A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Arms & Armor Italian Three Ring Rapier
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
There are few European weapons that are as easy to identify as the swept hilt rapier. A weapon of the renaissance, the rapier became one of the most common civilian side arms of the time period. One of the primary features of the rapier was its heavy reliance on the thrust over the cut. Many styles of its use developed, and the most famous of the rapier masters came from Italy.
There are two common misconceptions that exist regarding the rapier. The first, and most common, is that the rapier is a very light weight weapon that can quickly out-maneuver the supposedly heavy cutting weapons with the use of fast fencing motions such as seen in swashbuckling films. The second misconception is from the other side of the coin, that the rapier is a very heavy, awkwardly long, and slow weapon that was only carried because it was fashionable. The first misconception is easily defeated when one picks up a historically accurate replica and realizes that the weapon is too long and has too much weight to be used in such a "swashbuckling" fashion. Serious students of the sword who have handled a variety of sword types and have at least a basic working knowledge of how a sword should be used often hold the second misconception. Yet, despite this knowledge, the vast majority of the people who hold this second misconception simply do not understand how a rapier is meant to be used.
Most forms of swordsmanship defense rely on defending oneself first (performing a parry) and then making a counter attack. The Italian masters, however, taught that the rapier should be used in what is known as stesso tempo, or "single time". A single time defense means making a counterattack at your opponent while defending yourself at the same time. In order to do this without receiving a hit at the same time, one must first "find the sword" of the opponent. On a basic level, finding the sword involves gaining a geometric and mechanical advantage of the opponent's blade based off of where your own sword is positioned so that when your opponent attacks, you already have gained the advantage and can defend and offend simultaneously. A sword with sufficient length and weight aided in such a single time defense, as this helped prevent an opponent from batting the oncoming thrust out of the way. Used properly, this weapon was neither slow nor awkward, but an effective dueling tool.
This Arms & Armor Italian Rapier is slightly modified from the catalog piece in that the blade is longer and wider than the normal 38" x 0.8". The swept steel fittings and wire wrap with Turk's head knots make it a stunning and deadly weapon. This style is a very common one, seen throughout many museums.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
The piece certainly has heft to it, and as stated previously, if one is not familiar with the Italian style of rapier, one may be tempted to say it is too heavy for effective use. This is far from the case. This rapier handles excellently for one intended to be used in the style of Italian renaissance masters such as Salvator Fabris or Ridolfo Cappo Ferro. Its length could easily keep an opponent at bay, and the weight of the sword can easily command another blade when finding the sword. The swept hilt provides good hand protection, as it is not too large the way many lesser quality rapier hilts usually are. The bars of the cage are close enough together that, although not entirely protecting the hand, still give good coverage. This is not, however, a weapon I would recommend for stage combat, as the types of swinging motions that one would perform more often would quickly tire the forearm and wrist.
Fit and Finish
The subtle lines of this piece show the true craftsmanship of the artists at Arms & Armor. The steel swept hilt has graceful swellings at the center of each of the rings, and on the knuckle-bow. The ecusson at the ricasso is shaped well, and while it is hard to see from pictures, it gently rises from the thinner quillons to be thicker at the center. There are some minor casting pits, but these are very superficial and are almost not worth mentioning. The wire-wrapped handle looks stunning and is very tight with alternating double twisted and double straight wire, and Turk's head knots on the ends complete the grip. The Turk's head knots are the only part of the wire wrap that are not 100% perfect aesthetically, but they are still very well done. This is a very handsome piece, one marked by careful and graceful lines more so than fancy decoration.
This rapier also has a standard black leather scabbard that Arms & Armor sells separately. The scabbard serves its purpose to protect and transport the blade. The stitching is very tight and well done, and the leather is thick. That said, the scabbard is very basic. It may not be a bad idea to go ahead and pay the extra money for a nicer one to fit the quality of this sword.
Arms & Armor has a reputation for creating excellent, historically accurate replicas that not only look the part, but also feel the part. This modified Italian Rapier is no exception. At its price point of $640 (not including the blade modifications of the review piece), many beginning collectors may shy away, but when one considers the amount of fine work put into making it aesthetically beautiful as well as effective for its designed purpose, it is apparent that Arms & Armor is in the lead of the market for production rapiers. For the collector who wants a true rapier, one that is more than just a blade with a fancy hilt, the Italian Rapier fits the bill quite nicely and is worth every cent.
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: Nathan Robinson