listed separately in 1851? (before they got their own pattern). Also I wonder why the Rifles sword was overlooked? Very interesting that number 7 presumably alludes to the type carried by some officers of the Scinde Irregulars.
    Matt

  11. #161
    Yes, I would very much like to see numbers 7 & 8!

  12. #162
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    Alas NOT a fully illustrated Catalogue!!!
    Just the special made scimitar for the exhibition

    Presentation cimeter, of arabesque pattern, standard silver richly chased and gilt, ornamented with 104 precious stones, consisting of emeralds, rubies, turquoises, jacynths, topazes, amethysts, chrysolites, carbuncles, garnets, moonstones, etc. The blade made of temper equal to those of Damascus or Toledo, combines embossing with engraving on tempered steel, bluing and gilding, so as to form two elevations of ornamental pattern above the dead gold groundwork. Also, a gold sword-knot. The whole in mahogany case, lined with crimson velvet. purple and gold cord waist-belt, of oriental patterns with chased clasp, ornamented with precious stones, emeralds, jacynths, and large amethysts. (See figure.)
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  13. #163
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    Here is a cheeky advert by Wilkinson' s from 1846 for 'India hands'
    WILKINSONS NEW REGULATION SWORD, approved by the Commander in Chief and deposited (by authority) for other to imitate (My Bold and Underline!)
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  14. #164
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Wilkinson-Latham View Post
    Here is a cheeky advert by Wilkinson' s from 1846 for 'India hands'
    WILKINSONS NEW REGULATION SWORD, approved by the Commander in Chief and deposited (by authority) for other to imitate (My Bold and Underline!)
    Interesting post, Robert! I wonder if the advert refers simply to the unauthorised use of Wilkinson design features in competitors' products, or whether we are talking of real swords being passed off as by Wilkinson when they weren't? I don't think I've ever seen a "genuine" contemporary forgery of a Wilkinson sword.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  15. #165

    Great Exibition of 1851

    Hi all,

    Although the catalogue is not fully illustrated, history at times has a way of putting itself together, and the subject of silver plated hilts and irregular cavalry is of note; maybe the attached image might be of interest to Jonathan.

    Regards,

    Gordon
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  16. #166
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    Something nearer to present day, well nearly 20th September 1941.

    With WW2 in full swing, Britain standing alone, one wonders what was going through the minds of the Admiralty and the Ministry of Supply.

    They were ordering Fencing swords!!!!!
    One can see however, by April 1942, the Contract was cancelled!

    here is a page from the Wilkinson Contract Book. (Also at this time the India Office was madly ordering swords (Cavalry etc)
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    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 10-25-2011 at 11:30 AM.

  17. #167
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    Here is a Gem of a Letter (From the Wilkinson Copy Letter Book 1880-1898)
    A letter dated 1890 to a now Colonel who bought his sword in February 1882 and send the bill as a then Captain.
    Reminders were sent- 31st July 1882- 31 Jan 1883- 1st may 1884 as well as Christmas 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886 of which no notice was taken.
    In 1885, the owner, now a Colonel sent the sword back to have the scabbard plated at the cost of £1-10-0.

    needless to say, further requests for payment fell on deaf ears and neither had been paid by August 1890!!!!!!

    The Colonel was now living at Hampton Court so possibly retired and living in a Grace and Favour Apartment.

    Unlike other copy letters which have paid written on them in pencil, this letter remains ominously missing the "PAID" writing!

    In all the debt collecting letters of the period, this is the worst example. This letter is in response to a reply received the Colonel to an earlier letter where he is obviously querying having paid for it never ordered it/ haven't a clue what you are talking about!!!!!
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  18. #168
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    Great post, Robert - I like his cheek in sending a scabbard back to be plated when the sword itself still hadn't been paid for - that's the spirit that won the Empire!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  19. #169
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    Apologies if I have posted this before somewhere else (Old age!!!)

    I cam across this invoice for " ..Special pattern Infantry" sword dated 1909.
    Sword number 42146.

    The records show that Captain Crawshay didn't think much to the 1892/98 blade and wanted a real thrusting sword!!! He chose the 1904 (Experimental) Cavalry officer's blade in preference.

    Anyone out there got this sword????????
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  20. #170
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    I thought I recognised it - sold at Bonham's in April 2006 for £564 incuding buyer's premium (lot 75). I could be wrong (going from memory as am on a train), but wasn't that the Wilkinson factory sale? No mention of a scabbard in the auction listing, though.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  21. #171
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    Spot on John
    Thanks for goging 'the little grey cells'!!!!
    Robert

  22. #172
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    Concerning the manufacture of Sword blade (Above - re iron separate tang etc - British Blade Forging.), I came across two patents for making the blade in one piece with tapered tang.
    The earlier is a Mole Patent (436 of 1852) and the other is Charles Reeves (2636 of 1857).

    It helps us date and possibly corrects my above post, that blades with integral tapered tangs were possibly made as early as the late 1850's, although the Government persisted with separate tangs for their blades until the 1880's.
    The fact that Mole had a patent as did Reeves is significant. Did this preclude Wilkinson from making this style of blade-very doubtful as long at the method described differed in the use of certain tools, rollers, jigs etc.
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    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 11-23-2011 at 02:56 AM.

  23. #173
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    Very useful finds, Robert!
    I don't understand what the 'raised rib' is that they refer to in the Mole patent (given that it is from 1852, ie. post-pipe-backed blades).

    Regards,
    Matt

  24. #174
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    Robert. What is an "American cloth case?" A case made in America of cloth? A case made of American cloth?
    "Ancora imparo - Michelangelo Buonarotti"

  25. #175
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    These are sword 'bags' or cases as an alternative to the more expensive leather cases.

    American Cloth. A name given in England to a cotton cloth, prepared with a glazed and varnished surface to imitate Morocco leather, used for carriage trimming; known in the United States as enameled or oil cloth.

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