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Thread: Period depiction of medieval sword polishers

  1. #1

    Period depiction of medieval sword polishers

    Hi everybody,

    in his recent book on early medieval sword blades, Dr Stefan Mäder published a number of period depictions of sword polishers at work. Their tools seem to have remained pretty much the same for centuries.
    The earliest depiction is from the 9th century Utrecht Psalter, the most recent is 17th century.

    Polishers used a specific bench with an additional beam mounted lenghtwise on top, like a miniature bridge. The sword would be fixed onto the beam. Because blades were often longer than an arm's reach, two polishers would work at once from either end, each polishing his half of the blade, probably with an over-lap into their fellow's half. This would provide a seamless polish.

    The actual polishing tool consisted of two bows, similar in shape and size to a modern coat hanger. They were held with both hands at their ends in such a manner that they formed an elipse. The two bows embraced the bridge beam and the sword. The polishing pad was fixed to the end of a small peg which was inserted through the center of the top bow. Exactly where a coat hangers hook would be, only on the bottom side.
    A little horn fixed to either side of the bench would contain the polishing paste for each polisher.

    The design of these polishing bows allows for a multitude of angles for the polishing pad. To polish fullers would have been no problem. While polishing, the low bow would slide along the bottom side of the beam which would provide consistency and stability as the polishers push forward and pull back.

    There is at least one image online:
    Browse to folio 49 recto, see the miniature at bottom left.

    This 14th c depiction from the Romance of Alexander shows a straight top stick instead of a bow. But the polishing device inserted into the stick's center is clearly visible. Note the flutes on the bottom side of the lower bow. They may fit into some kind of bearing that is obscured by the beam.

    Cheers,
    Roland

  2. #2
    Roland, This is fascinating! Can you provide a title or link to Dr. Mäder's work please? Is it available in German only, or other languages as well? I'd really like to dig into this history a bit more. I've never read anything on the subject of period polishing techniques in Europe.
    -mike

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Hi, Roland,

    I have seen a very similar device depicted in the Renaissance in connection with polishing rapier blades. I think the two are virtually identical - although the quality of the drawing is a bit more detailed in the Renaissance version.

    Very interesting! I wonder if anyone uses this today.

    Tom

  4. #4
    Thanks again, Roland, for another fascinating find. I too am interested in seeing more images of this - it would be interesting to see how the bench was configured. I have a handmade shaving horse that we use at our annual blacksmithing event ... it would fun to re-create a period sharpening bench also!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2002
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    Toronto, Canada
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    Very cool stuff Roland. Thanks for sharing.

    Further details about the text would be great, even if it has only been published in German. I'm sure an English translation of sections relevant to tools and techniques of polishing could be obtained quickly. Our local academic geniuses are fond of my brews and shiny swords.
    Kel Rekuta
    Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts
    Toronto, Canada

    "il a grant difference entre preu home et preudomme",
    (St.) Louis IX, called 'the Pious" by his people

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Kel Rekuta View Post
    Very cool stuff Roland. Thanks for sharing.

    Further details about the text would be great, even if it has only been published in German. I'm sure an English translation of sections relevant to tools and techniques of polishing could be obtained quickly. Our local academic geniuses are fond of my brews and shiny swords.
    Not Roland, but I think it should be this book: http://www.schwertbruecken.de/deutsch/neues1d.htm
    "Wenn wir nicht Weltmeister werden, bleiben wir immer noch Papst!"

  7. #7
    Thank you Wolfgang.
    Yes, that is correct.
    Here is the same website in English.
    The book is only available in German, however, it comes with English summary.
    If you browse to "news" you will find all details on the book.
    Scroll down to the bottom of that page and you can see the miniature from the Utrecht psalter on the center bottom plate.

    The book contains about half a dozen period depictions of polishing benches. The latest from ca. 1600, the best from the 1520s. I have to check sources. There is another one in the Romance of Alexander, I have to look up the according folio, too.

    Cheers,
    Roland

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2002
    Location
    Toronto, Canada
    Posts
    631
    Thanks for the links guys.
    Kel Rekuta
    Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts
    Toronto, Canada

    "il a grant difference entre preu home et preudomme",
    (St.) Louis IX, called 'the Pious" by his people

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