Arms & Armor Custom English Loop-hilt Smallsword
A hands-on review by Stephen Fisher
Over the past several years I've had the pleasure of handling a fair share of antique smallswords as well as owning a few. As of now, the market for quality reproduction smallswords is relatively small compared to other types of swords. I've found that many replicas are oversized, too long, or too heavy to be considered a worthy reproduction of their historical counterparts. I've realized that in order to have a good quality replica, one has to turn to a maker who has experience with antique originals.
In 2003 I decided to purchase the smallsword made by Arms & Armor in Minnesota, catalog #069. Its dimensions, weight, and finish were far superior to those of its competitors. It looked and performed the way the originals would. Then in December of the same year, when I decided I wanted to add another smallsword to my collection, Arms & Armor came first and foremost in my mind.
What I find most unique to this hilt form is that it completely omits the popular finger rings and contains a loop forming at the quillon block, which loops around to connect to the knuckle guard. You can find 17th century examples that often had the loop completely filled with a pierced plate or a small shell projecting from the ricasso for added protection. By looking at pictures of surviving specimens you will also notice that they are found with many variations and were mounted with several blade types. It would not be uncommon to find the loop-hilt design mounted on military blades, hangers, and smallsword blades.
I had this reproduction based upon the elements of two of my favorite antique loop-hilts. The hilt is based upon an English spadroon (a light single-edged cut-and-thrust sword) circa 1770-90 that was auctioned on eBay. Since the original was mounted with a cut-and-thrust blade and I did not have any detailed measurements of the piece, I sent Craig Johnson (Arms & Armor's production manager) an example of an English loop-hilted smallsword (circa 1750-60) that is featured in George Neumann's, Swords and Blades of the American Revolution (pg.132, example 212.S). Craig used the length measurements of the example from the book and incorporated them into this new reproduction.
This smallsword sports a blued hilt with the grip bound with dark steel wire and a blade of diamond cross-section. Due to the blackened hilt, one could dub this a "mourning" sword. A mourning sword was one that would generally have blackened fittings (hilt and grip) and was worn at funerals. Many authorities on the smallsword have come to believe that these also were worn as an everyday item of informal dress, which would rule out the idea that they were only worn for somber occasions. A particular painting in the National Maritime Museum helped serve as inspiration for my decision to have the hilt blackened. The painting is of British Naval Captain Hugh Palliser, who wears a sword with a blackened hilt and gold sword knot which gave it a sleek overall appearance. I may add a period-correct sword knot sometime in the near future.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota
This is a sword that has to be held in the hand to understand how alive it feels. As a fencer, and one who studies the smallsword (its forms and use), I have to say that I am amazed at how perfect it is in terms of capturing the balance and lightness that is required to make a good smallsword. Craig had a period blade that he used to compare the proportions to that of the reproduction and made adjustments accordingly. The result produced a sword that handles like a dream.
Fit and Finish
In this department everything is top-notch as usual for A&A. All of the welds are clean and the overall finish is smooth. Like their catalog #69 smallsword, the hilt components are tight and secure without wobbling or movement. The wire wrap is done to perfection, being as tightly wound as can be. A&A has done a superb job on the blade. It has just the right amount of profile and distal taper to make this sword handle as well as it does.
The pictures of this smallsword do not do it justice. It is a work of art that has to be seen in person and held to be fully appreciated. From the time I ordered this piece, it took a little over seven months; not long at all compared to some other high-end custom makers' waiting lists. It was well worth the wait. The price of this piece was far more than reasonable for the quality that was received.
Each time I have ordered from Arms & Armor I couldn't have been more pleased with their customer service and product. It is no wonder that they are the supplier of arms to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London and have products on display in the likes of the Wallace Collection. Not only is this one of the finest smallswords that I have the pleasure of owning, it illustrates another example of the quality of work that the good folks at Arms & Armor produce.
About the Author
Stephen Fisher is a member of the Army National Guard and is an assistant sport fencing instructor and student at Western Kentucky University. His interest in edged weapons stemmed from watching one too many swashbuckling movies years ago. It has since grown into a serious study of swords and their use. He is a collector of both reproduction and antique swords ranging from the 17th to late 19th century.
Small Sword in England: Its History, its Forms, its Makers, and its Masters, The, by J. D Aylward
Rapier & Small-Sword: 1460-1820, The, by A. V. Norman
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Stephen Fisher