Arms & Armor Gustav Vasa Rapier
A hands-on review by Nathan Robinson
Unlike many other makers who create pieces that are in the same style of authentic originals, A&A typically chooses a specific original to replicate. One such piece that caught their attention while on exhibit to the United States was a rapier belonging to King Gustavus Vasa (1494-1560). The King brought domestic arms production into Sweden, having previously relied mostly on imported munitions. Craftsmen were brought in from other countries to create the facility now known as the Royal Armoury of Sweden. One weapon that emerged from the Armoury was a special rapierone fit for a king.
While not an exact replica of the original, Arms & Armor's version of this sword has origins that can immediately be recognized. It represents a solid example of an early style of rapier designed for the cut and the thrust. The contrast of blackened fittings with polished steel creates a striking beauty, beguiling this sword's deadly purpose.
Replica created by Arms & Armor of Minnesota.
Contrasting the replica with the original reveals inevitable differences between the two, but shows that A&A has given us a sword that is worthy of its lineage.
This sword, and the original on which it is based, is certainly not a featherweight but still managed to surprise me with its exceptional maneuverability. The details of its compound guard, with its relatively simple architecture and lack of knuckle-bow, allow for unimpeded movement and versatility. With the blade mass following closely behind the point, thrusts are easily accomplished, penetrating targets cleanly without much resistance. I was very pleased with its ability to track well during cutting movements, being particularly effective with a slashing tip cut type maneuver.
Fit and Finish
Every part of the sword is well executed with its parts assembled tight, straight, and without obvious flaws. The wire-wrapped grip, something I'd consider an A&A specialty of sorts, is tight, even, and perfect.
While the authentic Vasa rapier hilt consists of blackened steel mated with gold-plated engraved silver, the replica was created with blackened and polished steel components. Lion heads stand prominent at the ends of each engraved quillon. A plaque representing the head of Medusa rests upon each of the side rings. The polished steel pommel is intricately engraved and rests upon a blackened octagonal base. The grip is wrapped with two strands of twisted black wire alternating with a single silver strand.
There are several differences between the replica rapier and its inspiration. Most notably, the absence of precious metals of gold and silver are certainly a result of an economic choice. While visiting the Arms & Armor shop in January 2003, I was fortunate enough to see a custom-made Vasa rapier with gold-plated parts contrasting the blackened components. Simply put, it was stunning.
Also missing is the engraved gold socket surrounding the quillon-block and ricasso of the original. On the original sword, the socket is held in place with pins and is removable. Not only a decorative element, it served as protection to the blade, with the scabbard fitting into it. Speaking with Craig Johnson of A&A, I was told that the choice to exclude this element was made because most consumers would not justify the added expense for such an unusual feature. Perhaps it's also helped to make the sword more easily wielded, as Björn Hellqvist notes in his featured article of the original rapier that the socket was somewhat awkward.
A&A chose to create the quillon arms straight rather than curved downwards as on the original. This was a tough choice for them, but the original's quillons are not set at the same angle. Craig says, "One side looks much straighter than the other and one does not know if they were down and bent up, or up and bent down." This decision demonstrates that the process of recreating an original piece that shows the signs of its age often requires educated guesses and interpretation. The maker has to decide which features have been caused by time while trying to visualize the original as it would have looked new.
Some details in the various engraved motifs have been simplified, and absent are some features such as the engraved leaves at the junction of the quillons with the large side ring. All things considered, it's a faithful reproduction with justified choices mostly caused by economic realities.
Overall, the rapier creates a beautiful presentation of form and line. I, for one, am thrilled to have such a fascinating original piece available as a replica. The proportions and details of Arms & Armor's version prove how valuable hands-on experience with antiques truly is. This point cannot be stressed enough, as many commercially available swords do not share the proportions and properties of their historic counterparts.
The Gustav Vasa rapier is a perfect example of A&A's major strength and focus: Their ability to create inspired versions of specific and documented pieces from history with near faultless execution. It's my opinion that they've been a clear leader in this area for well over a decade, and this recent example further solidifies this point.
About the Author
Nathan Robinson has been interested in history and the hobby of reproduction arms and armour collecting for well over a decade. A professional Web developer in San Francisco, he started myArmoury.com as a resource for like-minded people and hopes to help educate and entertain enthusiasts and consumers alike. He strives to push the sword community forward, helping create a healthy market with functional and historically-researched pieces available for us all.
Photographs of A&A replica by Nathan Robinson, antique rapier by The Royal Armoury, Sweden