Arms & Armor Custom Large Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
When looking at edged weapons of the past, the distinction between sword and dagger is often very obvious. There are cases, though, where smaller swords and larger daggers blur those lines. For example, certain specimens from the cinquedea family fill the size gap between their clearly dagger-sized and clearly sword-sized cousins. Other forms associated primarily with daggers, like the ballock dagger and rondel dagger, also feature examples large enough to cause confusion in classification.
One such example of a large rondel dagger is housed in the Museo Nazionale Del Bargello in Florence, Italy. While mostly typical of rondel daggers in terms of its hilt, the dagger's blade measures over 18 1/2 inches; many rondel daggers have an overall lengthnot blade lengthof 18 inches or less. With an overall length of around two feet, the Bargello dagger is an impressive specimen. The two rondels (the discs at either end of the hilt that give the dagger form its name) are thick but not very wide. Atop the top rondel are three bronze buttons, perhaps a reference to the holy trinity (this is speculation on my part, but follows a common line of thinking about the importance of multiples of three in the Middle Ages). The grip on the original is missing, allowing its narrow but thick tang to be seen. I was immediately impressed by this piece when I viewed it in the museum's catalogue of cutlery, daggers, and hunting knives and decided to have it recreated.
Arms & Armor of Minnesota has long been known for their excellent lineup of production swords, daggers, polearms, and armour. They also accept orders to customize their production pieces as well produce full-blown custom items. The time from order to delivery on this custom order was around three months, an impressive feat in the world of custom smithing. Communication, through spokesman Craig Johnson, was prompt, thorough, and always helpful.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
Evaluating a dagger's handling usually is couched within a framework of the dagger being a backup weapon or self-defense item of last resort. With a piece this size, you have to also evaluate its potency as a primary weapon. Indeed, period art shows daggers of this size being worn and used as both primary and secondary weapons for knights and other soldiers.
The grip is comfortable, appropriately sized, and provides secure purchase in the hand. It's efficient in cutting, though it did take a minute to get used to its length: this author is used to test cutting with items that are either shorter or longer than this dagger. It's typical for normal-length daggers to feel equally comfortable whether held point up or point down. For this dagger the forward grip, like one would hold a sword, feels more natural. Holding it in the reverse grip to deliver a final blow is obviously an option, but to me this dagger seems to operate best when held more like a sword. Using this weapon as a backup weapon feels like overkill, despite the fact that we occasionally see knights in period art armed with swords and large daggers like this.
Fit and Finish
The hilt is just as nicely done. The low carbon steel rondels are finished to an easy-to-maintain brushed satin finish. The top rondel's three bronze buttons are obviously handmade and are not totally evenly spaced. Bronze rivets are peened over the top of the spheres and all the way through the top rondel. The tang, apparently threaded to aid in the intermediate stages of assembly, is peened atop that rondel as well. The grip, made of an African hardwood, has been oiled with tung oil to darken it. Since the original's grip is missing, Craig chose to use period features to create one. In this case, thick bronze wires (or thin bronze rods) are laid into spiral grooves in the wood. As a nice touch, each wire begins its spiral seeming to emanate from directly below each of the bronze buttons. It's a nice bit of artistic continuity.
While Arms & Armor can make wood-cored scabbards and scabbards with metal tips, I opted for a less expensive solution. The scabbard for this dagger is basically the same as their standard dagger offering: it's made of a single dyed layer of leather, sewn up the back, and provided with a leather thong looped to lace a belt through. I did ask for some simple tooling. Craig's design is another study in effective artistic continuity. In between two pairs of chevrons are three groups of dots, surrounded by pairs of three lines. In between these groups are panels of diagonal incised lines. The diagonal lines echo the spiral wire while the three dots and three lines recall the three bronze buttons. The scabbard fits the blade tightly.
This is my first custom order from Arms & Armor and will not be the last. The quality I received was impressive; the fact that it's priced extremely competitively is even more impressive. The attention to detail in the piece is phenomenal and they really captured the essence of the museum piece. While fully deserving of their reputation as a great production shop, this custom piece shows they deserve an equal or better reputation as a custom shop.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Posate, Pugnali, Coltelli da caccia: Del Museo nazionale del Bargello, by Museo nazionale del Bargello (Florence, Italy)
Photographer: Chad Arnow