Custom Stibbert Museum-inspired Rapier from Arms & Armor
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Arms & Armor of Minnesota has long been in the business of creating historical replicas. While the majority of their renown is from their stock model swords, which are all expertly researched and hand made, A&A also accepts custom orders. Having owned and handled many of their pieces, and having been greatly impressed by all of them, I decided to commission a custom made rapier. I have long felt that they make the best production-level rapiers on the market, so the choice of which maker to go to was made that much easier for me.
A beautiful specimen in the Stibbert museum in Italy aesthetically inspired the rapier I commissioned. The original had fluting along the bars of the guard which, while beautiful, would have made the rapier cost prohibitive (although I have no doubts that A&A would have risen to the challenge remarkably should I have chosen to have it done). Since the piece is in an Italian museum, A&A had only a two-dimensional image from which to work. This made it difficult to get sense of size and proportion, but also meant there was a good deal of guesswork in terms of decoration for the areas that could not be seen, and impossible to know how the piece in question handles. Knowing this, I told A&A some basic things that I wanted, such as blade length, but also told them to feel free to do whatever they wanted otherwise. I felt it best to let the experts do their thing their own way. As it turns out, that was probably the best decision I could possibly have made.
Considering the fact that this was a purely custom piece from the ground up, the delivery time was lightening fast. The sword order was placed in the beginning of December. I was given an estimate that it hopefully would be done by early March, and it arrived in late March. For a sword to be completed in only four months is almost unheard of these days in the custom sword world, and just as amazing is the fact that it essentially was finished when I was told it would be.
Communication from Craig Johnson at Arms & Armor was open and easy. We talked both via e-mail and on the phone, and he'd even called me a couple times to make sure about certain elements. And while prospective buyers should probably contact A&A about pricing of custom pieces, I will definitely say that I felt the price of this rapier, with all of the work involved, was quite reasonable.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
The phrase "like a feather" comes to mind when handling this sword despite the fact that it is over three pounds in weight. This rapier is easy to control and the tip practically guides itself to the target. In fact, it's hard for me to decide which I like more" the aesthetics of this sword or how it feels in the hand. Performing disengage actions with single time parries are effortless, and the rapier floats through drills. Being a tall person at 6' 2", I required a long blade. There are many methods of determining proper blade length for one's height. The Italian rapier master Ridolpho Cappo Ferro's method was to measure the length of one's lunge, and this would be the proper size. The French teacher, Gerard Thibault, whom taught in the Spanish style known as La Verdadera Destreza, taught that if placing the tip of the rapier on the ground in between the feet, the quillons of a rapier of correct length should reach the navel. King Philip II of Spain issued an edict that if the rapier's pommel was placed at the shoulder and the opposite arm was extended to the side, the tip should reach the tip of the extended middle finger. These measurements lead me to choose a blade length of 43" (including the ricasso). The length of the sword allows this rapier to easily make parries and counterattacks in the same action after gaining the advantage of my opponent's blade, and the balance makes the length very easy to control. The shell allows extra hand protection to prevent slippery tips from getting past the swept hilt as well. As a functional weapon, without even looking at any of the aesthetics, I simply am in love.
Fit and Finish
Craig Johnson had e-mailed me pictures of this rapier when they were finished and ready to ship it to me. When I saw the pictures, I merely thought to myself, "Hey, that looks pretty nice." What an understatement. When I unpacked this sword from the box, I was awestruck and dumbfounded. The level of detail is superb, simply flooring me. The carvings on the pommel and quillon block are clean and well executed. The detailing on the shell is nothing short of gorgeous. And all of this is only added atop of A&A's usual attention to detail in creating smooth flowing lines. A very subtle but worthwhile element of all of A&A's rapiers is that the bars of the hilt are not simply standard barstock that is the same width everywhere, but is well sculpted and shaped so that certain areas are circular in cross section while others are more rectangular. The blade, as is usual for A&A, is well defined and clean, almost showing no evidence that it was handmade. And I continue to stand by the opinion that A&A makes the best wire wrap grips that I have ever seen or held.
There are other minor features that show the outstanding attention A&A has given to detail. On many period originals one can observe protective plates, such as the shell in this replica, which are screwed and peened into place onto the swept bars. A&A has not only done this in the same period fashion, but close inspection reveals that they hand-made the screws themselves and did not simply buy mass produced ones.
The finish isn't entirely perfect. The diamond shaped piercings on the shell, for example, are not machine-precision shapes. There are some very, and I repeat, very minor imperfections with things being just barely uneven. Does this bother me? Not in the least. First of all, it is a hand-made work of art, and the level of detail that has already been achieved is outstanding. Secondly, period originals also show these imperfectionsimperfections that are small enough to barely be worth mentioning.
What more can I say? The words stunning, amazing, beautiful, breathtaking, are all just words. They only give a modicum of the feeling I had when I first held this sword in hand. This is a rapier that I feel a 17th century swordsman would have been quite proud to own. The team at Arms & Armor is not just comprised of master weapon makers: They are artists. I am more than overjoyed with this rapier, which by far is the crowning piece in my collection. At least it currently is, until I save up for another custom Arms & Armor piece.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy