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Thread: Rapier in a hat?

  1. #1
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    Rapier in a hat?

    Hope I'm posting this in the right place. I've been asked to verify a story of an English swordsmith, one Robert Oley, who supposedly engaged in a contest with several other swordsmiths to determine who could make a rapier with the finest temper. On the day of reckoning, the other smiths showed up, swords in hand for judging. Oley showed up carrying only his hat. When queried, Oley pulled the rapier, which had been coiled inside his hat, and it emerged straight and true. Could this tale possibly be correct? Would a rapier of such flexibility really be of any use? Any help that you could supply, even if just to point me in the right direction, would be appreciated. Thanks!
    Jim

  2. #2
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    I've come across this story before, though I don't recall it having specifically to do with a rapier.

    This version is at a couple of web sites:

    A SWORD MAKER CHALLENGE

    There is a story that one of the Shotley sword making fraternity, a certain William Oley, was once challenged by two other sword makers to see who could make
    the sharpest and most resilient sword. On the day of the challenge, the three men turned up, but it seemed that Oley had forgotten to bring an example of his work.
    The two other sword makers, assuming that he had been unable to make a sword of a suitable standard, began to boastfully demonstrate the strength, sharpness
    and resiliency of their work pieces.

    Eventually their curiosity got the better of them and they asked Oley why he had not brought a sword.With a mischievous grin, Oley removed his stiff hat, to reveal
    a super-resilient sword, coiled up inside. He challenged the other two sword makers to remove the sword from the hat, but their attempts nearly resulted in the loss
    of their fingers. In the end the sword could only be removed by means of a vice. For strength, sharpness and resiliency Oley's sword was undoubtedly the winner.

    http://www.cement-process.com/Postle/nti00011.htm
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

  3. #3
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    Question

    I am tempted to classify this story between those of "marvellous swords", but...

    There are other references in literature that refer to similar ultra-flexible swords. One of most known is from a Shakespeare's play. Falfstaff has to hide at some moment folded into a basket, and so he seems like "a sword with the point close to the hilt, like a good Bilbo". There are reports about period exports of swords from Bilbao (Northern Spain) to Great Britain, so the story has some support.

    I personally had the chance to see some actual tools used to test swords at the old Toledo factory. There was one intended to test foil blades. It was a sort of a channel or guide made in iron to force the blade to adopt a certain shape, from which it should recover the straight line. But... that tool had the shape of an 8 figure! Ok, it was used to check foils, but it was impressive anyway.
    SI, SI
    NO, NON

  4. #4
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    The Wilkinson sword company in England had information of a test they use on their web site, but I just checked and the site is being redeveloped at the moment. I don't know exactly when they started using this test or if they still do.

    The test involves bending the point of the sword all the way back to the forte near where the guard is fitted, and then releasing the blade to see if it takes a set (bend). If the blade remains straight after the test, they put a special mark on the forte to show that it has passed the test

  5. #5

    Well.....

    I am not sure one would want to bet on such a feat having occured. The average rapier length and the average hat size would seem to imply that the sword blade would have had to be in two or three complete circles at the very least if not more. While a spring can be made to do this a blade designed to be used as a thrusting weapon would seem to be specificly designed not to do this.

    Now some hangers and broadswords have very thin point sections. Some of these very well may have been brought back quite far and returned to true. But getting a sword into a hat seems a bit on the far end of the believability scale.

    Craig

  6. #6
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    If that story is true it takes the term "whippy" to a whole new level. I can't see why a sword that could coil around itself would be any good as a weapon.
    Jay
    Constant And True

  7. #7
    This seems to have a distinct ring to it..something about Chinese Belt Swords...

  8. #8

    Re: Well.....

    Originally posted by Craig Johnson
    I am not sure one would want to bet on such a feat having occured. The average rapier length and the average hat size would seem to imply that the sword blade would have had to be in two or three complete circles at the very least if not more. While a spring can be made to do this a blade designed to be used as a thrusting weapon would seem to be specificly designed not to do this.


    And moreover, would even a skimpy hilt fit into the hat in addition to this much blade?

  9. #9
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    The idea of severely flexing a sword, and having it return to true seems to be sort of a Holy Grail of the swordmaking world over the eons.

