Hanwei / CAS Iberia Antiqued Gustav Rapier and Dagger
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Gustav II Adolf, more commonly known by his Latinized name of Gustavus Adolphus, ruled Sweden from 1611 until he died in battle in 1632. When Gustav ascended to the throne, Sweden was already at war with Denmark, Poland and Russia. He was famous for using mobile artillery on the battlefield and emphasized aggressive attack over defense and mobility; he also is known for being an active participant in his own battles.
Perhaps one of the most famous events within Gustav's reign began when he signed a treaty in 1630 with France against the German emperor, thus entering the 30 Year War. A year later the Swedish army practically destroyed the German forces, to which he was known as "The Lion of the North", thus concluding his nation's contract with France. Sweden's victories did not end there.
Gustav Adolf's campaign continued southward and took both Mainz and Frankfurt. By the summer of 1632, his army had marched through Bavaria, where his leadership caused the fall of Nürnberg, Augsburg and Munich. Even at his end, Gustav's army won at the Battle of Lützen in Germany, which was a great tactical vicory for Sweden, though at a great cost: the warrior king Gustav Adolf was killed in combat.
The sword carried by King Gustav was a beautiful rapier that now resides in The Royal Armoury Stockholm. The hilt of this rapier is made of gilded iron in the pappenheimer style. It was found trampled in mud at the Battle of Lützen, where supposedly King Gustav's dying words were, "Fence for God!" The sword was of German manufacture, made between 1625 and 1630.
Hanwei Forge of Dalian, China is run by Paul Chen, who is well-known in the production sword world for having brought introductory level Japanese-styled swords to the mass market at affordable prices. Hanwei has also been producing a line of budget European arms through their U.S. dealer CAS Iberia. This line ranges from Viking swords to Renaissance stilettos, and also includes blunt practice swords and other sharp swords.
The sword reviewed here is a rapier with a hilt based on the same rapier that King Gustav carried at the Battle of Lützen. Where the original sword was gilded, the Hanwei version is plain steel, keeping the price down. The matching companion dagger is also being reviewed, though I have never seen an original on which it was based: I suspect that CAS Iberia / Hanwei recreated it to match their reproduction of the rapier, rather than recreating an existing piece.
Rapier Measurements and Specifications:
Dagger Measurements and Specifications:
Replicas created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
The strange thing about this rapier is that it was clearly it was designed with the intention of being well-balanced and very lightweight… for the wrong type of sword. This weapon feels more like a 20th century Italian-gripped epée than it does like a rapier of the first half of the 17th century. Indeed, the typical rapier of this time period was not only longer, but had a thicker, heavier blade that could resist cuts from heavier weapons. While one can hardly expect a reproduction of this price range to be an exact replica of the original, the orginal sword on which this was based weighs 1140 grams (3.1 pounds), almost one pound heavier than the reproduction. The original's overall length is 1156 milimeters (approximately 45.5 inches) with a blade length of 929 milimeters (approximately 36.6 inches) and blade width of 28 milimeters (approximately 1.1 inches). The fact that the Hanwei sword is in fact slightly larger than the original yet weighs significantly less further drives home the fact that the sword is too light for what it is supposed to be.
When trying to employ this sword in the methods of early 17th century Italian fencing masters, the sword wants to almost flail due to its light weight and close balance point. Single time defenses feel like they could be set aside too easily, and it lends itself to making the parries too big. When attempting to use later period foil fencing techniques, however, the weapon suddenly feels reasonably natural for this. Tip control is quite excellent in this style, and the weapon is short and light enough to make quick parry-riposte actions. It would seem that Hanwei is catering to the myth that the rapier is a very lightweight weapon, as seen in classic Errol Flynn movies, which is not correct. The rapier of this time had more length and mass to it, allowing a person to gain control over an opponent's blade in order to defend and attack in one simultaneous motion. The parry-first-attack-second method of fencing became much more common later when weapons became lighter and smaller, as this made more sense in that context. I have a hunch Hanwei did this on purpose, as much of their market quite possibly will assume that this is how a 17th century rapier should feel.
The blade is sharp at the tip, though the edges are only minimally sharp. I would actually consider it unsharpened, though the bevels are still very acute. Some period rapiers are also like this, though most examples from the late 17th century have at least some edge to them.
The dagger is nicer than the rapier in terms of function. It is fitted with a thick and solid blade which is well made. The point is wickedly sharp, and the edge is what I would consider very typical for this type of weapon: blunt near the ricasso to reduce damage in parries, but gradually getting sharper towards the tip. It is not sharp enough to cleanly cut paper, but it is still quite sharp enough to do damage, much like most period examples.
The dagger is slightly hefty for its size, which is actually a good thing, as it gives it more mass for parrying; this weapon is primarily a defensive tool when combined with the rapier. The balance point is very far back, and is actually inside the grip. I would prefer for it to be at least at the guard if not out onto the blade, but this does not bother me much for weapons this small. Should a rapier user be mugged at night, or suddenly attacked in an area with little room to maneuver, the dagger could have been quickly drawn to fight with alone until there was more time and room to draw the sword. In this case, the dagger does feel natural as a weapon to be used on its own, and has enough mass to make powerful thrusts.
Fit and Finish
Aside from the antiqued finish, the fittings of both the rapier and dagger are actually quite attractive for the price. The hilts are obviously cast, but not poorly, and the details of the rapier's decoration aren't bad at all. The guard is slightly large on the rapier when compared to the original on which it is based, though it isn't excessively so, and in fact there are many period rapiers with larger guards as well.
The wire-wraps were attractive at first glance, but turned out to be poorly done. The black twisted wire appears to have been loosely wrapped on then glued into place. After only a couple of days, when I had hardly even touched them yet, both the rapier's and dagger's wraps became very loose. Perhaps some super glue will fix the problem superficially, but the wood underneath actually looks surprisingly attractive, and I may simply cut off the wire instead. The ends are finished with silver Turk's head knots, which are decently made, though are tacked into place. The tacks, while a cheap solution, are not blatant or terrible looking, and probably were done this way to keep down the cost. I have no problems with this, as it looks better than soldering the wires shut, which I have seen on a number of inexpensive reproductions.
The blades are nicely made as well. I am particularly fond of the dagger's blade in terms of shaping. The rapier actually has a hollow-ground blade, which would perhaps be considered a nice aspect of the sword had the blade not been too light.
CAS Iberia / Hanwei is well known for creating budget-level functional swords, and this rapier and dagger set clearly fall into that category. The rapier is typically sold for less than $200 US and the dagger for less than $100 US. Because of this, I can't be too harsh on them. In certain aspects, they fail the test of accurately reproducing originals. On the other hand, they are still decently constructed, and are not actually poor weapons. The dagger strikes me as a good value for the money, though the rapier less so. I would still consider the rapier a viable option for someone who wants a costume piece that is more than a mere wall hanger. At their price points, this is actually a decent set, though a person who is interested in a more historically accurate rapier will find them lacking. For my own purposes as an instructor, these will make adequate loaner weapons for beginning students after I blunt the edges and put safety tips on them, though had I not already bought them I would have instead gone with Hanwei's Practical Rapier, which is intended specifically for fencing.
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.
In the Footsteps of Gustavus Adolphus: A Round Tour, by The Royal Armoury at Stockholm
Western Civilizations, Thirteenth Edition, by Robert E. Lerner, Standish Meacham, Edward McNall Burns
White Arms of the Royal Armoury (Stockholm 1984), by Lena Nordström
Photographer: Bill Grandy