    I'm put in mind of The Monk of St. Gall's account of the presentation of swords to Charlemagne by the northern ambassadors.

    Conversely, to have a sword take a set can be quite damning. I'm sure most of you have heard those stories of the Celtic swords that bent in battle and had to be straightened out by stepping on them.

    And only today I saw someone attempting to defend Norse swords against similar charges.

    I'd like to keep an open mind on this particular story.

    My take is that the blade was not "whippy", but on the contrary was under tremendous compression, and once released and permitted to return to true would have been fairly 'rigid'. (Must have been a tough hat though--says a lot for that beaver fur.) I also doubt there was a hilt, or much of one.

    Since the internet versions are identical, they point to a common source. There is a book specifically on the Shotley Bridge makers. I haven't seen it, but perhaps some of our British members?

    As I recall, the Shotley Bridge folks were what remained of a contingent of protestant Solingen makers that had come over (under Royal auspices?) earlier in the seventeenth century. Many returned home when things calmed down, but some remained and settled at Shotley Bridge in 1690 or thereabouts. The couple of images of the swords they were producing at the time were (roughly) "Walloon" style. This was getting a bit late for rapiers in England.

    The two names that became well known were Oley and Mole (originally Ohlig and Mohl or something close). They became involved not only in sword-making, but steel production and were (I think) involved with Sheffield steel production. The Mole family was still a very well-known swordmaking name in the nineteenth century, though they'd relocated to Birmingham (who didn't) by that time. Not so sure what happened to the Oleys, but I think they were still about here and there.

    In any event--a grain of salt, yes. Out of the question--not necessarily.
    Sikandur~~Aim Small, Miss Small

  10. #10
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    Talking Hat sizes

    Considering hat sizes and fashion at that time, the story might have some merit.

    My (fat) head is a "24 circumference. Now, consider a blade that wound with the point at the back and circled 1½ times with a fancy buckle at the front and a plume on the right to cover a handle. This gives you a "36+- blade, guard and grip.

    Another fictional reference of sorts is the novel Shogun in which the Portugese pilot carries a flexible stilleto in his hat band.

    The Chinese belt sword has come up before. Interlocking steel plates on a cord or chain that can be worn as a belt and drawn tight through the hilt. This might more be likely to be fictional but there is reference on some of the gamers sites.

    Cheers

    Hotspur; how short is too short for a rapier?

  11. #11
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    My thoughts thus far

    Thanks so much to you all for such helpful responses!

    I'm inclined at this point to believe this tale to be somewhat more apocryphal than not, for the following reasons:

    1) The sword in the hat was so sharp that fingers were almost lost trying to remove it from the hat. Okay, so what the heck was this hat MADE of? First to contain a coil of steel under what I imagine to be pretty high tension (so high, in fact, that the sword had to be removed with the aid of a vise), and on top of that, razor sharp!
    2) I'm having a difficult time reconciling in my own mind(and this is probably my inexperience with such things talking more than anything else) that a sword so resilient could possibly be of any use as a defensive weapon. Wouldn't a stiffer blade simply brush any attempted parry from it aside?
    Jim

  12. #12
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    Belt sword

    Some of you men has said:

    The Chinese belt sword has come up before. Interlocking steel plates on a cord or chain that can be worn as a belt and drawn tight through the hilt. This might more be likely to be fictional but there is reference on some of the gamers sites.
    If you have a look at this site, you will find that such a sword is not so fictional:

    http://www.mil-litaria.com/mil-litar...la/alcala1.htm

    The page is in Spanish (in fact, it is a Spanish patented invention and apparently approved by the Spanish authorities), but I think that how it works is clear enough by the photos. Once you hold tightly the grip, joining its two sections, the blade become rigid.

    Price could be a drawback. But, if you have $ 3500 to spend...
    Last edited by Juan J. Perez; 03-14-2002 at 07:41 AM.
    SI, SI
    NO, NON

  13. #13
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    Wow, Juan, that sword is just begging to be put in a James Bond movie. Thanks for the link. Very cool (although I think the model's taste in slacks leaves a bit to be desired )
    Jay
    Constant And True

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